I'm Loving Myself

6:46 AM

We as Christians are obsessed with servanthood, aren’t we? We are mothers, fathers, youth leaders, volunteers and missionaries. When I was a student at a Christian liberal arts school, there was a large emphasis on loving our neighbor like we are commanded in Mark and taking on other peoples burdens like we are told in Galatians. Every sermon seemed to be about loving God and loving others. I always honored these ideas and sought to reach that level of sacrifice and servant leadership.

The other morning, upon departure for one of my flights, the flight attendant stood in the middle of the aisle and began to go through the pre-flight safety procedures. Now, usually this is where I plug in my headphones and hope the dramamine kicks in (I think I know how to buckle a seatbelt, thank you). But this time, I dropped my headphones and I listened. They began to talk about the use of oxygen masks in the event of a loss in cabin pressure. If you are an avid traveler, you probably know this part by heart: 

“If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, before assisting the person next to you.”

Hm, that seem a bit selfish, am I wrong? That does not sound like a servant leader. It does not sound very loving or heroic. 

You see, I grew up hearing sermons about loving God and loving others, but missed the part where I was supposed to love myself. Maybe if I had, this announcement would have made perfect sense. I would have understood why you would put your own mask on before helping the person next to you. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way.

How am I supposed to breathe with no air (air)

It was my first real job out of college. I was working a 54 hour week in the mental health field. I was living on energy drinks and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. From the outside, you might have praised me for my devotion to my clients. Those who looked closer could see that I was a mismanaged wreck. It only took a few months until I had completely crashed and burned. I quit my job and spent the next few months fighting the feeling that I was a failure and most of all that I was selfish.

It turns out that neither of those assumptions were true. I was not a failure and I was not selfish (that has taken a bit of convincing, but I am grateful for a patient and persistent God). In the end, I did not fill my body with the nutrients that it needed to work as my creator had crafted it to. I did not allow myself to rest so that I could be given the mercy of a new morning. I robbed myself of the opportunity to be supported within a community. My obsession with doing well at my job, became a disconnection in my body and soul. I was trying to put the oxygen mask on my neighbor, when I had no air to breathe myself.

There’s more to the story

Mark 12:31 ends with “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Wait. Not love your neighbor more than yourself, or love your neighbor instead of yourself? We are called to love ourselves just as much as we are called to love the people next to us. This changes everything. It gives us permission for self care. It gives us the okay to take a rest that afternoon, even if it means dinner does not come out on time. It gives us grace. Taking that time for ourselves is not selfish, it is self-love. There’s a reason for a sabbath. We must give ourselves that time.

This year, I have picked myself off the floor and put the focus on ME. Instead of feeling guilty for this, I have felt empowered. I found that I enjoy riding my bike. I learned that writing relaxes me, and fuels my creativity. I discovered that sometimes I need a day to bake and hike and watch Parenthood on repeat. I do not need to apologize or make up excuses for why I need this time. I now realize that it IS this time that allows me to get up the next day and love my neighbor better than I have ever done before. This sacred “me” time refuels me so that I can be gracious, sacrificial and God-fearing. It allows me to breathe. 

So when the cabin pressures change in our lives, let’s remember to do what we need to do in order to breathe. Once we feel that familiar pulse, we can go on and change the world. We’re empowered by a strong father.

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