Updated: Apr 2
adjective self·less \ˈsel-fləs\
: having no concern for self
Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary (on-line)
The writing was on the wall…
As I stared at the walls of my soul now punctured by obscure objects of depression, I knew it – I ignored the signs.
I ignored the signs that told me to take care of myself first.
I was selfless. The type of selflessness invisible of self, that is.
I was selfless by putting everyone’s needs before my own needs, which included the needs of my job, church, nonprofit, and of course, my family and friends’ needs, too. My entire being began dispensing into a sunken place full of melancholy, as a byproduct of my allegiance to my own skewed perception of selflessness. This sunken place was enamored with the priority to serve others before myself and unbeknownst to me, it depressed me.
What happened to me? Where was the prioritization of self in my selflessness?
Oh, there I was. I was an elusive message in a bottle. The real me was captured in a bottle filled with messages of unattained dreams, a heartbreaking love story, silent failures, secret hurts, and weary days. As I was tossed to and fro amongst the seas of life, I became overwhelmed by the waves of everyone’s needs except my own. I was unable to break free from the clear lining of my weathered, bottled soul; the fear of vulnerability kept me enclosed.
The dichotomy of remaining enclosed while wanting to be open. Troublesome, to say the least, for I only hoped that these messages in a bottle would be released. However, I wanted to be found by someone intrepid enough to dig deep… dig deep into those encrypted messages I told myself repeatedly that selflessness does not include me. After all, having no concern for self is selflessness, right? Wrong.
Look at the following word: selfless.
What do you see? Now, say it: “selfless.”
Slow it down. Say it and this time pause between syllables: “self·less”
What comes first? You got it. It is “self”.
God is the creator of all things, which means He is responsible for the creation of the word, “selfless,” too. Then why do we totally dismiss our needs while in pursuit of being selfless? God crafted a word that literally begins with self yet many people like me constantly ignore the signs that scream: “you need to make yourself more of a priority!”
I mean, really… If we do not know and address our needs, how likely are we to be effective in serving others’ needs? The New International Version (NIV) of Mark 12:30-31 says:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
As Christians, it is common to believe we are to make God our upmost priority; therefore, it is easier to put our best effort forward in adhering to the command found in the first part of the scripture above (Mark 12:30). Then if you are like me, you quickly place loving and serving others second, completely removing yourself from the line up.
Is this you? Regardless, afford me the opportunity to challenge your internalization of a piece of His Word as I share a fresh revelation I have gained surrounding:
“love your neighbor AS YOURSELF…” - Mark 12:31a New International Version (NIV), emphasis added
It is this: we can only love (or serve) others (or our neighbors) as much as we love (or serve) ourselves. If we continuously deprive ourselves of self-love, "me time," self-care and attention for the sake of being selflessly obedient, then we cannot effectively love others in our full, selfless capacities. Remember, it is love your neighbor as yourself; therefore, the level of love (and service) we give to others should match the level in which we love (and serve) ourselves. If not, we become unbalanced.
For example, before reaching a point where I could courageously confess that I was depressed again, I knew I lacked self-love and care. I knew it and I was okay with it because I was programmed to always put others before myself so…
…those days I reached my limit, I pushed myself beyond my limits.
…the many days I could not look in the mirror and say I loved me, I told others I loved them.
…those days I did not go to God for sustaining love, I went to others for temporary love.
…the many days I did not want to go to work, serve in ministry, or lead others, I kept going relentlessly as I worked, served, and led.
...those days people misunderstood why I began to let go of my cherished involvements in the lives of others, I held on to the lie that their needs trump my own needs so I had no right to let go.
The truth is, I was burned out. I was unbalanced. And now, I am depressed.
So, what have I learned as I now recover from depression, again?
I am learning to dispel those myths associated with selflessness, and I figured I would share a few of my recent discoveries with you.
Selflessness begins with self. I believe in order to be less of certain things (i.e. selfless, fearless, boundless, etc.), we must first face, embrace, and fully address the very thing we desire to be less of. Therefore, in order to be less of self, we have to face who we are as individuals. We have to know and embrace our make-up, our limitations, our stressors, our triggers and our holistic self intimately in order to adequately love our neighbor as ourselves just like the Word instructs. I am finding peace in trusting that selflessly making sure I am okay prior to giving myself to others can make me less susceptive to bouts with burnout, anxiety, depression, or worst.
Selflessness is caring. I was recently sent a text message that read: “fall in love with taking care of yourself;" it led me to reminisce. Do you remember what falling in love felt like? Can you remember the times you felt like both of you were inseparable? Did it get to a point where you could complete each other’s sentences because you were so in tune with one another? What about when you went on dates? Do you remember how much effort you put into getting groomed, dressed, and prepared to be in your date’s presence? You knew if you did not have those moments with yourself to get ready to show your date your best then you could potentially ruin your dating experience (even if what was ruined was subconsciously known or felt). The same desire we have while falling in love with someone else is the same desire we must have for ourselves. Before we can effectively accept the invitation to a date with serving others’ needs, we have to take care of our needs by spending time with God alone, being in tune with ourselves, and knowing when it is time to rest, eat, groom, exercise, meditate, etc. We must become inseparable with the many practices involved in self-care.
Selflessness does not remain in self. This last discovery is dedicated to my readers who may be displeased by the theme of this post. You may be reading this post in fear of its implications. Please find comfort in knowing that I am well aware that Jesus calls believers to serve Him and His people, and not to be selfish. In fact, I know that His word also says:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. - Philippians 2:3-4 New International Version (NIV)
In the midst of prioritizing self, our Master will test our motives so we should always be honest with ourselves. How do you avoid being disgustingly selfish in putting yourself first? It is simple; test and check your motives before God does and adjust yourself accordingly. If your motives are solely absorbed in you, then you may be selfish. If your motives are to regain inner strength, practice routine self-care, etc., then you may pass the selfless test. If you do not know, ask the Holy Spirit. Trust me, He will let you know.
God loves you (and me). I love you, but I love me, too, and I am learning that loving me first is certainly okay… <3
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