This is a series from life and leadership coach Nicole Kirksey about learning to love and nurture ourselves well. Because some times the most loving thing we can do is to take care of ourselves.
In Michigan, where I'm from, there are not one but two annual celebrations of love and romance. There is Valentine's Day, the "big day" in February. The pressure to turn out a super-romantic event for your beloved year after year is pushed on television, social media, and the ever-present lure of the marketplace (engagement rings, anyone)?
Then there is Sweetest Day, the "little day" in October. This celebration is shorter in duration in terms of hype but has more of a broad appeal. While you are off the hook on Valentine's Day if you are romantically unattached, chances are that your grandmother will remind you that Sweetest Day is coming up. (HINT: she will expect a card and a call.) If flowers, cards, gifts, and grand gestures are the expectations for Valentine's Day, Sweetest Day is a bit easier on the pressure and the pocketbook. The best gift on that day is the gift of time (and, of course, candy!).
In the Bible, God's great commandment encourages us to "love our neighbor." These two "love" holidays, on either end of the year, are both pointing our love efforts toward others. But the full commandment, after loving God, is to love others as we love ourselves. Other than our birthdays, are there times in the year when we point our love inward? To "do" God's commandment properly, we have to be able to love ourselves in healthy, generous, God-reflecting ways, then share that love with others.
Love and Language
There is only one English word for love, and it is used to encompass all of the complexity that love is. Seriously, is what I feel for GOD, swimming, coffee, my husband, and my dog really all the same thing?
Conversely, there is no single English word to describe the importance of self-care, honoring our God-design, valuing our humanity, and sharing the best of ourselves with others (that I can think of).
How can we describe the need to nurture ourselves, both for our benefit and for the benefit of others whom God places around us? Now I see why buying a card or getting a box of candy might just be easier!
The Five Languages
The book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Our Mate by Gary Chapman has sold over 11 million copies. The best thing this book has done is to give language to how and why we express love, particularly in marriage. The language of the book can also help us consider ways to express love to ourselves in healthy and generous ways.
Over the next several days, we're going to talk about ways that we can love and care for ourselves while speaking all of the different love languages to ourselves. Follow Rethink Church on Facebook, Twitter, or to get the regular reminders and find out how.
We love because he first loved us. - 1 John 4:19 ESV
I remember sitting next to an unaccompanied minor on an airplane. Because we were strangers, I did not want to chat with him too much (plus, I'm not much of a chit-chatter). At some point on the ride, I pulled out a deck of cards. His eyes lit up. I asked, "do you want to play?" He smiled and nodded his head. I gave him the deck of cards, leaned back, and took a rest. When I opened my eyes, he was holding the cards and looking sad.
He didn't want my cards: he wanted to engage with me. He wanted a kind adult to spend some quality time with him on this scary plane, taking him to who-knows-where. I bet my plane seatmate's current love language is quality time.
In the five love languages, quality time is about being fully present and highly engaged. Being successful at it requires a high level of focus and energy. The goal is to push out distractions. Instead, choose to concentrate on where you are and who you are with.
- What does "quality personal time" look like? Whatever you want! Some ideas include:
- Taking a walk or a "sunshine break" and reflecting on your day
- Making an appointment with, or for, yourself, and keeping it
- Signing up for a course in something you have always wanted to try--and going to it
- Journaling some of your best ideas, thoughts, and dreams
- Having lunch away from your desk at work
Some benefits to turning our "quality time" inward include discovering more of who we are: how God created us, our uniqueness, our personal preferences, and our special gifts. It keeps us in tune with who we truly are so that we can remain authentic. Quality Time with "Numero Uno" gives us permission to step off of the busy treadmill of life and to look around--at our world, at our space, and at our hearts. As a result, we can enjoy, re-create, or re-direct our actions more toward our own personal ideal. It is a healthy and honest effort at loving ourselves well.
No one can live our lives but us, so it is important that we honor ourselves and know ourselves well.
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. - 3 John 1:2
Babies are precious and adorable. From the moment of their birth, skin-to-skin contact is promoted for the health of the baby and its bonding with caregivers. Touch is, indeed, a language of love.
Positive, healthy physical touch has been correlated in research literature with reduced violence and emotional disturbances over the lifespan, promotion of a compassion response and trust between individuals, improved immune systems, greater learning engagement in the classroom, and a sense of overall emotional and physical well-being.
In our 21st Century culture that promotes both personal indulgence and technology reliance challenges healthy types and amounts of physical touch. Touch, as a language, requires great care to balance its life-giving power with a non-negotiable commitment to avoid boundary-crossing or abuse.
Self-care approaches to physical touch require being in tune with our own needs. Some examples of practice include:
- Getting a professional massage. Massages help heal injuries, reduce muscle tension, promote relaxation and rest, and reduce anxiety and insomnia.
- Getting other professional care services. Manicures, pedicures, makeup application, and scalp massages at a salon serve a similar purpose.
- Sleep or rest with a weighted blanket. These offer varying levels of pressure to deep muscle tissue. To the body, it feels much like a massage, a hug, or baby swaddling. Benefits include calming people of all ages who have certain health conditions, such as ADD, anxiety, or autism.
- Petting a "fur baby." Spending some time petting a dog or cat offers a connection, promotes calm, and reduces blood pressure and stress levels.
- Intentional eye contact. Like handshakes or other forms of touch, eye contact promotes connection and trust.
- Establish open but healthy boundaries for touch. Offering or receiving a pat on the back or a touch on the arm is OK at times. It is extremely important to "check in" to be sure that the relationship is familiar enough to extend this type of exchange. When it works, you will be glad you did.
You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. - Acts 20:34 ESV
On our second date, my now-husband insisted on buying me a gift. It was expensive and not at all what I wanted. It was completely out of proportion to the nature of our relationship at the time. The rest of the date went slowly and painfully downhill from there. By the end of the date, he was "invited" to leave my home and never come back! (We worked it out.)
I understood that my handsome, hazel-eyed date was attempting to communicate care to me by giving me a gift. While I truly appreciate a thoughtful offering from anyone who cares enough to consider me, gifts are the least of my true love languages.
The idea behind giving a gift is not so much its cost or value. Like all languages of love, the condition of the heart and mind behind it count the most. If someone became speechless from happy surprise or cried from joy at a gift you have given, you understand that the true value in it is priceless.
Caring for others may involve a thoughtful gift. Caring for ourselves can involve the same.
Some good ideas of gift-giving for ourselves include:
- Financial peace. Do you need to organize your finances? To save for something important? Take the time to do it. It is just for you, and you will be glad that you did.
- Treat yourself. Even if your finances are not perfect, is there a small, affordable, healthy gift that you can get for yourself today that will bring you joy? Don't put it off.
- Play time. Schedule some time to do something fun. This week, my husband and I are buying tickets to see a play by the same playwright we went to see on our third date. (See, I told you things got better!)
- Buy, find, or make a meaningful trinket. Having a tangible symbol as a reminder of an event, a goal, a person, or a positive experience is a great way to bring on a smile.
- Road trip. Planning a great vacation (and actually going) is a terrific gift! Even better, and faster, is a short day trip. Is there someplace in your town or within a half day's drive that you've always wanted to go, do, or see? Seeing God's creation is a way to give yourself a gift that you'll always remember.
The tongue can speak words that bring life or death. Those who love to talk must be ready to accept what it brings. - Proverbs 18:21 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)
My parents each had their own nickname for me. In turn, everyone in my house has several nicknames that only I call them. I have a friend who gives every friend a nickname, each more hilarious and descriptive than the last! The nicknames have a long story behind them that make the connection that much more endearing.
Every time a loving, humorous, or meaningful nickname is spoken, it is a word of affirmation from one person to another. Because nicknames are personal and special, these say, "I see you. I care for you. You are special to me."
What names do you call yourself? How do you describe yourself, particularly when you're not at your best? Do you boast in your abilities and attributes because you believe these, or are these a cover for truer feelings of inferiority or negativity? When you look in the mirror, how do you describe the person you see on the outside, or what you know about the person on the inside?
Our words are powerful. Consider a time when someone spoke words to you or to someone else that were harsh, unkind, and embarrassing. How did that feel? Now, think about a time when someone said something kind and thoughtful to you, particularly in a time of need. How great was that? To have more of that positive, health-promoting feeling all the time, it is important to speak self-affirmingly as much as possible.
- Give yourself a (new) name. It took me a long time to like my first name. I always went by a nickname, even into adulthood. When I learned that Nicole means "victory of the people," I began to enthusiastically use it all the time! Embrace the meaning behind the name you have, or give yourself a new nickname that says something positive and powerful about who you are and what you value.
- Write yourself a love note. Say something accurate and kind about you to you, because you are amazing. Encourage yourself and the dreams you have. Acknowledge an accomplishment or achievement. BONUS: make it a whole love letter and put it in a frame.
- Speak kindly to yourself. Let your mirror-talk reflect your new name and what you love about yourself. Emphasizing the good will encourage you to work on those areas that you want to improve with gentleness, intentionality, and support.
- Forgive yourself. Look yourself in the mirror, and say it out loud. Vow to do better next time if given the chance, but for now, it's over. Don't hold on to it. God knows already and forgives you, so offer the same gift to yourself.
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. ~ Proverbs 11:25 ESV
My godmother was matter-of-fact and saw things in a certain way. Once as a youngster, I shared with her that I knew a family member loved me because he told me he did. She said, "Anybody can say anything. You know that someone loves you by what they do for you." I think it is safe to say that while my family member's love language was words of affirmation, my godmother's language was acts of service (with some gifts thrown in, too).
Acts of service is a love language of movement. It is seeing a burden and helping to lift it. Whether it is doing chores, running errands, or finishing projects, acts of service say, "I am here to help." Anyone overwhelmed by a long to-do list with looming deadlines appreciates the care, concern, and regard of someone who is willing to help.
Jesus used an act of service to show his closest followers how much He loved them: he washed their feet. Even though everyone needed their feet washed, and it was a chore, no one was helping. In that culture and time, foot washing was for servants or slaves. It was not required for Jesus.f. Jesus washing their feet had implications beyond simple kindness. It expressed the genuine and eternal care he had for each disciple and for his followers collectively.
While it's great to have someone come along and help us, we, too, can serve ourselves well. We can do as Proverbs says. We can "bring blessing" to ourselves and "water" our own lives as an act of self-care by making some sacrifices on our own behalf.
- Move your body. As the saying goes, "sitting is the new smoking" because too much of it increases our risk of chronic diseases and mental health conditions. Taking action is good for our health and frees some of the stored energy we keep bottled up.
- Complete your weekly chores in one day. Serve your space and your calendar by clearing out a bunch of tasks and "stuff" at once. Staying on top of chores after your space is clean and organized is much easier, so it pays off in dividends.
- Be your own "honey do." What task, chore, or repair have you put off for far too long? Do it, and you'll feel a lot better.
- Remove the garbage. Are there TV shows in your DVR, emails in your inbox, messages on your newsfeed, and data on social media that doesn't serve you? Spend some time disconnecting from those sources of information that make more emotional and spiritual work for you than they should.
- Commit. "Anyone can say anything." Commit to serving yourself well, and do it. Put it on your calendar and stick to it.
Nicole Kirksey, MPH, MSW is an adjunct university professor, pioneer podcaster, life and leadership coach, and lay leader at CrossPoint UMC in Harrisburg, PA. Sign up for Nicole's free five-day P.O.W.E.R. minicourse at CoachNicole.com.