That word sends shivers up the spine of the average Christian. You could get away with cussing in church faster than you can say that you did anything for yourSELF. Red-faced orators hammering into their listeners "self=selfish," thinking they're helping, when actually they have inflicted great harm on many. This type of thinking is what causes well meaning people to tell someone who is depressed that they could snap out of it if they stopped thinking of themselves so much, when truthfully for those of us who deal with depression, ourselves is the LAST thing we want to think about.
The first rule of the Journey Training I attended was "Take care of yourself first." That was such a foreign concept to me. Wait, I thought I was here to get myself together so I could better serve others by being less selfish. After decades of hearing that I was never to think of myself at all, much less first, I felt ill to even think of doing such a thing. Why? Why would they put us in that kind of conundrum? Wait, I know, take care of yourself because no one else is going to take care of you. That's got to be it. Ok, that's plausible since that's been my rule of life for as long as I can remember. Maybe it's a warning: "We're not here to care about you; we're here to teach you how to better care about us so, in turn, your sorry selves can care better for others and quit being so selfish." Ah, I feel about 6 inches tall. Much better.
Or is it?
Let me ask a few questions:
- Is it selfish for a farmer to feed his family with some of his harvest?
- Did you know that many medical discoveries were from people who were "selfishly" trying to find a cure for their own or a loved one's ailment?
- Is it selfish for a mom to feed and nourish herself so that she can give healthy milk to her nursing baby?
- Something I learned from my friend Dellaine: Is it selfish for the airlines to tell you that in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, put on your oxygen mask before you help others with theirs?
- Is it selfish for a food service worker to have a full tummy before he serves on his shift?
OK, I get that, but is this concept even scriptural?
Leviticus 19:18 - Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.
Matthew 22:37-39 -Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Romans 13:9 - ...Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Galatians 5:14 - For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
James 2:8 - If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.Hey, I'm not the brightest crayon in the box, but I'm sensing a pattern here.
Jesus was the ultimate example of this. Often in scripture, His early morning solitary retreats to pray and fellowship with God are referenced. This wasn't some religious exercise in piety; Christ was taking good care of Himself so that He could take the best care of others.
Look, this isn't natural for me either. It is deeply ingrained in my mind that I try to avoid anything that looks like selfishness to the point of self detriment.
Proverbs 18:9 (Amplified) - He who is loose and slack in his work is brother to him who is a destroyer and he who does not use his endeavors to heal himself is brother to him who commits suicide.Something else Dellaine showed me. Continue to exhale in pulses without inhaling. What happens? Your exhale become weaker and weaker until you can't exhale anymore without inhaling. Now do the same exercise in reverse. The same thing happens doesn't it? You are either completely full of yourself or completely empty of yourself. Neither is healthy or sustainable. God created us to be balanced. Getting out of balance is a detriment to all aspects of our health.
During the first weekend training session, following that rule was extremely difficult. I'm not used to taking care of things for myself without getting permission. At first, I asked for permission to do simple needed things like going to the bathroom, getting water, or taking a seat. The answer was always the same, "You don't need to ask permission. The first rule is to take care of yourself first." Even after I stopped asking permission, I would still give glances to a leader before I did anything. I would get the glance back that says, "You know what to do." The second weekend session was better, but the mentality was still there.
It's all about deserving.
We don't have to earn the right to take care of ourselves. The minute God called us to serve others was the day we got permission. He knew that we couldn't serve well if we felt drained and empty. Fill up, then draw out and distribute.