Why Not Taking Care of Yourself Is Selfish

Hi, my name is Sarah and I am a Recovering Mother. For years, I was Everyone Else’s Mom but I never took care of myself. I thought this was noble. I assumed this meant I sacrificed more than others. I believed having my phone on 24/7 sent the message I cared more for others than I did myself.
 
It was so bad that when the flight attendant gave her safety schpeel about putting the oxygen mask on yourself before you help your seatmate, I thought, How selfish. I wish I was joking. 
 MEFIRST
 
In my mind, I was such a good Christian. But why was I so tired and resentful? 
 
It’s because I was a savior, a mother to all the wrong people. Instead of nurturing myself first so I could care for others with true altruism, no strings attached, I sought to heal others so they might turn and help me. 
 
It was a transactional love, a love that hoped for something in return. A neglected soul cannot love unconditionally, even if it wanted to. 
 
This unmet need grew into an addiction, my illness. The more I helped others, the sicker I got. My soul in chaos and disarray, I frantically wondered when someone would come to take care of me the way I cared for others. 
 
I grew bitter. I felt no one saw me. But still I served. Because someone would come eventually, right? 
 
It took me 32 years to learn no one was coming. 
 
Driving home from work one afternoon, I silently griped to myself about all the work I was doing and how no one else worked as hard as me. I am so tired, I thought, as the long list of my many contributions to the world unfurled before me for the millionth time. This list was my proof that I was more loving and sacrificial than most people. But this list was also the reason I was one of the angriest people I knew. 
 
I wondered when someone was going to pay attention to me and give me what I need since I take care of everyone else. 
 
Out of nowhere, a disconcerting truth crashed the pity party. “Sarah, no one is going to take care of you. There is no mother coming with chicken soup. If you don’t take care of you, no one will.”
 
Ouch. It sounded a little like blasphemy. There is no mother coming? But wasn’t God going to take care of me? 
 
The truth stung, forcing me to reckon with it. I replayed the words again. “If you don’t take care of you, no one will.” The message was not that I was alone or that God was leaving me. It was a reminder to be responsible for myself. My faux selflessness was getting called out as selfishness. And it hurt. 
 
After all, a fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Me in control of, responsible for, me. A self-controlled person who knows when to say “Yes” and “No” to others and takes ownership of the state of her own soul displays evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in her life. It is a person who is not in control of herself, who compulsively says “Yes”, and believes sacrifice without self-care is holy, this person is imprisoned by her own unmet needs. 
 
Because no one but me will stand before God on behalf of my soul’s condition.
 
So to all you Recovering Parents out there, the ones who say “Yes” when they mean “No” and are waiting for someone to take care of them, put on your oxygen mask first because it is impossible to care for others with pure generosity, seeking nothing in return, if you have not first met the needs of your own body, soul and mind. 
 
Stop demanding others care for you by taking care of everyone but yourself. If you need something, say something. Entrust yourself to one good friend or mentor. Be responsible for the state of your soul because no one else will be.
 

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6 thoughts on “Why Not Taking Care of Yourself Is Selfish

  1. Thanks for that challenge Sarah. I’ve discovered that you don’t have to be a parent to find yourself constantly saying yes when there are times when you should be saying no. Sometimes a work situation can feel like you’re always cleaning up after children, settling squabbles etc. And you’re right, we do need to be responsible for our own care.

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    1. Ann, you are so right. I had this problem way before I actually had kids. Being a parent to people and not nurturing yourself doesn’t have much to do with being a mom or dad, really. It’s a state of our souls. Thank you for reading.

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  2. So good! This post reminded me of when Jesus took a nap on the ship during the storm. Everyone on board was frantic, fearful for their lives. What was Jesus doing? Recharging his batteries.

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    1. I love it. Definitely ties in with your Do No Work ideas, you’re right. And most of us forget that rest isn’t optional – it’s a command. Whoa!

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