This is a guest post by Joanne Miller. She is my wife and affectionately known as Queen Mother in the 48Days community. She writes, serves the needs of others and spends time with her grandchildren. She doesn’t use Twitter or Facebook but has more connections than anyone I know. If you’d like to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.
I had a conversation with my daughter about a year ago that brought to light a truth for both of us. The gist of it went along the line of her wanting me to watch her three girls while she went to an appointment. Instead of politely declining I went into a long diatribe about how much I was being pulled into so many directions and was physically and emotionally drained. At the time of this conversation, I was setting up for our weekly art class at the Sanctuary as we were talking. She looked at me and asked, “If you are that pulled, why are you here?” A reasonable question, but at the time I wanted to slap her silly for not understanding. I fumed on that question all day long. We later talked about it and both of us gained new insight.
I have recently had some great discussions with Dan about this balance between being selfish and being selfless. Most of us bristle at the thought of being selfish, self-centered and self absorbed. But being selfless often connotes taking care of or doing for others before any attention is given to our own needs. Putting the needs of others before our own needs is preached from many pulpits. Some people adopt that philosophy to the point of giving everything away and living as a pauper to show their pious selflessness. Dan contacted his friend, Rabbi Daniel Lapin to ask if there is a Hebrew word for a good connotation of selfishness. His response, “The Jewish have a Hebrew phrase, Chayechah Kodmim, which means your life must come first.” It is also a Biblical principle…..love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus and James). Yet, how often is that principle overlooked, both in the church and in our everyday routines?
What Ashley didn’t realize at the time of my whining and her need, was I needed that art class. It was/is a weekly oasis in the midst of all the responsibilities and obligations pulling at me. It is a time I devote to myself for “rebooting”; expressing myself with paint and palette knife. It is a time spent laughing with dear friends, exploring my creative passions….a spiritual renewal. What I was dealing with at the time was guilt because I couldn’t do it all; be everything to everyone. What I needed was not for her to give me “permission” to take time for myself, but for ME to give myself this “permission” and not feel guilty, neglectful or defensive.
Many years ago, while going through some intense introspection and counseling, one therapist told me I needed to find joy in my heart apart from making everyone around me happy. At the time I didn’t have a clue how to do that. I had concentrated my whole life to attending to others and their needs. If there is an opposite extreme to narcissism it was defined in my life’s mission to make everyone else’s life free from worry, disaster or discomfort. And it was killing me emotionally while undermining my health.
It was during that time of introspection I began to realize it was ok to take care of me. In fact, I have become to believe it is essential to my health and well-being. It has been a process of growth and learning better how to better love myself. In the book Happier At Home by Gretchen Rubin she cited a study that showed people who adopted the attitude, “In order for me to be happy, I need others to be happy” were more apt to be depressed, anxious and to binge eat. Ouch! As my son, Kevin, would say, “I resemble that!” Rubin, in her own self-discovery, decided in order for her to help others to be happy was to be happy herself. Happiness, joy, excitement, eagerness and enthusiasm are contagious.
Being busy has become the American badge of pride and accomplishment to the point where we have accepted martyrdom as the goal of life. We may not call it martyrdom but if you explore some definitions of that word you will find it is closely related to the word “victim”. Those people continually striving to do for others to the detriment of their own well-being could certainly fall into the definition of being a victim. And rarely do we become victims without giving ourselves permission to do so.
My challenge this year, for myself and for you, is to find a healthy balance between being selfish and being selfless. Find the oasis that takes you out of the responsibilities and obligations that fill your days. Give yourself permission to take a “mental vacation” by doing something creative or just lying on a beach and reading a good novel. Create boundaries that make saying “No, I have a prior commitment” ok, even if that commitment is to yourself and you decide to sit in your pajamas and stare off into space for a few hours. Live your life more intentionally by placing value on time for yourself. It will make you perform better in other areas and it will renew joy in your heart.