Self-protection is not the same thing as self-care. It took me many years to see how I was self-protecting, and how this self-protection ultimately hurt me, others, but most of all God. Here is how I think of and differentiate between the two:
Self-care: Behavior or process an individual engages to meet his or her own physical, emotional and spiritual needs, in the Christian’s case, as one relies on and places their deepest desires before God. Trusting God with the unknown.
Self-protection: Behavior that at its core is designed to protect an individual from hurts, embarrassment, or suffering. For the Christian, this means not being able to truly internalize God’s healing love and not trusting God with the unknown but rather trying to control for the unknown to protect oneself from possible future pain or discomfort.
For many years I lived my life for God dutifully and in some ways wholehearted, but there were still parts of my heart that I absolutely did not entrust to God. I served and gave in many capacities but my default was securing myself against pain. Like those described in Jeremiah 2: 1-13, instead of going to God, the fountain of living water, I dug for myself cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all.
Ps 84:5 “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage”
Here is some of my pilgrimage. Sometimes self-protection comes from a place of great pain and fear of rejection. This is triggered by past, unhealed wounds, things I had not handed over to Christ to allow Him to heal completely. True Christ-healing doesn’t result in more self-protection but rather in taking greater risks in love because I no longer look to others to affirm me but to God Himself. I can see past myself to the needs of others and love better. I can forgive more quickly and let go of pain with more ease. I can also set healthy boundaries that are not self-protecting but God-trusting.
No one likes being betrayed or chosen over something or someone else. My parents chose self-protection over choosing to love me. I didn’t feel safe as a child and I couldn’t take my parents pain away. Therefore, as an adult I tried to take it away for others, to create the love and safety that was not there. I took responsibility for others emotional well-being instead of allowing them to own it for themselves. I developed unhealthy patterns as a form of self-preservation.
Ps27:1 (ESV) The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When I became a Christian I thought I had made God my all, but I was still very much trying to earn His approval and acceptance. This is what drove me for many years as a Christian, not Christ’s love but trying to earn something He had given me freely. I traveled the world, served doing development work, lead and served in the church, but often felt burdened. Through all this God met me where I was. His Word was still at work within me. Beyond my external behavior, my self-protection exposed deeper heart issues of where I was going for life, acceptance and validation. In turn, I loved people poorly. I grew up to be a Christian controlling perfectionist that looked confident on the outside but was driven by fear and shame. I was, and still can be, bossy and demanding. As much as I could inspire, I could make those around me feel like they would never measure up because my judgment was fueled by my own feelings of not being good enough.
Dt 6:5 (NIV) “Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and strength.”
Whatever I do that is not based on the confidence of the goodness of God is sin. Self-protection is sin because what I am really saying is, “God, I don’t trust you to protect me. I don’t trust you to work in this person or situation, instead I am looking to them to prove trustworthiness or for changed circumstance.” I fail to love like Jesus when I do this. I place myself and my pain above that of others. If I stay silent in a situation I know I should speak up, due to fear of rejection, than I care more what others think than what God thinks – this is sin. Where I go to look for comfort, the way I arrange my life to protect myself and ask people not to ask too much of me – is really making excuses for not loving well.
Ps 105:4(ESV) Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!
Self-care insures that we heal and take care of the self in order to give to others from a fullness that only God can give, instead of giving to others while all the while really looking for something in return. It allows us to set healthy boundaries that let others own their own decisions and the consequences of those decisions. This too is loving them and entrusting them to God instead of accepting poor treatment and deferring to self-protection.
As I allowed Jesus to heal me from my past, He exposed the sin blocking me from real internal growth; pride and self-protection. Now, because I am rooted in God’s love, I can face my sin. I can see the men and women around me sitting in darkness fighting their demons and their past on their own. I have a renewed sense of salvation that fuels my desire to extend this healing to others. I cannot imagine going through the hard seasons of my life without God and His people, yet so many do every day.
Last October I started a new job. I walked into the lobby and up to the security guard sitting at the front desk, who many, including a past version of me, pass every day without so much as a, “Hello”. I reached out my hand as I introduced myself and she replied, “I don’t shake hands.” I felt rejected but now could see past myself; this was about her. Over the months that followed I chose to love her and be warm and persevere. I chose not to internalize this initial response as personal or let it deter me. One January morning, I walked in and said, “Good morning. How are you today?” To which she replied, “I wish Starbucks delivered.” I went upstairs and as I made myself a cup of coffee I also made her one. As I gave it to her she got out of her chair and the woman who would not shake my hand four months prior wrapped her arms tight around me and hugged me. This–this made it all worth it.
God changed my destiny, and he is using me to change the destiny of many others.
Ps 25:5-13 (NCV) Guide me in your truth, and teach me, my God, my Savior. I trust you all day long, 6 Lord, remember your mercy and love that you have shown since long ago. 7 Do not remember the sins and wrong things I did when I was young. But remember to love me always because you are good, Lord. 8 The Lord is good and right; he points sinners to the right way. 9 He shows those who are humble how to do right, and he teaches them his ways. 10 All the Lord’s ways are loving and true for those who follow the demands of his agreement.12 Are there those who respect the Lord? He will point them to the best way.13 They will enjoy a good life, and their children will inherit the land.
I am now willing to trust God even when the results don’t match my expectations. I am able to have vision. When I lacked vision I lived for self-preservation. Vision allows me to ask, “God use me, show me what you want me to do with my life. How can I love those you place before me better?” Self-protection kept me running from pain but it also kept me in pain.
Ps61:2 (NIV) “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
God has a way of finding you. He will find you just like He found me. Don’t be afraid to have vision. Pain of the soul is healed by God when we let go. I can accept, let go and let God lead me to where He wants me to go. We can let go of self-protection and trust our God. He is our all and we are so privileged not only to be healed by Him but to offer others a relationship with our amazing God that can walk them through all that life brings.