“When the oxygen masks appear, lift up and pull a mask towards you starting the flow of oxygen. Place your nose and mouth inside. Be sure and put your mask on first before assisting others. Oxygen will be flowing even if the bag does not inflate.”
If you have flown in an airplane in the last 20 years or so, the above set of instructions ought to be quite familiar to you. It is standard operating procedure for the flight attendants to share when going over the safety features of the airplane you have just boarded. The phrase “be sure and put your mask on first before assisting others” has become my mantra when it comes to my self-care. How can I help anyone else or be present for anyone else in any capacity if I am not in the regular habit of taking care of myself first?
Let’s face it: Our lives are jam-packed caring for and doing for others, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s good to care for others and to be present to our families, friends, and the strangers we encounter. But it’s not good if your motivation for doing it comes from a personal wellspring that has been experiencing emotional and physical drought. How many times have you found yourself overworked and overwhelmed, but just kept going, even knowing that you weren’t at your best?
“Putting your mask on first” means observing a regular Sabbath in whatever form make you happy; it’s the activity, or non-activity, that you do just for you and for nobody else. It’s what gives you joy and gets you back in touch with your best self. Maybe it’s quilting or needlepoint, getting a facial or massage regularly, going for a walk or run, bird watching, going to the gym, reading a book with a nice cup of tea, maybe it’s journaling or meditation or yoga…. I could go on and on because it will be different for each of us. But the point is that there is something that you can do on a regular basis to take care of you. It doesn’t have to be expensive but it does take a commitment on your part to put yourself first. For some of you, that may sound like a really selfish thing. Put your needs above everyone else’s? Well, I’ve got Good News for you. It’s NOT!
Another way to look at this idea of self-care comes from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, beginning at verse 37. When speaking of the greatest commandment, Jesus says: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Ask yourself, how have I loved myself? What am I doing to take care of myself so that it is reflected in the way I treat others?
Friends, as the summer winds down and the hint of fall whispers, demands for our time and energy will increase. Now is the time to take stock, and find ways to love yourself so that you can joyfully love others. It’s time to put your mask on first so that you can bring your best self to every situation you encounter in the living of these days ahead.
Rev. Jacquline Saxon serves as Vice President for Student Affairs and Vocation at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas; she has also volunteered in numerous national positions with American Baptist Churches USA.
This blog post is part of a series on self-care in ministry which will appear over the 2013-2014 program year. We too often forget, in our concern to care for others, that it is important for us to attend to our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health so that we are best able to serve as whole women of God.