A Better Way to Think About “Self-Care”

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I attended a refugee training seminar sponsored by Arrive Ministries.

Arrive is the place where I fold towels and pack dishes and participate in other acts of Introvert-Specific Social Justice. It’s the place where I have slowly learned to notice the space that our refugee community inhabits. Sitting on the floor in that donation room, I have started the slow work of making space in my own heart.

But up until this month, I hadn’t been to any large group trainings. Strangers and sandwiches and small talk are not usually my jam, and events like that tend to leave me depleted and drained.

But this time, I went. Andrew and I drove to a church downtown. We sat at a round table near the front of the room, eating sandwiches and oranges, while around us, the room filled and filled and filled. By the time the training started, it was brimming, every table circled wide with love.

The ministry director spoke about the refugee ban. He spoke with clarity and sorrow, but somehow, without a single hint of bitterness toward the current administration or one note of the frenzied anxiety that feels so prevalent these days.

Our work has not changed even if no refugees come for 120 days, was the gist of the message. We are still committed to doing the work of welcome.

We sat and listened. We looked at photos on the projector. We listened to a pastor from the Kakuma Refugee Camp talk about his 17-year journey toward resettlement. He wore a red dress shirt with a bright orange tie. His dimples were deep; his laugh was enormous and generous and full.

In that room crammed full of bodies and noise and noise and hope, I found myself expanding.

It was the best self-care I’ve given myself in weeks.


My spiritual director doesn’t call it self-care. She calls it resourcing.

In our session early this month, she reminded me that without enough resources, we are prone pinging back and forth between frantic anxiety and debilitating depression rather than engaging with pain and need in a healthy way. The best thing we can do in these days, she says, is to find ways to stay grounded.

Resourcing vs. self-care. It’s a simple turn of phrasing, but it has changed the whole way I’ve approached my fragile February self this month.

I’ve come to associate the term self-care with bubble baths and massages and me time and naps. I think about comfort food – casseroles with loads of cheese and cream-of-something soup – and about rich desserts and about Tom and Donna’s “Treat Yo-Self!” day on Parks and Recreation.

Credit http://www.therightstyle.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/TREAT-YO-SELF.png

I tend to be sensitive to the way we word things, and for all of its cozy connotations, I cannot seem to separate the term self-care with things that are a bit indulgent, a little bit luxurious.

But then, there is nothing luxurious about the word resourcing.

It is plain and simple and unglamorous. It brings to mind grocery shopping and wood cutting and preparing food and pouring water.

Resourcing is not so much about giving yourself what you want. It’s about honoring what you need and doing the work to provide it to yourself.


People have, of course, been saying this same thing in different ways for years. Instead of saying, What is resourcing to you?, I’ve heard What breathes life into you? or What feeds your soul?

It’s the same concept, obviously, but that phrasing always felt a little woo woo and vague to me. I have never been able to move my answers from the cerebral to the space of my daily living.

But this question – Is this resourcing? – has become a touchstone for me this month.

Something that is resourcing will extend beyond the moment of comfort provided by a bubble bath or a second glass of wine or half a pan of cheesy potatoes.

When I picture it, I imagine a small space in my body from which I engage with the world. And then I think of it filling with air and space, expanding larger and larger, becoming spacious. Resourced.

I think about it when I decide what to read on the Internet, filled with all of its ragey responses and think-pieces and fake news and panic. I want to be educated about the things going on in the world, but it’s a fine line between learning what I need to know and making myself sick on media.

Is this resourcing? I ask myself, now, before I click open an article. Articles that are resourcing for me come from places with minimal partisan bias and educate me about what is actually happening. The ones that are especially helpful for me are the ones that provide some pathway toward hope.

An article about how the election and the subsequent marches have prompted women of color to seek office feels resourcing. I stay away from ones with titles like India’s Air Pollution Rivals China As World’s Deadliest and Is War on the Horizon? They only make me feel powerless and fill me with unproductive anxiety. They make that space inside me shrink very, very small.

I am thinking about this question – Is this resourcing? – when I’m trying to decide about lunch: eat an entire box of Kraft Mac & Cheese by myself, or make a spinach and chicken wrap?

I am thinking about it at dinnertime when I’m cutting the onions, cooking with fresh but more expensive ingredients…because it’s resourcing to me to spend that hour in the kitchen, doing nothing making dinner.

Breathing deeply. Inhale four beats. Hold. Exhale four beats. Watching my children play. Beauty. The sun. Going for a long run. Reading from my Spiritual Formation Bible slowly, slowly, slowly. Thinking through the questions. Letting it sink in.

Is this resourcing? I am trying to think about it when it comes to spending time with people, though I’m admittedly not very good at it. When I get into my dark spaces, I tend to pull away, to isolate in my introvertedness, to spiral into myself.

But friendship is resourcing. Relationship is essential for the health of my heart, and so even though I really want to stay home, lock the doors, sit in the bathtub and binge-watch Netflix, I know it is resourcing to go, to be present. To make the phone call. To have that cup of coffee.

To go to the refugee training, packed as it is with so many strangers, with so much small talk, so much that drains me…

But at the same time, to find myself surrounded with people who are scared but still hopeful, who are heartbroken but still showing up to do important work…


I am learning to notice this. To close my eyes and imagine the space inside of me expand, expand, expand.

To remember that I am strong. That I am grounded.

That I have something to receive from this broken world. And I have something beautiful to offer it.


Arrive, like many other refugee ministries, receives grants based on the number of refugees they welcome. Because of this, they lose a major vein of income due to the refugee ban. They need our help to keep their doors open, to keep their wise and wonderful staff on the payroll, to keep their infrastructure in place so that we can get back to welcoming refugees as soon as possible.

If you’re looking for a practical way to help in this crisis, please click over now and donate to Arrive…or to a refugee resettlement service that you know and love.


42 thoughts on “A Better Way to Think About “Self-Care”

  1. How did you manage to find Arrive? I’d love to be involved with something like that (especially since it offers introvert-friendly serving opportunities), but I’m not sure if there’s anything similar in my area.

  2. I love the idea of “resource.” I often ask myself “Does this nourish me?” ” Nourish ” feels deeper to me than “feed”

    1. yes, nourishment has become a key word for me in this, not just seeking comfort, but seeking nourishment. Will this help me tomorrow, or in one hour, or is it just a quick fix of comfort?

      Thanks for sharing this Addie, I’ve been trying to move beyond the comfort/temporary level of self-care and towards more long-term sustainability of my self, eg feeding myself foods I know agree with my body because they will help me feel good tomorrow and think straight tomorrow, not just because I am craving a sugar fix and the short comfort it brings now. I think the word “resource” works similarly, ‘does this give me the resources I need for later today, for tomorrow, not just right now?’ My ‘treat’ things often don’t make much difference for more than a passing minute, so I’ve been trying to focus more on creating nourishing habits and patterns that sustain me better in an on-going way.

  3. Beautiful. Have you found that things you used to think were helping you are actually not part of ‘resourcing’?

    1. I think that things that *seem* like they should make me feel better — buying something cute (a.k.a. “retail therapy”) and food indulgences aren’t really resourcing. It might help for a minute, but it gives me nothing to propel me into the rest of my day or week. That was kind of enlightening to figure out.

  4. I love everything about this post so much! I’ve had a similar reaction to the “woo woo” terms of self-care and “feeding your spirit” and love using the word “resourcing” in this way. It’s also interesting to think about the difference between what we need and what we want and which of these, in the end, will lead us to a healthier, more balanced, more stable, more able to live well place. Thank you for the inspiration and thoughts.

    [And also, thank you for writing even in the depths of the January and February funk, the depression, the fog. I crawl into a hole and stop writing for months at a time, so thank you for making yourself put one word after another for the rest of us.]

  5. Yes. I love this–I know what people mean by self-care and I use it all the time, but shifting the words makes so much more sense. Tonight was resourcing: a tiny Random Act of Kindness. Running. Talking to my husband on the phone. Shutting my mouth instead of reacting–waiting until I was ready to respond instead. Cuddling my dog.

    Thank you.

  6. This is such a wise perspective of self care. I’ve long struggled with terms like “me” time and “bucket list.” You so beautifully expressed the value of the ordinary things that fill our souls, that are a privilege and help us to grow. That can be different for many of us. Self-care is a form of “me” time, but self-care is necessary, “me” time feels optional and indulgent. Thank you!

    1. Yes. I know it’s super nerdy to get fussy about words, but I’m with you. If I think about it as “me time,” I can guilt myself right out of it. Thinking of it as “resourcing” also informs how I use that “me time.”

  7. This is such a helpful way of thinking about it. This turns out into something doable in this intense season of mothering two little ones, whereas self care always feels a far off dream (I haven’t had a bath in years!). Thank you.

  8. This brought a lot of clarity to me. I have had a low grade anxiety lately and your words breathed peace and “aha”, like I stepped into a wider space. I needed the new language and view. These were timely words for me. I am grateful.

  9. I love this perspective. It’s along the same lines as Jen Hatmaker’s “hell yes”, which I had an artist friend custom me something that I put in my closet where I get dressed each morning so I remember this. This last month on social media has been toxic and not good for my soul. I’ve been pulling away more in the last week and looking for more posts like this one. 😊 Today I cuddled with both my daughters with intention and drank them in. What a feeling! I need more of that and more resource filling things in my day- but I must be intentional about it!
    Also am scheduled for my Arrive Orientation next month- although I am more extroverted so we probably won’t run into each other. 😉

  10. Thank you so much for this article! I work with refugees in Canada and we’ve had our own challenges over the past couple years (mostly totally opposite to the US with bringing in thousands more than we were prepared for and dealing with all the echo effects of that) It’s been awesome but exhausting work and I’ve found myself withdrawing so much over the past months because I just couldn’t keep up the pace. Right when everyone expects me to be on the frontlines of the battlefield, I’m backing away from social media and 24/7 news and concentrating on keeping good boundaries between work and personal life. I’m getting my work done, I’m fighting the fight, but I also desperately need rest. I felt guilty taking these breaks to recover and rest. I kept thinking self-care is for wimps and I need to just push through. But thinking of it as resourcing is such a better way to come at it and give myself permission to take the rest I need to keep going. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    1. Yes. Definitely give yourself space for rest. Refugee care is draining, beautiful, important work, and you can’t do it well without being resourced yourself.

  11. I LOVED this piece. I’m still thinking about it a week (or so) later. Thank you for sharing this “reframe”. It’s lovely and powerful!

  12. This is the single best thing I’ve read in a long time. I feel like you just described me. I have such a hard time with self-care and my go-to is Netflix and wine. But thinking about it as “resourcing” has completely changed things for me. For the first time ever today I wrote a list of things that will “resource” me, without feeling guilty or over-indulgent….On a broader note, thank you so much for your books. As a mom, writer (I’m a children’s author) and Christian with church issues, I relate so much to your words. I’ve read Night Driving twice already, and will pull it off my shelf probably pretty soon for a third reading. So thank you. What you do has mattered a lot to my life. And if you ever do a book tour to northern California in search of sun, I have a comfy couch I can offer!

    1. Thanks so much Jenny! I love that this was as meaningful for you as it has been for me! And thanks for the couch offer! I’ll keep it in mind. 🙂

  13. Random thought here: made me think of Jim Gaffigan’s bit on McDonald’s. Always good to find a way to remind myself of what is ‘nourishing’ and ‘resourceful.’
    Thanks for this….

  14. From one introvert to another, thank you for this post. I’ve struggled with this same concept, though my counselor put it to me as “self-soothing,” which is all together different and healthier compared to “numbing” but it still doesn’t sound any different/better to me. I love it when I realize I’m not the only one out there thinking the way I do. Resource on, warrior!

    1. Thanks Jodie. It’s amazing how just changing the word can change the paradigm — at least for me. Resource on right back!

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