This morning I woke up very early so that I could do some things for someone I love. I packed a lunch. I made coffee. I took care of a couple of little chores. I did most of these things through the slits that most people call eyes, but I did them willingly because I was doing them for someone I love.
Today, I have a bunch of grading to do, and while grading is, hands down, my least favorite part of teaching, I am trying to do it gladly because it is, in the end, the part of my job that is entirely for the students. Nothing can be – if they allow it to be – as helpful to their writing as focused, solid feedback on their papers, and so if I’m truly putting them first, I need to give them meaningful commentary.
I find that when I do these things – when I put others ahead of myself – I have great joy and energy. Given, I’m still a little sleepy here at the desk, but my spirit feels so good.
Yet, in our culture, we spend a lot of time talking about how to “take care of ourselves.” Almost every issue of every women’s magazine I’ve read recently has an article about “learning to say no” and “taking time for YOU,” and while on some surfacy level, I find these things true – I see many people run themselves ragged and ruin relationships in the process – I find that I am least happy, least fulfilled, and least joyful when I spend all my time thinking of myself.
There’s also another side-effect of this me-focused mindset – I begin to think that if I just spend more time thinking about myself or taking care of myself or “looking out for number one,” I will be able to find fulfillment, meet my own needs, and all around control my situation. Yet, there is nothing further from the truth. No matter how much time I spend focusing on myself and what I want I cannot guarantee that this effort will produce the results I want. Only God can meet my needs and get me where I need to be. Not other people, not jobs, not money, and most significantly, not myself. Only God.
In contrast, when I give of my time and energy, when I sacrifice a little something I want (like another hour of sleep), I am able to generate more joy and more happiness for myself, even if the people around me don’t see what I’ve done (although this morning, the lunch and coffee were gratefully accepted.).
Perhaps this is part of what Jesus meant when he said, “If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.” (Matthew 10:39b). Perhaps part of finding our joy is found in losing ourselves for others and, therefore, for God.
Now, on to grading. 🙂