Our liturgical theme this month is “Love.” On Sunday, we explored eight types of love and the Greek names for them – agape, eros, ludas, philia, philautia, pragma, mania, and storge. As I said on Sunday, this message focuses on philautia or self-love. A healthy self-love is an empathetic way of loving yourself which, in turn, will enhance your ability to love others.
Parker Palmer, a member of the Religious Society of Friends and an inspirational writer, speaker, and activist, is quoted as saying: Self-care (and self-love) is never a selfish act — it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to our true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.
When I was being trained for ministry, for the first time in my life, I found myself being taught lessons on self-care. The lessons began with a question: How can you take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself? As a driven individual, I was initially suspicious of the instruction to take care of my physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing before taking care of others – that is, until I remembered a concept from my legal training: Nemo dat quod non habet, which is an axiomatic legal rule that means “you cannot give what you do not have.” In the legal context it means that you cannot legally sell to someone property that you do not actually own. With a change in context, however, the concept remains true. Aristotle put it this way: All friendly feelings for others are an extension of man’s feelings for himself. So, before I can be a comforting, non-anxious presence exhibiting empathy and compassion for my congregants, I must be able to do that for myself.
When I find myself overwhelmed with life’s demands, I remind myself of the airline attendant’s instruction to “be sure to secure your own [oxygen] mask before assisting others.” It helps me not feel guilty about stepping back and taking time to recharge my spiritual battery. For me, that might mean taking a walk; meeting with my spiritual director; mindfully drinking a hot cup of tea and eating a sweet treat (an exercise that requires complete attention to all the details of the experience – taste, temperature, and texture); or just closing my eyes and allowing my spirit to ride the notes of a classical music piece (I happen to adore cellos and flutes).
The truth in Parker Palmer’s statement is self-evident, and yet, it is one of the most difficult truths to live into. Just when life is demanding the most from us; we are least likely to heed Parker Palmer’s admonition. That’s why it is so important for those of us engaged in building and maintaining the beloved community to be alert to the need for self-care in ourselves and others. By respecting each other’s boundaries, helping each other avoid overextending ourselves, and pitching in where we can to alleviate the demands on others, we ensure that our batteries are charged and we have the energy to be the positive force in the world that we aspire to be.
If you are interested in finding out more about healthy self-care, I recommend that you try the “Loving your Whole Self” spiritual exercise in the Soul Matters small group materials. It identifies various aspects of your “self” and suggests ways in which you may love and care for it. I’m interested in your self care experiences, so I invite you to send me an email at " target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener"> and tell me all about them!
Rev. Lee Anne