A few weeks ago, I talked about why rest shouldn’t always be relaxing. In this post, I shared one of my favorite teachings from the book “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” by John Mark Comer, which is the idea that the forms of rest that we find most fulfilling are the ones that require an initial deposit of energy. In other words, this investment of energy gives us a higher return than what we would experience on activities that are more mind-numbing.

This perspective is foundational to my understanding of self-care. Too often, we misconstrue self-care as self-indulgence. We struggle to understand the idea that self-care and self-medication are very different pursuits. Self-care is proactive and measured and has more to do with enhancing our long-term health and productivity. Self-medication tends to be reactive and often represents a desire to heal a wound or meet some other unmet need in a destructive way.

So, how can we tell the difference? Like most things, the line is not black and white, and understanding where self-care ends and self-medication begins requires us to bring some wisdom to the table. We should be able to use discernment for ourselves rather than always relying on hard data or clearly defined parameters.

If I could speak in broad terms for a moment, I think a major difference between the two is rooted in the outcome that we desire. Think about it this way: self-care is future-oriented, while self-medication is a present escape. If I’m proactive about taking care of myself, it’s likely because I desire to be the best I can be both now and in the future. I know that I can’t pour from an empty cup, and I’m willing to do the work necessary to ensure that I’m positioned well for long-term effectiveness and sustainability.

On the other hand, if I’m self-medicating, I care more about my present feelings than my future state. Because I feel a certain way at the moment and want to eliminate that pain or discomfort, I’m willing to do whatever is necessary to distract myself and experience a short-term escape.

A great way to keep yourself focused and disciplined might be to regularly ask yourself, “What is present me doing for future me?” Taking time for reading, prayer, reflection, physical activity, or meaningful conversation has both present and future value. On the other hand, wasting time on activities that overpromise and underdeliver is a net negative both now and later. Although we’ll never be perfect and we’ll never use every second of every day to the best of our abilities, we should be looking to use our time positively and productively as often as we can.

As we wrap up, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that God wants us to enjoy various aspects of life in the world He created. At the same time, we should ultimately view these passions and pursuits as reflections – and not replacements – of His presence in our lives. If we ever reach the point where we find more satisfaction or enjoyment in something God created than we find in God himself, our priorities are likely misaligned.

-David Grimm