Though many of us are familiar with Jesus’ command to “love others as we love ourselves,” we tend to put more emphasis on the first part than we do the second. In fact, somewhere along the line, we even started to think that this was the way things were supposed to be. But the reality is that if we don’t practice the second part, it’s pretty hard to do the first part the way God intends.
It’s like something I heard during a radio interview of someone whose work focused on serving others. During the interview, she was asked how she was able to do what she did, which was focused on serving others, without burning out. In response, she told the radio host, “I’ve learned that what is in the cup is for me. It’s the overflow that is for others.”
Although I had heard something like this in the past, when I heard it that day, I got to thinking about all the times I don’t put it into practice, and the many ways I rationalize doing so. Most of us, on any given day or week, have numerous demands that come our way. Even if many of the things are good, if we’re not careful, it can get to the point where these commitments and responsibilities to others eat up all our time and energy, leaving nothing left over for ourselves.
But as a friend recently reminded me, taking care of yourself and being good to yourself is really where everything else starts. It’s essential to all our other relationships. And what I realized I needed was to give myself permission to do what I needed in order to be well without feeling bad about it.
As a someone who is a care-giver and introvert, who manages a chronic disease, and who works in a profession where one is rarely ever truly “off,” taking care of myself and staying healthy sometimes feels like a lot of work. And quite frankly, it is. But I have learned the hard way that if I don’t take care of myself and tend to my own heart, I’m not much good to anyone.
In contrast, when I put priority on getting enough sleep and taking time to exercise and journal, I have a more centered outlook. As a result, I feel a whole lot better about myself and life overall.
What I’ve come to realize is that when I continue to give and give, without taking the time to put anything back in my cup, it doesn’t take long for me to get more than a little bit crabby. And when that happens, I’m not a very enjoyable person to be around at home or at work, and I don’t even particularly enjoy being with myself.
That’s what happened the other day when we had people visiting on a weekend that would otherwise have been family time for just the four of us. One of the people visiting wanted to go on a boat ride, another wanted to go to a nearby attraction. I had recently gone back to work after my sabbatical, and I was desperately in need of some quiet time to recharge.
But instead of acknowledging what I needed and taking time for it, I chose to try to make everyone else happy instead. I ended up being frustrated with myself, which came across as frustration with others, and at the end of the day it all felt like a bust. I couldn’t help but wonder how differently things would have gone if I would have simply been able to say, “I need to take some time for myself and will catch up with you all in an hour,” without feeling guilty about it.
That said, if you’re someone who always puts others first, or who gives up time for yourself because you feel guilty taking it, what I hope you’ll hear in these words is an invitation to cut yourself some slack and to give yourself permission to take the time and space you need to practice some self-care and put your own oxygen mask on first.
It may take some time to get used to, but what I think you’ll find is that self-care really isn’t a bonus, nor is it something we can only do when we have time for it. Rather, it’s necessary in order to be the wholehearted and present mom, wife, and friend that we desire to be. And not only that, when we take this time, we are modeling to our kids, and other young women who come after us, that it is not a weakness to need this time, nor is it an indulgence. On the contrary, taking it actually makes us stronger.