Today’s guest blog for the Summer 2020 theme #ListenLearnLove comes from Steve Lee. We know one another from long ago outdoor ministry days. I asked him to write a guest blog because I’ve been impressed with his level-headed, compassionate, informed Facebook posts and responses. His motto for life is: “Live as if Life and Love were the same thing . . . for they surely are.” This summer we are inundated with compelling news and calls for action. Perhaps the best response we can offer is to take very good care of ourselves, so that we can also care about and for others. Thank you, Steve for your insights.
The Power of Self-Love
by Steve Lee
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” John 13:34.
“The Golden Rule.”
“Love and serve others.”
“Honor others as better than yourself.”
“It is in giving that you receive.”
We’ve all heard these sayings, verses, and words of wisdom. They’ve been around as long as have we. Give, love, share, serve.
All of them true. All of them will make life better, more joyful, more loving. Yet, we hear these truths and can take them to an extreme.
“Love the world!”
Good idea. Sounds like that might work. The world needs love. Makes perfect sense! If we love the world, we can share that love with others.
Being a martyr is in vogue right now. Suffering for your faith will get you in with the Church Council. You’ll look good to your neighbors. Nobody can say anything bad about someone who gives or sells all they have and gives it to the poor. I know people who do give like this. They pour out their talents, gifts, energy, time, and oftentimes, sanity to those in need. “Giving till it hurts” not only describes these people; it is a rallying cry, a motto, a way of life. They are admired for it. They are praised for it. They are “good people.”
A Formula for Burnout
I also know many who burn out at some point. It may take decades, but there comes a time when they no longer give because they have nothing left. I knew a pastor who loved working with families and parents. She had a Divinity degree and another one in Family and Child Counseling. Not only was she a full time pastor, but also a more than part-time counselor.
She dealt with it all: divorce, suicide, violence, abuse, mental illness, etc. She was good. Everyone had the highest opinion of her. I lost contact with her, but recently found out she has completely left the church. I heard second-hand that she quit her job, never returned to the church, and shortly thereafter, moved to another city in another state.
The same church people who once praised her for her service and compassion, now muttered behind her back. She wasn’t even there to defend herself. Their praise turned to aspersions against her. They wanted to know, “How could she just quit and leave people who needed her?”
I learned from a friend of hers that she burned out. She chose to preserve her sanity, her health, and her very life by leaving that church and the ministry.
Self-love and Love of Others
Rarely are we praised for taking care of ourselves. We don’t often spread stories about how we saved ourselves. However, saving a bus full of nuns is headline news. The news if full of hero stories, but hardly ever do people say, “What a good job you did taking care of your own health, and finances, and home!” It doesn’t happen that way.
Most of us have been trained to always put others first. Or, perhaps, some have learned the opposite – to always put themselves first. Where is the balance? In emergency response training they teach you that one of the first questions to ask yourself is, “Am I safe? Are the other responders safe?”
Airline attendants are taught to put on their own oxygen masks first, before helping the passengers. Driving instructors are taught to protect themselves and their own safety if the student driver starts to panic. When I worked with abused children it was drummed into us to ask: “Am I at a place where I can objectively address the needs of the child?” I had to check in emotionally, physically, and mentally with myself before I began any interaction with the children.
Now I Ask Us to Take a Moment.
We really need to think about what precautions we might take in our own lives before we love and serve others. Because it is through such precautions that we CAN love and serve others. Are we serving from a place of love, or from a place of duty, expectation, or implied understanding?
Oftentimes, we serve others not based on any real love we have for others, but rather fear we will be rejected. We are afraid we might fail and others will look down on us for not helping enough, or in the right way, or at the right time. Such fears sap our will to serve and use far more energy than we might realize.
Such prolonged service leads not only to burn-out, but also resentment, anger, and disillusionment. We need to assess our own situations as we attempt to serve. Are we serving with a lack of resources, patience, time, understanding? Are we serving because we were told we must? Are we serving out of a sense of obligation? Are we serving against our will?
A Time Not to Give
There are times we just don’t have anything to give. We can’t keep up the level of giving we once did. We may experience times when forget why we started serving in the first place.
If we HAVE to give, to serve after this point is reached, it often doesn’t turn out well. We become impatient, uncaring, short, mean, even passive-aggressive. We experience disillusion, depression, retreat into survival mode, and perhaps become apathetic.
This happens when we don’t make giving ourselves patience, understanding, and caring concern a priority. We haven’t taken time to love ourselves, serve ourselves, recharge our own tanks. Many parents, teachers, caregivers, nurses, counselors, pastors, and others who live and work in service to others, learned this by burning out.
Love the world but don’t forget you are part of that world.
Again, remember. This is life and the living of it.
Steve Lee is a third year seminary student at Luther Seminary in Minneapolis, MN and when finishes, he hopes to become a Hospital Chaplain. His work history includes camp director, work with abused children, and teaching in a MHMR center. He’s also worked as an IT and network technician, and a construction inspector. He claims that he has always been, “an informal writer, composer, guitar player, poet, potter, saint, sinner and minister of grace.”
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