In our culture of overstimulation, it has become popular to think about the notion of self-care. I do agree that an empty cup cannot quench thirst, but the problem I have is this idea that we can fill our own cup.
I think the idea behind self-care is to put something bigger than yourself in front of you long enough to distract yourself from whatever it is that is provoking stress/negativity. Although it is healthy to take a moment from your triggers, simply doing something else will not make the problem go away. It might help you with perspective, calm you down, create more space to balance your emotions, but it will absolutely never create resolve.
The care our souls really thirst after, can only be found and unlocked by the transformation and redemption of something greater than we are. Self-care is a hypersensitivity to ourselves, and we are warned about looking at ourselves too closely because it leads to egotism and to self-centeredness. Self-centeredness will never please God because it overlooks the needs of others.
The goal of self-care is to self-gratify, and that will always usurp our ability to love our neighbors well, to avoid making judgements, to bear another's burdens, and to be forgiving. It is trading the authority of God for our own shallow and unsatisfying ego.
It's funny to me that when God told us how to love our neighbors, he directly correlated it to our ability to love ourselves. We're pretty understanding and gracious and conscious of our needs, right?! It's natural to be, so he says, "hey, love your neighbor LIKE THAT!"
I propose that we practice a different kind of mindfulness - the kind that focuses on our great God and His precious love for us. This kind of thinking will not only reframe our momentary thoughts - alleviating stress - but will help take it a step deeper by experiencing reconciliation, closure, forgiveness, and lasting peace. We will be shifted from self-centric, to other-centric.
Mindfully meditating on God will put something (someONE) bigger than ourselves in front of us, reminding us that He is so very big and encompassing, and that HE will fill our cracked cups to overflowing, and that same bounty can be caught by others. So, instead of merely quenching our own thirst, we have become a wellspring for others.
The body of Christ is broken and bruised, and we have hurt so many people in the process of our own gruesome misgivings. This is an open letter, a mass apology, a confession to you and before you, to mend what needs mending. Please know that this is from the very sincere depths of my being, to the very depths of yours.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am sorry that my haughty (and erroneous) interpretation of scripture has excluded you and given me ammunition to verbally abase you, judge you, and reduce you to your category of sin instead of using the scripture to guide me towards the love and forgiveness we all equally need. I apologize for seeing you as "deceived" and therefore not hearing your questions and understanding of life; for not acknowledging that you have something to offer me, to offer this world. I am sorry for saying that I love you when I really have an agenda to despise you so that I can feel good about myself. I'm sorry that my love is conditional and that my arrogance blinds me from my need for forgiveness.
I'm deeply troubled that I haven't recognized that the Spirit in me, is the same Spirit in you, and that I have undervalued, underappreciated, and left you feeling inferior. I'm sorry that you have heard me talk about love and peace and forgiveness, and then heard me speak negatively and judgmentally about others. Forgive me for throwing stones.
Forgive me for being afraid of different worldviews. For allowing anger to rise from your questions, when I was really just afraid of looking foolish for not knowing the answers. I'm sorry that I have reduced God's love to the people who "already have it together," or to a formula. Forgive me for blindly following antiquated interpretations of theology, or new and white-washed self-help beliefs that compartmentalize and reduce you to a category of sin instead of a person who is cherished and held.
I'm sorry that I have allowed disagreements about theology or politics to overrule my respect for you. For viewing Jesus as a master rather than a friend. I'm sorry for making my beliefs seem like an overreach, like a social club, or clique that only the selective few can be a part of. I'm sorry that I have cheapened God's grace and made it elitist.
I'm sorry for hurting you out of my own misunderstandings. It's really not your fault at all. It's me. It's my failures and fears, my instinct and brokenness to self-preserve, to want to feel important. I'm sorry that I have misunderstood my own reconciliation to Christ, and have projected that onto you. I'm sorry that I haven't loved you well. I need to understand love too. I'm sorry that I've been blind to my own arrogance and I am asking from the bottom of my heart, for you to forgive and release me.
Let me love you better. Let me soak in the adornment of Christ instead of bad theology, so that I can serve and love you from an endless reservoir. Let me prove to you that I can honor our differences, that I can respect your will, and that I can embrace a conversation with you that won't ensnare you in condescension. Let me show you that I am sorry. Speak up gently when I fail you, when I revert to old mindsets. I promise I will begin to listen and humble myself. Give me the opportunity to ask for forgiveness, and to move forward in wisdom. Forgive me of the many sins I have committed against you. Forgive me for the hypocrisy that Jesus himself detests, so that we can move forward in unity, peace, and mercy.
I have recently discovered a man named Viktor Frankl. If you don't know much about him, you will definitely want to read his harrowing story of liberation and mercy.
He was an Austrian psychiatrist, and also a concentration camp survivor. He absolutely LIVED the guts of forgiveness, as well as coming to terms with the meaningfulness of suffering.
So much light has come out of his experiences, but I have to say that this powerful statement was most relatable to me and my own personal penchant towards reactivity. He said "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Wow!
I often react without thinking. I mean, if we're all really honest, most of us could agree with this. We tend to act out of our feelings more than we actually choose them. It is so powerful to be reminded that no matter the provocation, that the way we behave is our own personal responsibility. We don't need to be reflexive in our reactions. We need to pause and to make space to notice that we have the opportunity to choose differently - to choose wisely. Victor suggests that we can change and grow IF we can recognize, increase, and make use of this space. We can be our best IN SPITE of our inclinations.
In James 1:19 we are advised to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. If we follow these three steps in proper order, it becomes much easier to shut the door to our anger and fear, and to create new habits of response through grace and understanding.
Being quick to listen not only prevents disturbances from happening between brothers, but it helps us to hear the Lord speaking subtle truths to us. Truths that would tear down our tendencies to spew the first thoughts that pop in our minds. Being slow to speak will come easier when we are already in the mode of listening. It's much easier to be intentional with our words when we are in a posture of receiving. Finally, being slow to anger happens more naturally as we listen and quiet our insides. We tap into a deeper level of understanding and grace when we remove ourselves from instantaneous responses, and work through our emotions before we commit to any damaging actions.
Let's create space to consider who we would like to be. Let's think about the meaning of our reactions, or perhaps the origin of our go-to habits. Take a moment to think about the outcome of our reactions, then imagine a better response that incites peace. As we practice these pauses, we are rewiring our minds and emotions to fall into new and healthful habits, as well as growing and maturing into better people.
When the occasion arises, we can use prayer, meditation, and self-evaluation to respond intentionally, instead of reacting irrationally. When we take advantage of all of those spaces in between, we decide to live out of truth, and not out of our fears.
"What is to give light must endure burning."