I have a hard time distinguishing between "self-care" and "selfishness" in my life. To me there has always been a fine line drawn between the two. How do you take care of "self" without being "selfish"?
As a middle child and a people pleaser, often what I wanted, and at times what I needed, was overshadowed by the needs of others around me. Maybe it was my own fault. I didn't want to make a scene. I didn't want to "appear" selfish. Sometimes it really didn't matter enough to make a big deal out of it. But little by little, self, and what I needed took the back seat, and now I'm at a point in my life where I struggle with knowing how to do those things that I need to do -- FOR ME.
Now, don't misunderstand me -- I fully understand that when "SELF" takes over -- when "SELF" becomes the primary focus -- TROUBLE is waiting to happen! Nothing good comes from pride and selfishness. We are instructed in Scripture to "not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4) The Bible also says "Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling." (Proverbs 16:18) I'm not talking about becoming self-absorbed, self-sufficient, or neglecting those around me to do those things that please me. (If I could even figure out what those things are!) I'm talking about taking the time to do those things I need to do to take care of myself so I can be the person God created me to be.
Being a minister's wife for 31 years, and a mother of three children (who are now grown), provided plenty of opportunities for me to put "self" on the back burner. Any mother with small children knows that even taking time for a shower, or having a conversation with another adult without constant interruption can sometimes seem impossible. The needs and wants of children can be overwhelming. During those years, I rarely took time for myself. I didn't know that I could, actually! (I did shower though -- most days, anyway!) So I say to young mothers -- take a little time for "you" to refresh yourself so you can be the mom you need to be for your little ones! But even as I write that, I feel a twinge of the old "guilt" -- a little voice saying, "Now, don't be selfish. Don't take TOO much time for yourself!" (I may need to see a counselor!)
Being in the ministry can also take its toll. Guilt often accompanies "self-care" when you talk about it in relationship to working in a church setting. Some members wonder why ministers even need a day off during the week-- hey, everyone knows the preacher only works on Sunday! But there are a variety of things during the week and on weekends that arise and drain the energy of pastors (and their families). If you don't take time to care for "yourself" you end up burning out and becoming resentful. My husband and I were thankful to be able to learn some important lessons a few years ago about self-care at a minister's retreat called SonScape. They taught us some valuable lessons that we need to remind ourselves of when ministry gets busy.
I remember a time, in the early years of ministry, when we were about to go on vacation. I was so proud of myself for getting everything ready on time. (I was usually still packing at 2:00 am for our 6:00 am departure) This time it was different. I was so looking forward to getting away from all the stress, that I made it a point to do things early. I not only was packed, but everything was LOADED IN THE CAR! We were completely ready to leave bright and early in the morning. I couldn't believe it! And then it happened! The phone rang.....a church member had passed away. My mind began to race. What did that mean? I didn't handle things well at the time. I still remember my husband taking me by the shoulders, looking me straight in the eye and saying very slowly -- "SOMEONE DIED -- We are still going on vacation, but it will just be a couple of days from now." I'm embarrassed to say that at that exact moment I didn't really care that "SOMEONE DIED". What about me??? What about my plans that JUST DIED. I've matured a little since then, but in a way, in my mind I began to associate thinking about my needs as being "unspiritual". After all, Jesus put the needs of others first. Thinking about "me" is wrong. Putting my needs aside is the "spiritual" thing to do. "Others first, me second, third, last -- or maybe not even at all".
I've realized lately that yes, meeting the needs of others is important. Thinking of self less is necessary to live in harmony with those around you. But there are times when I have to be bold and realize I have to express a need. There are times when I need help. ( I have to let someone know.) Times I need to be refreshed. (I need to take time away from the stressors) I have to acknowledge my needs are important too. I need to exercise (instead of deeming it less important than getting the laundry done). I need to eat right (not so others won't judge me for the way I look but because I want to be healthy). I need to find something I enjoy doing (so I won't become a grumpy old woman). But that last one is one of the toughest obstacles in my life right now. I don't even know what I enjoy doing anymore.
So now, as my "baby" has gotten married and my nest has officially become empty, I'm thinking it's time to get to know "me" again. It's a scary proposition. I don't want to do it. I feel "guilty" doing it. But I really need to. And if anyone else has experienced these feelings and have made it to the other side, please let me know how YOU did it. I need to discover what God has for me in this next phase of life. I NEED all the help I can get! Let the "journey" begin!
(Oh..... and I had a good laugh just now!! As I'm writing this, I glanced at the clock and thought -- I really should be making dinner INSTEAD of writing this! Where is that counselor when you need one!!)