I haven’t been on an airplane in a very, very long time. But, my memories of airplanes include that quick safety demo at the beginning. The flight attendant holds an oxygen mask and points out that passengers with children should put on their own masks before placing them on their children.
A lot of people, though, seem to put on that oxygen mask and never get around to using that energy to help anyone else. The I-need-to-care-for-myself-before-I-can-care-for-others mentality is rather a hallmark of the society surrounding us, and it’s as common in Christians as in others. I definitely find myself doing it. But so often it ends there, and my self care isn’t really about preparing to help others; it’s just about me satisfying me.
Too much oxygen isn’t good for a person. Someone getting too much can suffer confusion, headaches, and sleepiness. I wonder if too much self-care might have similar effects. It’s so easy to lose track of how much time I spend on myself. It never feels like enough; there is always one more thing that might satisfy me more. And the more satisfied I am, the more I have to give to others, right? The past couple years have been a little rough, and I tell myself I deserve a little break, a little me time.
Of course we all have to stop and care for ourselves. I don’t think God meant otherwise. But there is normal self care and emergency care, and some of us go into emergency mode and then stay there. When my blood sugar is low, it’s time for emergency mode. I have to eat; I have to sit quietly and not do much until I can think straight and move about safely–it’s when I let myself play computer games and ignore the world. But within thirty minutes I’m fine, so if I’m still sitting in front of the video games ignoring things I need to do an hour later, it’s time for someone to pop off the oxygen mask and give me a shove back into gear.
In his letters, Paul seems to point to an idea that intrigues me. He suggests there is this giant circle among believers, where we each put ourselves second and others first, where we receive so much care from our Christian family that we can give of ourselves without really losing anything. It’s a big part of Christian community, where we bear each other’s burdens and fill each other’s needs. If it’s done right, I can give of myself in a big way, because there are loved ones around me giving of themselves to fill me back up. And I do the same for them. Perfectly balanced.
I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen that work. Perhaps it won’t work well until Heaven itself. But maybe that should be the goal. Society screams in my ears that I need to look out for myself. School told me to take care of my own papers and grades and ignore those around me. Media tells me I deserve to get the best I can from life. But that’s not really the goal of the kingdom I live in. This kingdom is a little backward, where the lowly and poor come first, and my needs come last. But it’s safe, because someone should be watching my back. A lot of someones, meaning nobody’s work is too hard.
Even when it doesn’t work quite as planned, though, I have a Comforter in the Spirit. He wants to work through my spiritual family, but if they fail–and of course they will fail at times–then He’s also enough on his own. And yet I give very little thought to the Spirit’s work, too engrossed in making my own way in the world.
Emergencies happen, where we have to become the most important person around for a time. But most emergencies have ends, and we give the oxygen mask to someone who needs it more than we do. If you’re feeling a little confused and sleepy in your spiritual life, and you realize you spend more time looking into yourself than out at your Christian family, perhaps it’s time to put down the mask. I need to do the same. We need to trust God to take care of our needs while we focus on the work he has for us to do.