“You take care you ownself, fwirst!” One of many viral videos shared across social media in recent years shows a toddler sitting in her car seat telling a family member what-for, letting them know they need to leave her alone and focus on themselves. It’s adorable, and wise…
When I get overwhelmed by life, I’ve learned I need to make things very, very simple. Usually, things are far less complicated than we make them out to be. We often realize this after we slow down, breathe, get more information, pray for what God would like us to do (or NOT do) in the moment, and simply allow some things to unfold in due time.
I’m not suggesting passivity or irresponsibility here; if there is action we need to take, it isn’t faithful to let it slide. And there are times when we sit still long enough to let the dust settle, the path forward becomes more clear and we discover that many things sort themselves out without our needing to be involved.
Between the apathy or overwhelm that lead to inaction and the frenzied anxiety that can lead to over-functioning, there is a sweet spot of quiet and calm, groundedness and peace, clarity and trust that give way to effective action.
First, I have to tend to my own self. The platitudes about this are many—put your own oxygen mask on first…you can’t pour from an empty cup…pour from your saucer, not your cup, etc. They exist for a reason. We need to hear this many different ways to help us do what often feels unnatural when the needs around us feel so great.
The toddler in the video I described above, however, was not so much encouraging self-care as she was setting a boundary with someone whom she felt was getting all up in her business, and she wanted them out of it! “Focus on yourself and leave me alone” she effectively says.
For me, the wisdom in this is that when I get overwhelmed, it’s often because I am worrying about things that are not mine to tend to. Often, when we are busy focusing on someone else, it can be a seemingly good excuse to avoid tending to our own lives. Something about ignoring a log and focusing on the spec in another’s eye comes to mind.
Activism can become an excuse to use something good to avoid our lives. I am never more productive than when I have a deadline looming of something I dread. My taxes were recently due to my accountant. Before that task was done, I caught up on a ton of items on my to do list just short of scrubbing the baseboards with a toothbrush!
In a similar way, when we have something in our own lives or something about ourselves that needs tending too, but that we want to avoid, being busy with just causes can be a socially acceptable excuse to distract us. There is no shortage of needs in this world. There is no shortage of to do lists and advocacy issues that need tending to and justice issues that we could spend our entire lives working every minute of every day on.
When we are working from a place of passion, being energized by the Spirit, giving from the excess of the resources we have to give, then we can be highly effective tools of God for good in this world. When we spin in anxiety, angst, scarcity, and anger in a frenetic pace feeling that we are the ones who have been called to tend to all the worlds ills, we miss out on our first calling…to be present in relationship with our God and ourselves.
From that sweet spot, we will be a better example of God’s grace because we will embody grace for ourselves, first. We will be more thoughtful in what we write and say and do because we will be led by God’s wisdom and compassion rather than our own toxic guilt and fears and need for control.
We must not ignore the needs of this world nor must we feel we are the ones to tend to them all. Jesus took time away in the wilderness alone to recharge and connect with God. Jesus allows God’s angels to tend to him so he could go out and tend to others. Jesus stopped and ate and visited with dear friends and loved ones who kept him going and reminded him he was not alone.
The poor we will always have with us, and we must not forget or take lightly their plight, but we can serve them better and find better solutions for the systems that impoverish them and keep them there when our spirits and bodies are not empty but filled with God’s presence and grace.
So, when we begin to feel overwhelmed by the world’s ills, or find ourselves venting about (insert name of politician or group here), or raging about (insert injustice here) let us take a moment to pause and ask…
Are we coming from a place of fullness or scarcity?
Are we filled with God’s passion or our anxiety and anger?
Are we fueled by passion and compassion or hate and contempt?
Are we filled with self-righteousness or righteous indignation over injustice?
Are we being led and inspire by God to action or are we venting to replace action?
Are we avoiding something in our own lives or following God’s prompting to act?
Are we tending to ourselves first then allowing God to use our fullness to feed the world?
Kristen Neff is a researcher and author whom I’ve mentioned before. Her doctoral work focused on self-compassion. You can find her website at http://self-compassion.org where you can take a quiz to assess your own! How solid is your care for yourself? How well do you think you can truly care for others if you aren’t caring for your own needs, first? How much compassion do we have to give others if our compassion for ourselves is in short supply?
May we find more compassion for ourselves. May we allow God to show us our worth despite our works. Me we rid ourselves of the believe that we are only as good as we perform. Then, from a place of true connection with God, guided by God’s grace and wisdom and mercy and compassion, we will accomplish far more for a greater period of time in a way that serves the world, and us, far better.
By the grace of God may it be so. Amen.