"Me Time", Burnout, and Jesus' Example

In the last decade, there's been a clamoring for women to embrace and seek out "me time". Especially moms. Oprah has promoted it, parenting magazines write about it, and online forums debate its merits. I've spent time thinking about the concept over the last few years, wondering in my own mind if it is a biblical concept or not.

It is tempting to take a black-and-white approach: embrace the concept entirely, or throw it out entirely.

And here's what I've come to think about "me time": we women have to be balanced and unbiased as we examine our lives and determine what our needs are, and then we need to work to meet our own needs as we meet the needs of others. Sometimes, from secular sources, we can hear voices that tell us to put ourselves first, and to seek self-fulfillment as we walk through life. At the same time, we sometimes "hear" from Christian sources about "self-denial" or "taking up our cross" and can wrongly infer that we are never to take time to meet our own needs.

So, on the one hand, we may be tempted to put too much stock in our own self-- seeking our own fulfillment and happiness at the expense of others that God has given us responsibility for or responsibility to. On the other hand, we may be tempted to be proverbial doormats, falsely believing that anything we desire or need is automatically selfish and that if we seek to meet those needs, we would be displeasing to God.

The Bible tells us to, "love your neighbor AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF" (Lev. 19:18, 34; Mt. 19:19; Mt. 22:39; Rom 13:9), the implication, of course, being that we know how to and do love ourselves. The assumption here is that we meet our own needs and care for our own souls... this is to be an example for us as we seek to love others-- we should show them the same concern that we show for our own selves.

The example of Jesus also speaks volumes to us as we seek to rightly balance the call of "me time" with true soul care. Many times in Scripture Jesus sought time alone to pray:
  • Just after miraculously feeding the thousands, Jesus is found praying alone. (Luke 9:18)
  • When troubled and with a heavy heart, Jesus removed Himself even from His closest friends and spent time alone with the Father in prayer in Gethsemane. (Matt. 26: 36-39)
  • In the midst of a heavy season of ministry, Jesus rose "very early in the morning, while it was still dark" to go to a "desolate place" for prayer and solitude, and yet left the solitude to continue on in ministry. (Mark 1:35-38)
  • In Luke's version of the scene of Jesus & His disciples praying at Gethsemane, we get this added bit of information: "he came out and went, as was His custom". He habitually spent time in solitude and prayer. (Luke 22:39)
  • In one particularly demanding time, Jesus got away by Himself, but when the crowds followed Him anyway with their demands, He "had compassion on them" and met their needs. (Matt. 14:13-14)
As women and as mothers, there are varying seasons.

Younger women, not yet married, or those without children, have varying degrees of "free" time or opportunities for quiet.

Many of you are in the earliest years of motherhood, with one baby, or with several little ones, all of whom require your full attention. I understand it can be very difficult to find time for solitude during that stage!

I myself am in a middle stage-- with elementary age kids down to our baby-- and I can sometimes make time for solitude, but have very rare opportunities for silence. I'm in a noisy season, for sure, and it doesn't look like that's going to change anytime soon.

My best friend is 42, and is in a different stage than I. Her 5 kids range from 12-21, and she has much more time for quiet contemplation and study than I currently do. She's busy, running from here to there, but she has much more solitude and silence.

My own mother has a quiet home, as my brother and I are both adults with our own families, and yet she has a massive workload, with many demands on her time, so while she has "quiet", she doesn't have much time.

We are always adjusting from one season to another, and I think we need to examine ourselves thoughtfully. The Bible encourages us to soberly assess our lives. Some of us tend toward self-denial (even to the detriment of our health & sanity-- think of mothers who have mental breakdowns), and some of us tend toward self-gratification (even to the detriment of our family & budget-- think of mothers who rack up debt, ruin their marriages, or hurt their children in their pursuit for self-fulfillment)... we each have to examine our own hearts and search out what is true, and what God would have us do.

When we examine ourselves, we may find sinful motivations, but we will also uncover genuine needs.

I am not able to tell you your needs, and you are likely not able to tell me mine... but we all have One to Whom we can run who knows us perfectly. And amazingly, He Himself knows our weaknesses! And He can help us discern when we are being wrongly selfish, and when we are foolishly burning ourselves out.

As a human man, Jesus felt physically exhausted. Christ-- The Messiah-- Himself needed to get away for prayer and solitude! And then there were times when He put aside His own desire for solitude in order to have compassion on and serve others. We can trust Him to help us as we seek to rightly assess our needs.

Think about what your needs really are... ask God to show you. If you are in a season of high demands, you will need to think more carefully about how to meet your own needs than someone who is in a less-demanding season. On airplanes, they tell you to "put on your own oxygen mask before you seek to help others", and I think for moms in the throes of high-demand seasons, that is a very wise piece of advice. Today, I read this (from a book, "Embracing Soul Care"):
"It is alarming how often leaders crash and burn... burnout is also the hazard of parents, medical practitioners... and anyone who cares for the needs of others. Many of us... don't know when to let ourselves breathe first. ... We want to see other people breathe so badly that we neglect our own air, falsely assuming that we'll take a breath when it's needed. The result is incredible stress, compassion fatigue, and emotional exhaustion."
Don't burn yourself out when there are little ones depending on you!

And on the other hand, we look at Christ's sacrificing of Himself for others and know there is beauty in denial of self.

My encouragement to you is to remember both truths: Jesus Himself got away and refueled during the difficult seasons of His life... and yet, Jesus sacrificed Himself for others when He saw their needs.

Examine your life thoughtfully, and see if there are needs going unmet in a way that is going to lead to burnout and exhaustion. If so, consider how you might better "feed" your soul. Is there a time you can carve out to spend time in solitude, go for a prayer walk, read your Bible, or get some exercise in, so that you are refueling in healthy ways?

For those who tend towards too much "me time", look around you and see where God might stir up compassion in your heart for the needy people around you. Just as Jesus spent time refueling and then was willing to lay aside His solitude for the benefit of others, consider how He might use your "plenty" to overflow into the needs of others.

May He give us all wisdom as we seek to find balance in our lives, love others, and honor Christ above all!

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Julie said...

Thanks for this post Jess. It was a wonderful encouragement and reminder to me to turn to the Lord who knows all my needs.

Too often I want to try and work these things our without God's help - pretty crazy really. Everything I have read on this topic does tend toward one of the too extremes - worldly and me-centred thinking, or self-sacrifice with no acknowledgement of the reality of our human needs (e.g. for rest, refreshment).

I also appreciated what you said about finding HEALTHY ways to have 'me' time. As I have 3 very small children, most of the 'me' time I get is when they are sleeping, but I am still confined to home (so can't go for a walk etc). I spend too much 'me' time eating chocolate or surfing the internet rather than doing what is good for my spiritual and/ or physical refreshment (meeting with God or even having a sleep)

Mahers Hill Academy said...

Thanks so much for this. I admit to some confusion myself on the matter, and it's good to be reminded of the more balanced view the Bible takes. Anna

Mrs. H said...

Thank you for this excellent post!! It has been on my mind lately, so this helped me flesh it out.

Mrs. H.

Kate said...

I was talking to a friend recently in the midst of a near mental breakdown and she was encouraging me to have a nice long soak in the tub as often as possible. Feeling guilty I said "but isn't that me-time?" and she says, "No, it's not me-time, it's HYGIENE" LOL.

We can get so carried away within certain segments of the Christian women's sphere that we think eating and breathing are "selfish". I think it's the ditch on the other side of the road across from the other ditch that says "my own comfort zone and happiness are paramount. Needy people stay away".

I am working this out in my head, but I don't have my act together at all. This is a timely post.

Kelly said...

So can I reprint this article as a pamphlet and distribute it to all my friends? ;)

Seriously, "We can get so carried away within certain segments of the Christian women's sphere that we think eating and breathing are 'selfish'" is SO TRUE. As usual, it's a heart issue, are we trying to escape our families and the role God has placed us into, so much that we dread returning to them at the end of a break, or are we needing time to recharge our batteries so we can leap back into our role refreshed and ready to go? I think our attitude at the prospect of returning to our family can be a helpful measure of our heart in taking the time away.

For example, this weekend I went to a wedding alone. (Well, I took the baby, but the other four stayed home with daddy.) It was three hours alone in the car, and I was able to pray aloud and worship God INTENSELY and nearly nonstop for those three hours, and by the time I got home I felt FANTASTIC! I wanted to run in and hug all my babies and kiss my husband and plug right into my home/family again! What a gift it was!

I am also blessed to have a husband who values me having recharge time and makes it a point to make those times possible. LOVE that man. :)

THANK YOU for posting on this, Jess. Such a balanced and well-written treatment of a tippy subject!


Sara said...

I agree there needs to be a balance. I've seen women run themselves ragged thinking they're serving their families when really the whole family is suffering b/c of it. Then I've heard moms with little ones say they need at least 2-3 hours of "alone" time everyday. And I'm thinking...well no wonder you're having such a hard time (with motherhood), that's impossible at this stage.
I have a helpful husband, thankfully. So I'm still sane, and have some confidence I'll get through this stage.

Amy said...

Thanks for this wonderful encouragement! We don't have children yet, so my home is quiet but balancing my time so that I spend time with God and get renewed while still serving my husband and other obligations is tricky. And since I'm one of those who often feels guilty simply being still and not serving, I found your reminders from Scripture so helpful.


Janel said...

Brilliant and BALANCE as usual Jess. Thanks so much! I'll be sharing this. : )

Jenny said...

When all of my children were preschoolers I frequently heard the advice to take time for myself. I would dutifully take time away for a girls' night out. What I didn't understand was why I didn't feel refreshed when I came home and the overwhelmed feeling would hit me as soon as I walked in the door. It wasn't until later that I understood that what I needed was spiritual refreshment from spending time with God. That would be lasting and enable me to continue serving my family joyfully. I don't believe there is anything wrong with a girls' night out, but now I don't feel entitled to it like I used to and therefore don't get upset if I can't make time for that in this season of motherhood. And in all the examples you gave of Jesus' life his refreshment also came from spending time with God, not going on a social outing or something of the like.

Thanks for sharing this. I appreciate your thoughtful writing so much.


Mrs said...

Thanks for sending me to the Word this morning!

Kati said...

Great post Jess! I really enjoy reading your blog. I do love my "me time" which right now is often after Karlyn goes to bed. I think it's important like you said, to balance that time with my new life of caring for my sweet girl! I also think different personalities crave more alone time than others.


LittleArrows said...

just wandering do you think there is a difference between "me time and "Me with God time? Just thinking through the example of Jesus it seems to me that His time of solitude was to be able to pray and fellowship with His Father. As oppose to needing to go to the sauna, or seat in a hot bath with rose petals etc etc all night. And all the other things that the magazines suggest to do in ones "me time" Am not against having a the bath, but was wandering if refreshing the Spirit man is the way to go.
Clare A

LittleArrows said...

Just read your response - Jenny!. Yes I think that's the conclusion am coming too!- to

Raine said...

Thanks for this post, Jess. I'm a few days late, but I really needed to read it today.

I was recently criticized severely by another Christian women who reads my blog and felt it important to send me an email telling me I was being sinful and nonspiritual because I'd decided to take a few hours a week to myself to go to the gym. Even though my doctor has been recommending it for years, and I feel more relaxed and able to give more to my family and do more at home since I've began going, I was beginning to doubt myself and wonder if it really wasn't selfish to do something just for me.

I do agree that anything we do can become and idol or a waste of time, but now I feel better about taking care of myself because it does help me to keep a balance in my life and to refresh my own body and mind so that I can serve my family better.

Laura said...

Love this post! You do such a great job of talking through a topic that can tend to get heated! Thank you for the sweet reminder of the type "Me time" I should be seeking. Linking to this post on my blog this week!