As I write this, I am, like most of the country, staying home almost all the time. The fact that I have a home office and work out of it has helped, but Donna and I still enjoy our share of TV. We especially like watching reality shows that are about people’s gifts and skills combined with their hard work.
As we were watching one show’s finale, the backstories all focused on how people finally learned to improve by putting themselves first. They were all people who spent their lives “living for others” and neglecting themselves. They were depicted—or depicted themselves—as heroic as they served as teachers, nurses, or just devoted themselves to children, husbands or wives. Now, they are successful because they learned to put themselves first. They deserve it. One even shared she was so empowered by this process that she went home and divorced her husband.
Something is very wrong with this.
It is true that some people spend too much time caring for others and neglect basic self-care, though in my experience it is rarely heroic, and often only in their minds. Whatever the reason, obviously many people fail to care for themselves, and as a result, harm themselves in various ways: physically, spiritually/emotionally (I am not convinced there is a difference between spiritual and emotional), socially, etc.
But is the answer really to become self-centered? Is “strong” and “healthy” synonymous with “selfish” and “me-first”?
For many, even Christians, the idea of “putting myself first” because “I deserve it” sounds great. And the current emphasis on “keeping ourselves safe” at all costs adds to the temptation to think the highest value in life is taking care of me.
But when we accept that lie, the final result is we are still weak and we either live a life so focused on ourselves that we can’t maintain healthy relationships and we experience the consequences of selfishness, OR we become nothings whose existence is all about serving others while we fall apart emotionally/spiritually, socially and even physically.
I can’t believe this is right, and the scripture clearly states it is not.
Jesus said the greatest among us would be the servant of all. He said there is no greater love than for someone to give his life for his friends. He then modeled that to the point of dying for us.
Paul said in Philippians we are to: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, NIV)
These are basic teachings of Christianity. They are also exactly opposite of what is being proclaimed as “healthy” and “strong” by many in our culture today.
But Jesus also taught us to take care of ourselves, and scripture has many instructions for us to see ourselves as God’s possessions—and therefore as good managers of what belongs to God, we are to take care of ourselves.
Jesus told his disciples to take care of themselves: “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31, NIV)
Paul made our responsibility for self-care clear saying: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, NIV)
Paul was concerned that Timothy wasn’t taking care of himself, and directed him to: “Stop drinking only water and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:23, NIV)
This isn’t the narcissistic, self-absorbed, “I’ll be who I want to be, do whatever I want to do, and feel great because I am finally willing to see that I come first” of the world. It is a realization that we belong to Jesus, so we have a responsibility to care for ourselves as we would anything else that belongs to Him.
In these hours and days of isolation, we are changing. It is inevitable. But we get to choose what changes will happen—if we pay attention and make the right choices. We can choose to focus on ourselves first—and this is easy, even automatic as we isolate.
We can also choose to reach out to others and find ways we can serve them, virtually or in person. We can choose what kind of person will come out of this cocoon of isolation: a more self-centered, selfish, “me first” person, or a follower of the King who served all of us.
We need to spot and reject the lies we are being fed and be faithful to Him—especially in isolation.
Know Jesus, Be Faithful!