About the same time this message hits your inbox I will be sitting on an airplane preparing for takeoff, probably half listening as a flight attendant recites the obligatory instructions about seatbelts, tray tables, the location of the lavatories, and the part about the oxygen masks coming down from above in case of a loss of cabin pressure. That one always intrigues me, especially when they tell us that if we are traveling with a small child to place the mask on ourselves first before placing it on the child. My first impression is that that seems backwards; for isn’t it our instinct to take care of the child first? Yet, when we think about it the logic makes perfect sense, that is by taking care of ourselves first we will be much better equipped to take care of the needs of the child.
During a small group meeting my wife attends each week a friend suggested recently that when we pray we should pray for ourselves first. When she shared that idea with me my first impression was much the same as with the oxygen mask and the child. Should we not focus our prayers first and foremost on the needs of others, I questioned? Yet the logic is the same, that by first taking care of ourselves we will be much better equipped to tend to the needs of others.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “I can never be all I ought to be, unless you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be, unless I am all I ought to be.” How do we get to be all we ought to be unless we are generous toward ourselves body, mind, and spirit? We must have something to give before we can offer it to someone else; otherwise we are of little use. How can we expect to provide oxygen to a child if we are gasping for breath; or how can we offer spiritual intercession for another when our own soul is malnourished?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” Jesus commanded, “And . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.” But to love our neighbor as ourselves implies that we must also love ourselves, and in doing so – including being generous in nourishing ourselves – we grow closer to being all we ought to be, which in turn equips us to help others become all they ought to be.