I like to tell people to “Take care,” when I end calls and emails. Because I don’t waste words–not intentionally–I think about how to end interactions. Sometimes I tell people to “Stay well” or I’ll close an email with “Every blessing,” taking the ending from Dr. Walter Elwell who emailed me about a paper once when I was in grad school. I still love that closing and every time I use it, I think of him and what he taught me about Jesus in my first class studying theology. Of course, most people don’t give that much thought to how I close my emails. Still, when I write “Take care,” I’m often thinking of the focus of this part of the Rule.
This isn’t caring for someone else. This is care for you by you. Most people are told–in a variety of ways–to care for others, but being told to care for self and actually doing so feels selfish. Consider the notion of being selfish. The snarky but well-meaning me wants to say that we are selves, that we are alive to be who we are and nothing else. When it comes to being selfish the question is, can we be anything else?
I know when people say it they intend to suggest that we not make ourselves the center of the universe, that we become giving people, and that we not restrict our experience of the world to the limits of our skin, our arm’s length, and our conceived notions. Still, all selfishness isn’t created equal.
I was speaking with pastoral psychotherapist Dr. Janice Hodge earlier this year and she reminded me of Jesus’ words where he summed up the commandments into a two-part law. It’s the one where Jesus said to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Dr. Hodge underlined the as yourself part and told me that most people dismiss that clincher. I’ve learned this over the years, forgotten it, and am learning it again.
The rule of life becomes a vehicle where we attend to others, to serving others, for sure. But it also makes us question what we’ll remember, be mindful of, and execute for the sake of ourselves. We don’t love others if we don’t love ourselves. What we do is attempt to love, try to love, get at love. We may be on the way to loving, but without the as yourself part, we’re still, simply, trying.
Because our denomination is strong in this area for its clergy persons, I have a pretty developed practice of self-care. I teach seminarians in this area as well, and anytime I answer questions around self-care, I’m immediately reflecting on my ups and downs, successes and failures at living it.
What do you need to do to attend to yourself? What activity do you need to start or end? Who do you need around you for the next six months, the next year, to strengthen you? Of course, we’ll get to the next parts of the Rule which have to do with what you’ll do for people, how you’ll love God or others. But stay with this until you come up to some unmistakable clarity about taking care of you.