Written October 2016
Perhaps the best compliment one can receive is that of admiration of their selflessness. The people around us who constantly think of others before themselves and bend over backwards for their loved ones seem to be angelic, flawlessly hearted, and almost on another moral level than everyone else. Think about it: being called self-centered is one of our biggest fears. Society has taught us the notion that we should always put our own desires on the back-burner so we can accommodate to others and show our “true kindness” that we all strive to uphold. But what if our obsession with being kind has done more damage than good? Don’t get me wrong, I value a nurturing and sweet spirit more than most, but an issue develops when we begin to dismiss our own value in the process. In a life without boundaries, an environment where we have an inability to say “no” and an obligation felt around every favor asked, a draining occurs. We are spread so thin and live such a chaotic life that we take no time to better ourselves. When we over-extend, and trust me, I’m the queen of it, we live event to event, conversation to conversation, feeling as though our true selves aren’t shining through. We lose the enthusiasm that once caused us to join that organization, or become friends with that person, or fall in love with that activity. When your day is full of doing favors or completing obligations from waking up to going to sleep, we aren’t even living our own lives. Our lives are instead controlled by the people we try so hard to please. However, if we push past our overwhelming fear of being self-centered, our pouring into ourselves will eventually aid in our ability to serve the people around us.
That seems backwards, doesn’t it? How can we be helping others by investing in ourselves? Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, in their book titled “Boundaries,” explain in their words, “If you set boundaries, you fear that your limits will injure someone else—someone you would genuinely like to be fulfilled,” but “appropriate boundaries don’t control, attack, or hurt anyone. They simply prevent your treasures from being taken at the wrong time.” Listen to their words closely. You are a treasure! You have gifts to share with this world, so don’t waste them on the small things you can’t handle. Imagine that your life is a cup and the people around you are also cups. The cups are so close together that they are all touching your cup. If you drain yourself constantly and feel like you’re running on fumes, it is physically impossible for you to pour over into the lives of others. But if you invest enough in yourself to where your own cup can be full, you can pour into the lives of others much more efficiently than before. When we can recognize when we have an inability to say “no” that is causing us to lose our zeal for life, we have the opportunity to find a balance between kindness and over-accommodation and eventually have the energy, wisdom, and mindset to invest in those around us.
While this practice is much easier said than done, it can change a life of bondage to a life of freedom.
For as long as I can remember, I struggled with being, quite frankly, a push-over. I was living everyone else’s lives—always doing whatever everyone else wanted, never sticking up for myself, and never, ever denying a favor. While this seems like an inferior issue, I truly lost sight of myself and my desires. I lived each day with extremely low self-confidence, valuing others exponentially more than myself. I would get up each morning and go to bed each night feeling so lost. A few months ago, I made the decision to start putting myself first sometimes. This moment came when a new friend asked me what I liked to do in my free time. Seems like a simple enough question, but I couldn’t answer it. I realized that I could only truly affect others’ lives if I was genuinely me—something that takes investment and care.
Someone once asked me what the Golden Rule was, and I replied “Love your neighbor as yourself.” They said, “Notice it doesn’t say ‘Love your neighbor more than yourself.’” This came off as crazy to me—why would I not treat others the best I could? Yes, caring for others is essential, but we need to make sure that we are not being hurt or questioning our worth in the process. Don’t play the victim in a relationship; take responsibility for what you can handle and love that person to the best of your ability, but know what you can’t do and know where to stop. In Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend’s words, “Meeting our own needs is basically our job. We can’t wait passively for others to take care of us.” Each of our lives is valuable and worth protecting. If we carefully watch what we spend our time and energy on, we will start to see growth in ourselves like never before.
In essence, know that it is okay to pray for yourself. It is okay to have “me time.” It is okay to say no when you feel like you’re spread too thin. Evaluate your life and find what it is that fosters your best self. Are you using this gift of being with as much passion and zeal as you can? Maybe it’s time to be a little selfish.
“For I have not given you a spirit of fear, but one of strength and of a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7.