The number one counter intuitive lesson of my life: If I want to truly connect with and serve others; if I want to have visceral encounters with God, I have to focus on myself.
I’ll be honest, it still feels selfish.
I have been others focused and outward focused most of my life. I am just more naturally attuned to the needs of others than my own and for years I thought focusing on my needs was in the way of really helping others.
Even today there can be times where if you ask me how I’m doing or what I need, I don’t know how to answer.
Most leaders and parents in the caring professions struggle with this. We’re good at helping others, we’re uncomfortable receiving help.
Serving as a hospital chaplain was such an intense experience. Some days no one died, but some days I would attend to several deaths in a day. And if it wasn’t death, it was often trauma, shock, bad news, people grappling with mortality.
It made me grapple with my own. I never saw myself as a fearful person, but when I paused and reflected, I saw all manner of fears bubbling up in the face of death. The gurney would bust through the double doors of the ER and my first thought would be, ‘please don’t let it be my wife.’
And then when it wasn’t Lisa, a second thought, ‘thank you God that it isn’t my wife.’
That is a human prayer. I’d pray it today if I were still a chaplain. But you cannot connect to someone in pain when you’re celebrating that you’re not them.
This is why attending first to yourself is so essential, because then you can notice and name what is happening. And now you have the power to give it to God. Once I had done that, I could walk into any situation, because I was no longer flooded with myself.
I suppose this is my tangible way of ‘dying to self’ so that Christ can animate me by Christ’s power.
I used to pour it out, pour it out, pour it out, neglecting myself, thinking this was selfless and somehow honoring Christ. But first attending to myself increased my capacity to attend to others because I was no longer getting in the way.
The flight attendants have it right of course, ‘first put the oxygen mask on your own face before helping others.’
Capable Life is the oxygen mask. You can breather deeply today. There is plenty for everyone.