The Holy Work of Self-Care

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  May 17, 2019

A day of full sun. Not generally notable except that in this continuously raw, rainy spring in the Northeast United States where I live, the appearance of a cloudless sky is an exception, a welcome one. This time of year, warming temperatures and greening landscapes often trigger dreams for a vacation of some kind. Spring ushering in the summer season draws out expressions of our longing for a break from routine, a chance to shed the trappings of bulky winter coats and woolen scarves and trade them in for summer apparel, a reminder to pause, to rest, to recreate and to re-create.Biddefordbench

We yearn for a different sense of time, a slowing down, a deeper listening to and noticing of our body’s rhythms and our sometimes unacknowledged need for renewal. A question I often find myself asking as summer approaches is: Why only now? Why limit our seeking of wholeness and well-being to just certain times of the year?

Could Jesus have had that question in mind when he articulated the mandate that follows the greatest commandment of loving God with all our passion and prayer and intelligence? Irrevocably linked is a second command: loving others as well as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:34-40).  It’s the last phrase, “as we love ourselves,” that seems to be neglected or forgotten. Just how do we love, respect and reverence ourselves as a wondrous and beloved creation of the Holy One?

Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew expression underscoring that we are here to repair the world, a world that is both beautiful and wounded. What’s easy to overlook is that we are the world. We are part of that beauty and that brokenness. We are named in Isaiah 58:12 as “repairer of the breach” and “restorer of ruined dwellings.” And so our call is not only to work to heal the brokenness of our neighbors but to repair and restore what is fragmented and worn and spent in ourselves.

What in us is crying out for attention and renewal? As we give our lives over to moving forward God’s dream for our world, how do we also love and care for ourselves as the Holy One intends? Do we live from the belief that self-care is as holy a work as any other? Do we listen to and act on the Message Bible’s translation of Matthew 11:28-30: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out…? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

We live very full, very rich, and often very busy lives where we move from one event to another. Might we integrate into the dailiness of life a simple step: a sacred pause to experience the unforced rhythms of grace, to pay attention, to listen to the wisdom of our bodies, to notice and assess how we are. To ask: What are we yearning for? What do we need more of or less of? Is there any area of our lives where we feel deprived? Can we name some blocks or hindrances that stand in the way of taking time to care for ourselves?capemayrocker

In this excerpt from his poem, “Things to Think,” Robert Bly suggests a refreshing and novel way to think about self-care and our place in the universe. May we carry his wisdom and his words into the days ahead:

Think in ways you’ve never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats…

When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.


Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on an area of your life where you long for renewal.
Name what you need to feel restored.
Ask the Holy One to lead you in finding simple ways to integrate this in your everyday living.
Pray that all people in our world will also be graced with whatever they might most need to be renewed.

Thank you for your prayerful support of the retreat days I recently led at Our Lady of Grace Center, Manhasset, NY; Geisinger Holy Spirit Hospital, Camp Hill, PA; and the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA. I’m grateful to all who were part of those blessed days. 

This coming week I’m actually listening to my own wisdom (after all, what I write is usually pretty much what I need to hear myself!) and setting time aside for self-care and renewal. Thank you for supporting that desire with your prayer. 

Please also pray for the first of the summer retreats I’ll be leading and all who will enter into the retreat experience: 

June 1-7:  Guided Retreat for the Sisters of Mercy, Merion Station, PA.  Thank you!

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8 thoughts on “The Holy Work of Self-Care”

  1. Chris
    Thanks for these thoughts on this beautiful spring day here in NYC. Hope this week is blessed w/lots of blue skies & sunshine for you! Joan

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Thank you, this couldn’t have come at a more perfect time! I often wonder where my time goes and am I just floundering around or is there a purpose to the madness. What is it that I should focus on and what should I let go of, since so many things vie for my attention. I also recognize that when I sit and just focus on the beauty of life and the gifts given to me by God, I feel that peace that only comes from Him. 🙏 for the success of your retreats.

    1. Beverly, there’s so much wisdom in your wondering! May you continue to attend to all the ways the Holy One appears in our day-to-day living. Thank you for your prayer for the upcoming retreats.

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