Gratitude as Radical Self-Care

February 10, 2020
By: 
The Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering

We hear a lot about the need for self-care in our society. It shows up in blogs, in newspapers, and often in the same breath as discussion of our physical and mental health. It appears in articles talking about corporations and countries who see an increase in productivity when they move to a four-day workweek. I see it in cooking blogs that have recipes for comfort food with fewer calories. Radical self-love is advocated by the body positive movement and anti-bullying campaigns, among others. I recently came to the conclusion that self-care and self-love are rooted in the need to practice gratitude.

Over Christmas, we took the girls to Disney World. Before we went, I had read all sorts of articles about a Disney rash, the need to condition for the amount of walking it entails, and so forth. Needless to say, I had all sorts of remedies on hand for any ailment that came our way. A blister wasn’t going to ruin our schedule! My children, who happily were pushed in a stroller or carried, at one point wanted to run, and I ran alongside them. I remember thinking, I am profoundly grateful for my body that has held up this week and only needed one Band-Aid; I am grateful for my strength. As I packed up all of the things we didn’t need, I gave thanks again, for my health and for the health of my children and the other adults who were with us. I thought about that wonderful scripture verse: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14a).

When we take care of ourselves, we are recognizing the gift that God has created in our hearts and lives. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we are unable to be our best selves, care for others, or carry out the work God has placed before us. Self-care is a way of saying thank you to our bodies and to God. As someone in my Daring Way training said, “Supporting me is supporting we.” Sometimes, I think the messages we receive in the world are telling us that we should give more, work harder, and do more – all of which is often at the expense of our health. I know that my healthy eating goes out the window when I am stressed or anxious or working long days. I have to make an effort to remember that feeding myself well is saying thank you to my body and to God for all the ways I am wonderfully made. Sleep/rest/recovery/downtime is another component of self-care. All of these are made better if we first name three things we are grateful for – doing so lowers our blood pressure, slows/deepens our breathing, and allows us to have more meaningful rest. What if one of those things we name is directly related to gratitude for something we personally were able to do that day?

I believe this idea really came to me when I was talking to Katelyn Kenney about how gratitude could be incorporated into work with teens. I was a youth minister for almost seven years a very long time ago. But what I learned is that teens often feel unappreciated and are very hard on themselves. What if we helped our young people give thanks for who they are? How would this change the narratives of comparison into narratives of self-celebration? So what if I cannot throw a ball, I am grateful that I can kick one in soccer! Gratitude is a way to acknowledge that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, that we are enough, and that we have enough. It helps us to own and celebrate those things about ourselves that make us unique and a gift to others and to the world. It helps us to recognize that our bodies can do incredible things if we take care of them, and when we take care of ourselves, we are saying thank you to our bodies and minds.

This month, I hope you’ll join me in making self-care a priority. I hope you’ll practice gratitude toward yourself. Also, I hope you’ll share your moments of gratitude toward yourself with us on Facebook, and we’ll share ours as well because together we have a lot to give thanks for in how each of us was fearfully and wonderfully made.

Tagged in: Gratitude