To Think of Others BEFORE Myself

PURPOSE

I think my life’s purpose is
To learn to love
And to learn to love well.

At first I only had to
Reflect and imitate the love shown me.

Then after some tentative steps
I gave myself in baptism to
The full immersion of my whole self
Given to another.

Now I practise the
Daily
Hourly
Minute by minute
Prioritising of others’ needs
Before my own.

It isn’t always easy
I don’t always feel like it
I frequently fail.

And yet this is my life’s purpose:
To learn to love
And to learn to love well.

I wrote this poem last year and I was pretty satisfied with it. But, reading it back now, while I’m still recovering from a period of depression, I realise the sentiment, and the theology is incomplete.

One of the reasons I have lacked resilience to deal with unexpected traumatic events has been that I have been increasingly running on empty. Putting others’ needs always above my own has gradually depleted my reserves until I ran out completely.

It’s a particularly easy trap for a Christian to fall into. We believe in service and unselfishness and sacrifice.

Were you a Brownie who learned the Brownie law:
‘Think of others before yourself and do a good deed every day’?

Or do you remember the acronym for finding joy as prioritising needs in in this order?
1. Jesus
2. Others
3. Yourself

My trouble was that by the time I had done my morning prayer time (Jesus), then worked beyond my designated hours without a break (Others), and looked after my family (more Others), there was no time, let alone energy, to do anything for Your/Myself.

I’ve been challenged to look at this differently.

What if J-O-Y is better viewed as a triangle than a list? With Jesus at the top, Yourself and Others on a level at the base?

The Message translation of Jesus’ reply about what the most important commandment is this:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’” (Matthew 22.37-8)

‘Love others as well as you love yourself’. Not better than you love yourself. Not before you love yourself. But as well as you love yourself.

How well can you love others if you don’t love yourself much?

One great reassurance I’ve had whilst being ill has been the frequent reminder that I am God’s child and He loves me very much. And that He loves me because of who I am to Him not what I do for Him. So if I want to be like Him, how can I not reflect His love for me? How can I not take good care of someone He loves so much?

My counsellor repeats that self-care is essential if I also want to care for others – I need to prioritise it and make space for it. Sometimes that means uncomfortable, unfamiliar choices: saying no, delegating to someone else.

But looking after myself, making time for what does me good – yoga, gardening, resting – plus working more slowly, in a more considered way – taking a few moments to think before automatically saying yes or offering help – these will all make me better at my job, better as a wife, mother and friend. It means I will have more energy to do what I am called to. It means I won’t deprive others of growth and success. It means I will set a healthy and realistic example.

Or, as RuPaul puts it:
“If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

Can I have an Amen?!

(Writing again this week from a prompt by Five Minute Friday https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/02/27/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-before/ )

This Was Not What We Imagined

With my mind elsewhere today, I’m sharing a poem I wrote a while ago that I think fits this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt of RISK.  I love considering the parallels between our modern experience and Bible characters; it brings the characters closer, personalises them.

This was not what we imagined
This was not how we expected pregnancy to be
The timing all wrong
Me with my new job
And you before your wedding day
We had no preparation for the anguish and distress
My nonstop vomiting exacerbated by anxiety
Your risk of rejection and scandal driven disgrace
But we each had our Elizabeth
Our place and voice of refuge
And we thanked God for her

It was not the birth we hoped for either
No familiar faces surrounding us (except his)
Only the support of strangers
No security of homely surroundings
But unkind smells of disinfectant or dung in the darkness
I ached for a window in that long night
For a glimpse of the natural world outside
Of sky, of starlight
You had your Starlight
But did you get your glimpse outside
Of the universe on tiptoes outside your door?

When I needed help
God sent me a tall smiling doctor
With a voice to believe in
And an Alien faced midwife banshee shouting
God sent you men more used to delivering livestock
With a story of angel song
Still ringing in their ears
But your little lamb had already arrived

And after the excitement of announcing our boys’ arrivals
Telephone for me, celestial choirs for you
We found that first moment of stillness
Babe in our arms well sated
And we wondered
And pondered
God’s good guidance
And possible plans

 

SAMARITAN OR NOT?

The end of the week, the end of our journey, just our little hill to go. Storm Dennis continues to pour down on the windscreen and in rivulets down the tarmac as we squeeze carefully up the narrow twists and turns in first gear. It’s a bit more challenging than usual but manageable.

Or so we think.

At the steepest, tightest bend the headlights catch a woman on all fours and a man trying to lift her up. There’s no way round them so we have to stop. We consider getting out to help but attention quickly returns to the car as my handbrake is failing to hold it against the combined force of gradient and rain slicked road. I daren’t take my foot off the other brake. I can manage this hill forwards but there’s no way I can reverse safely down.

Eventually she staggers over to a small parking space and we struggle past, a slightly worrying burnt smell coming from my clutch. We think again about going back to help as we unload in front of the steps up to our house but, by the time, I come down from our own parking space further up the hill, others have gone to their aid.

 (Here’s the road in the daytime. At the top of the view is the sharp bend left where the woman fell and between the house and the blue and white fence is where we had to stop). 

The experience left me thinking about the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the viewpoint of the passers by.

I wonder what their reasons for avoiding helping were. Did they think the man by the road was drunk so not worthy of help? But is that a valid reason? Did they have others waiting at their destination, relying on them, so any delay by rescuing this man would have caused distress or harm to someone else who needed them?

It’s easy to cast the priest and Levite as simple villains, self righteous or afraid. And to assume that we would never behave like that because we know the lesson from this familiar story so well.

But human behaviour is rarely as straightforward as in a short story, even one told by Jesus. How do we balance the needs of more than one person who needs us at a time? Does God call us to be a neighbour to everyone? Or does He call us to particular needs and people?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts. But I am grateful for an experience that has made me confront a familiar parable from a different angle, even if I haven’t reached any conclusions yet.

This post was written as part of this week’s Five Minute Friday Link Up with the prompt ‘experience’. Find more here https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/02/13/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-experience/

The Parable of the TALENTs

I wonder if God smiled to Himself at the first telling of the Parable of the Talents, knowing that the English translation of the word for money would have a second meaning? So, rather than consider how we manage our finances, we can’t help but hear the story in terms of what we do with our God given skills.

How do we invest and multiply our gifts? Or are we guilty of hiding and burying them? And do we realise that God wants us to grow what he has given us?

But how do we do that?

Well, I guess, first of all we need to recognise what we have been given. So it’s worth asking ourselves what has been put in our hands and laps. Is it time or finances? Is it a dining table or a spare room? Is it an aptitude for numbers or art? Is it a love of gardening or languages? Is it a joy in seeing others succeed or in the natural world?

As a young Christian, trying to work out my direction in life, I was given the wise advice to look at what I was good at and what I loved doing as a starting point. Even the parable talks about ‘each according to his ability’. God isn’t a spoilsport so go with your abilities and see where it takes you.

But to make the most of what God has given us, we need to invest it and invest in it. We need to put time and energy and discipline in. No one became a great musician or led church worship well without practising. Likewise, I can’t become more patient  without frequently forgiving other drivers or a good listener without giving my family my full attention when they talk. It’ll be hard at times but with continued application, taking the opportunities that come our way, our talents will grow.

Sometimes we can feel that we have few talents, few resources to invest. We think it’s only the great that really counts. But God doesn’t see size, fame, or significance as we do. He is a God who loves small things, seeing such significance and potential in them. He loves a widow’s last pennies, mustard seeds, and a boy’s packed lunch. He loves a child’s pocket money donation to charity, a prayer said, a cup of tea made with care.

He takes our small investments and honours our attempts to use them in His service. And then He multiplies them. Seeds grow into vast trees giving shelter to a range of wildlife. A couple of fish sandwiches more than feed an enormous crowd. The exhaustion and pain of caring for a loved one with dementia turns into a precious gift and memory. A few encouraging words act as someone’s  lifeline.

We don’t always see such results. But God does. And when He sees us making the most of the talents He has given us, that definitely makes Him smile.

Joining in again with the fabulous Five Minute Friday community on this week’s prompt of TALENT. Find more here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/02/06/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-talent/

LIFE in All Its Fullness

2019 wasn’t an easy year for me. Illness, depression, disappointment have blanketed out much of my good memories from it. But if I search hard enough, there were bright spots too: trips to Cornwall, family celebrations, renewal in our garden, progress in my writing. It reminds me of something Martin Luther King said:

‘But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars’.

That light may be far off but the darkness makes you appreciate it more. And, to be honest, during my time off work, I feel that, strangely, I have learned and gained so much, as if pain has proved to be an uncomfortable but rich fertiliser for growth.
It’s made me think about that statement Jesus made:

“I came to give you life – life in all its fullness.”  (John ch 10 v 10)

When life goes wrong, our (or certainly my) natural reaction is to complain about the unfairness of it. It’s as if we think the norm to be happiness and straightforward progression in life, not just as an expectation but as a right. So when something dreadful happens it comes as a shock and an affront to us.

But if we look around us, some form of tragedy comes to everyone. A job loss. A relationship breakdown. Illness. Death.

Now I’m not trying to minimise pain or grief or trauma. But what if ‘life in all its fullness’ includes the mix of ups and downs? What if there are lessons to be learned and riches to be found as much in our difficulties as our successes? What if our journey in life is meant to go through both hills and valleys? And, rather than stamping our foot like an angry child against it, what would acceptance of both positive and negative look like?

Thinking about this reminds me of Michael Henchard compared with Donald Fairfax in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. Or contrast Jean Valjean and Javert in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It is the height and depth of their experiences and emotions that give Henchard and Valjean the richer lives, unlike Fairfax and Javert, who live respectably but emotionally stunted without empathy for others. Of course, Valjean experiences redemption that forever redefines him and enriches his life.

Perhaps that’s the secret to experiencing ‘life in all its fullness’ – allowing God to constantly remake us and enlarge us, accepting all joys and pains as His gifts whilst looking for the blessing in both, and walking hand in hand with Him through the hills and valleys, appreciating the view from both.

Joining the weekly Five Minute Friday community writing from a shared prompt word. Jpin the party here: https://fresh.inlinkz.com/party/07330876dfa144f08a472aabe52c4e02.