Any time I fly, which isn’t too often, I find myself completely tuning out the sweet flight attendant going through all the safety information at the beginning of the flight. It’s almost become white noise at this point. My usual routine is: I get on the flight, put in my headphones, and try to make as little of conversation as possible until I get to my destination. As often as I tune out the flight attendant there is one precaution they give that I think about often, as it is a great analogy to so much of life. They always say, “In the case of a drop in cabin pressure the oxygen masks will drop down. If you are traveling with a child please make sure to secure your oxygen mask first before securing the child’s.” I had never really given that instruction much thought until I traveled with children; then I thought, “Why would I not take care of them first?! I can go without oxygen longer then they can, they’re helpless!” One day, as if to point out my stupidity, I was having this conversation with someone and they said, “Well you’re not worth much help if you're dead!” It finally hit me, OH DUH if for something happens to me then I can not help them at all; but if I make sure that I am healthy first then I can help them with their oxygen mask, stay calm on the flight, and any other circumstances that may arise.
Have you heard of the enneagram? It’s a sort of personality test. I honestly don’t know much about it other than that I got a 2 which is the Helper, and it describes me to a T! The very brief description of a two is that we are generous, self sacrificing, and people-pleasing; we also need to be needed. This test is great because it shows you what your personality looks like when it’s operating in an unhealthy way ie: manipulation; but it also shows you how to operate in health and capitalize on the wonderful things that make you who you are ie:serving others. After taking this personality test I felt like all the things that have been in me that I’ve worked so hard to change are actually my make up and I just need to know how to operate in the healthiest versions of those things instead of changing who I am.
As confident as I have felt that I am I am realizing that I’ve had a large need to be needed. I think I’m acutely aware of my short comings so I wonder what value I actually bring to relationships. Out of that insecurity I feel the need to DO so much. I’m in an interesting place in my life because I don’t have the luxury of doing much for others right now and it has brought out a lot of my insecurities. Will people still want me in their life if I can’t bring anything to the table right now? What if I don’t have as much time for people as they deserve? What if I have to say no to things, will they ever ask me again? What if I pass on this opportunity, will it ever come around again? What if I say yes and my children suffer? What if I say no and I lose myself in this process? Am I being selfish? Am I being selfless? Am I being godly enough? Am I being religious and hypocritical? Am I totally screwing my children up? I need to DO more for others because others have done so much for me. I have become so exhausted by the mental energy it takes to process all of these questions and reason through my motives and my capacity that I end up doing less and less and less.
Enough is enough right?! Then I was reminded, I need to put my oxygen mask on first before I can be any help to anyone else! What are the things that give ME life? What are the things that nourish MY soul? What are the things that bring life into me, SO THAT I can then turn and pour life into someone else. The motives are not selfish. We want to be healthy so that we can help others. We can’t help others if we are dead on the inside. Bitterness, resentment, anger, exhaustion, emotional instability, are all signs that we are dying on the inside. Stop and figure out what gives you life.
In every stage of life it is easy to feel stuck and become resentful. I remember one time hearing a mom say, “I don’t know who I am anymore outside of being a mom. If someone asked me what I enjoy doing, I don’t know what I would say.” I think of that often. I don’t want my kids to be grown and me not know who I am outside of being a mom. I love it and it’s the best thing that I have ever done but it is not all that I have in me. I don’t want to lose the other parts that make up me. If I don’t take time to remember what those are, eventually they will be forgotten. It’s like that for all of us. I also have single friends who have said, “Every year at the beginning of the year I look back and I feel that I’m in the same place as last year. When will things change?” I think we first need to stop apologizing. Stop apologizing for wanting more. Stop apologizing for wanting a spouse. Stop apologizing for wanting a promotion. Stop apologizing for the things that give you life. Stop apologizing for taking a spa day or getting your nails done. Stop apologizing for traveling to far off destinations that you’ve always wanted to see. Stop apologizing to you friends with kids that you can freely go and do at a moments notice. Stop apologizing to your single friends that you have kids and they change that time spent together. Stop apologizing for being the friend that calls all the time, when talking on the phone is life giving to you. Stop apologizing for being a working mom, when you love to work. Stop apologizing for giving yourself some time to rest and recover now that all your kids are in school. (that was for myself!) Find what gives you life and do that thing. How do you know what to say yes to? Your motives. Are you saying yes because you feel pressure? Fear? Competitiveness? Pride? Or are you saying yes because you really know that you are supposed to? The same goes for no. What’s your motive? Your motive will tell you weather you are in the right place or not.
Obviously we don’t live our life only doing what is life giving to us. We are here to bless others too. However, just like my airplane analogy, if we don’t put our own masks on first and get ourselves healthy first then we can not help others. Also, how do we know that the things that give us life are not meant to bless others? I know people who have gone to the same nail place for years and God has done so much through the relationships built over that time. What about that job that you love so much, who are you empowering and encouraging? What about that art class that is life giving to you that you felt so guilty taking? Who are you blessing through your expression of art?
I recently started a group. I was so nervous to start. It was a passion in my heart but the more I vocalized it, it just sounded stupid. Leading up to the first meeting I doubted myself a million times. The night of my group my babysitter was putting my daughter to bed. She texted me later and said, “I just wanted you to know that I nearly cried tonight when I was putting Harper to bed and she said, ‘Emily, my mom is just so good at what she’s doing downstairs.’” If nothing else came of that night it was worth it!