“Take good care of yourself.”
“Stay out of others business.”
“Learn to love yourself”
“You are your brother’s keeper.”
“Know and understand your own feelings.”
“Don’t be selfish.”
“Don’t be a people pleaser…”
Wow. We’ve all heard all of this before. And if you notice what I notice, some of those phrases contradict others…. even though there is validity in all of them!
True, we absolutely do find much joy in service, in nurturing and helping others, in being aware of others needs. Think of the anticipation of helping with a secret Santa project, the pleasure in saying hello to someone lonely and seeing their face brighten, or the satisfaction of stopping to help a neighbor in need. These are some of life’s richest treasures. At the end of our life, surely we will never regret any service we have given.
Equally as important in our life development is our need to understand ourselves, to find pleasure in doing things we enjoy, and in protecting some of our key interests. These joys include finding satisfaction in a skill we’ve worked for, the lazy feeling of being well rested after a good nap, the insights gained after prayer and meditation, or the relief after saying no to an unnecessary obligation. Taking care of ourselves is necessary if we are to have anything to give.
But…. this is not so easy to apply in real life. I personally have had a long history of difficulty with this balance, and I understand from my own life experiences how exhausting it can be to do too much for others, and by contrast, how isolating it can be to be only concerned about myself.
As I have spent time pondering these issues, I have concluded that any imbalance comes down to a confusion regarding whom we should:
Any confusion about what to do with the above three items will result in life problems. The way I see it, we should
1. Please GOD
2. Serve our FELLOW MAN, and…
3. Fix OURSELVES.
Now, to look at each of these three items a little closer. It is not hard to get those three flip-flopped around… much to our harm. For instance, if I am worried about pleasing God, it is easy to decide how to handle a morally loaded situation. But, if I am worried about pleasing the really-good-looking-person-who-is-watching-nearby, or whatever, then….. problems arise! As the old saying goes, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” That main thing would be Christ. That would be Heavenly Father. How Heavenly Father feels about us, whether He is pleased with us, is absolutely a fruitful use of our sometimes-prominent “need to please.” But our needing to please and gain approval from worldly sources will confuse and ultimately hurt us in our growth.
We also have an innate desire to serve. And, serving others is one of the most key aspects of the gospel. In spirit, it encompasses the whole of the gospel as stated in Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Notice that “all the law and the prophets” is a pretty big claim. But we can believe it because it is in the scriptures! Satan, in his usual style, will get us to serve the wrong cause if he can’t get us to stop serving. Serving our own interests, or serving “mammon” (the world) are two ways to get this one reversed. Yes, we are to service, but we need to carefully self-monitor to see what or whom we serve.
Then there is the issue of “fixing.” We also seem to have an innate desire to fix broken things, broken people, and broken situations. It is usually pretty “easy” for us to “clearly see” what is wrong with someone else. But at Matthew 7:3 states, “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” I love the work of Byron Katie (feel free to do a google search on this amazing woman). She is a modern self-enlightened teacher who helps people see that what they accuse others of is present and very much alive in the accuser himself. Our compulsion to fix is best served by immediately turning the finger back at ourselves. When we hear our own voices criticizing another (or our own minds doing so), this can be our signal to work on fixing who we ought to be fixing: ourselves.
Pleasing, serving, and fixing are three elements of our inner and outer lives that can either tie and gag us into desperate immobility (by aiming them in the wrong direction), or can free us to greater heights of personal growth. May we carefully self monitor and use these aspects of our lives to enhance our forward momentum by pleasing God, serving our fellow-men, and fixing ourselves.