Reflection: Caretaking and self-care
When you’re pregnant, so much of the advice you receive revolves around sacrifice. You’re told to give up coffee, sushi, and soft cheese. One website I came across recommended avoiding potlucks altogether—just in case. Other sources list medications to avoid: ibuprofen and decongestants, not to mention prescriptions that control epilepsy, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and rheumatoid arthritis. It sometimes feels like you are more of a vessel—albeit a crucial one—for a new life rather than a person yourself.
So I was relieved—and a little surprised—when my obstetrician shared a study that examined the effect of SSRIs, a common category of medication taken for anxiety and depression, on school-age children. The study found that kids of moms who took the medication while pregnant had less negative developmental outcomes and behavior and mental health effects than children of mothers who had untreated anxiety and depression while pregnant. In other words, moms who took care of their own mental health were more likely to have healthy kids.
We often talk about Jesus the way we talk about pregnant people—as if his ministry, his value for us as Christians—depends solely on his self-sacrifice. We are taught that Jesus died to save us and so we should be willing to emulate him and die to save our own children.
But in the gospel today, we catch a glimpse of a slightly different Jesus. A Jesus who, like my obstetrician, might understand that he can be the best shepherd—the best parent of humanity—if he takes care of his own health first.
In the beginning of Mark Chapter 4, the part that we don’t hear in today’s readings, the author writes how Jesus spent the day teaching and preaching to a huge crowd. There were so many people that Jesus had to move to a boat and yell the parables across the water to keep from being trampled. And then, not only did he have to shout his message to the crowds on land, he also had to explain to his disciples privately what each one meant—I imagine somewhat like an exasperated parent dealing with their child’s incessant questions.
By the time we reach verse 35, which is where the reading begins, Jesus is probably wiped out. He tells his disciples to escape—to cross the Sea of Galilee, in the opposite direction from the crowd. Once the boat is on its way, he falls into a much-deserved sleep.
His rest is short-lived. When a storm rises, the terrified disciples wake him. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” they yell. I again imagine a parent, finally getting a chance to rest their feet or shower only to be interrupted by a small child yelling, “I need you!”
This story is often used as an example of the need for faith and as a warning to be less like the panicked disciples and more like Jesus, trusting God to get him through a storm. But my mind goes to what happens next. Right after Jesus steps out of the boat, he meets a man in a graveyard possessed by unclean spirits; he sends the spirits into a herd of 2,000 swine, which immediately jump off a cliff and are swept into the sea. Maybe Jesus’ nap enabled that quick and creative thinking and, like any parent, he was able to take care of those who depend on him even amid the strangest of circumstances after making sure that he took care of himself, too.