On a recent flight, I heard the flight attendant say, “In the event of an emergency, an oxygen mask will release from the ceiling. Place the mask on yourself before helping those around you.” I’ve heard this a hundred times, but I really heard it for the first time that day.
I was struck by the order. Me first. Then everyone else. This is completely contrary to what I have been taught, but I realized in that moment that I need to take care of my very basic, fundamental needs first in order to take better care of those entrusted to me.
Another way to think of it is in terms of the familiar phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This writer beautifully points out that this statement presumes that we are already loving ourselves. Only then can we love others.
This isn’t an article full of psychobabble or a Saturday Night Live skit where we look in the mirror and say, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And gosh darnit, people like me!” What I’m talking about is more substantial than that. Because we can’t take care of others if we aren’t properly taking care of ourselves.
How do we even begin to do this?
Eat well. I’ve recently gotten out of the habit of preparing food for myself. I’m very frugal and hate waste and realized that I could probably make a meal for myself by combining my kids’ leftovers. My breakfasts have been consisting of cold waffle scraps from three different plates and room temperature milk consumed while standing over the kitchen sink. Lunch? Hot dog ends and ham and cheese sandwich crusts.
No wonder I’m low on energy and getting no enjoyment out of eating! My body needs to be fed real, adult food. Making a bowl of oatmeal with a banana in it costs me very little, doesn’t take much time to prepare, and packs a much better nutritional punch than waffle scraps, right? A turkey sandwich with slices of fresh avocado on whole wheat sandwich thins gets me much more excited than bread crusts. It’s just one way I can remind myself that I’m worth the time and effort to be well fed!
Get dressed. Yes, I know you probably have clothes on (or not), but are you dressed? Did you shower? Do you have on real clothes (not yoga pants)? I’m not being vain here. I simply want to encourage you to take the time to physically get ready for the day so you feel confident and beautiful. If ‘getting dressed’ doesn’t make you feel confident and beautiful, but something else does, do that. Take the time to do it each morning and it will have a positive effect on you for the rest of the day.
Exercise well. Simply caring for my 4 kids probably counts as exercise. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t remember the last time I deliberately exercised (okay, I do, but I was 9 months pregnant and trying to go into labor so it doesn’t count).
I have to find the time to keep my body healthy so I can do all I have on my To Do list. Exercise not only makes me stronger, but it somehow gives me more energy. I can do some jumping jacks (maybe not without peeing on myself), take the baby for a brisk walk in the stroller, or even make it to the gym. Find a gym with child care if you have to, but get some exercise in several days each week.
Slow down. Just writing those two words made me take a deep breath. I forget to breathe sometimes, do you? I usually feel like I’m in a rush even when I have no specific time constraints.
Part of it is how I motivate myself. Hurry up, you want to be home before the baby falls asleep in the car so he’ll take a good nap for you this afternoon. Part of it is how I motivate my kids. C’mon, kids, get in the car! Quick, quick! We need to get to the grocery store before the after-work rush.
Just slow down. Those things that seem urgent most of the time aren’t really urgent at all. One of my favorite prayers is, Lord, ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. I keep saying it until both my heart and my mind are still. Lord, ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Breathe. Slow down.
This morning, I rushed out of the house only to get to the store in the Mall before it opened at 10. (Seriously, businesses, if you want to cater to Moms, you need to open at 8!) Anyway, we got there at 9:55 and my toddler wanted to go upstairs even though the store we were going to was downstairs.
I acquiesced and we went up and down the escalators 4 or 5 times before the store opened. He was happy as a lark! And I was able to focus on how his sweaty, chubby hand felt in mine and how his golden locks bounced as hopped off the escalator since I had nothing else to do but be with him.
Part of slowing down is carving out time to connect with God in an intimate way, even if just for a few minutes, hopefully more. It may look like you sitting quietly with your eyes closed, journaling, reading an inspirational book or paragraph from the Bible. Whatever prayer looks like for you, spend some time in prayer alone every day.
I remember hearing once that “doing God’s work doesn’t replace spending time with Him.” I’m going to repeat that because it speaks to me so deeply. Doing God’s work (i.e., raising my children, loving my husband) doesn’t replace spending time with Him (i.e., prayer, worship, song). I need that reminder every day!
Be in community. Part of taking care of myself involves being in touch with other adults, women in particular. You may be more introverted and not need the connection as often as I do, but we all need community. Toddlers don’t count. I’m talking about a person or group of people who nourish you, fill you up. It may be your spouse who does this best, a sister, a brother, a girlfriend, maybe even an online community. But be in touch with others so that you can be encouraged and uplifted so you don’t feel lonely.
Sometimes it comes down to discipline, making yourself turn on off the TV or computer and just going to bed at a set time. You know how much sleep you need. Be mindful of your body and let it rest.
And if you’re like me and have a hard time getting your mind to shut off at night, put a pad of paper and a pen next to your bed. Once I began writing down my mental To Do list for the next day, I was able to fall asleep quickly and peacefully.
What things do you know you need to do to take care of yourself? Are you doing them? If not, why?
Much Mommy love,