Finding the Balance between Selfish Indulgence, Selflessness and Balanced Self Care
Someone seeking to grow spiritually has to find the right balance between selflessness, selfishness and self-care. It is not helpful to try and be so completely selfless that your health and psychological state suffer and you are constantly depleted. An active servant of the most high is not often depleted but actually is energized by a life in service. Loving yourself is something you learn because you have to. How does this work?
Consider when you are learning a new skill or a new language. In the beginning, a lot of effort is required just to understand how it works. Imagine that you were learning English and how much concentration would be required to have basic conversations. Most people learning a second language translate in real time what they hear into their native language. That means for every word they hear in English, their minds have to translate it to their first language, digest what is said, formulate an answer in their native language and then translate it back to English. If they don’t yet have the word in English to match what they want to say, then there is an extra step of trying to find a word or phrase that still conveys the correct meaning.
Add to this pronunciation, phrasing and basic grammatical considerations and this can be exhausting. Two people speaking English, one native and one who is learning it would thus have quite a different experience during a simple conversation. For the native, the effort is minimal since the language and all its nuances are so familiar. For the other person, it takes intense concentration in the moment and a lot of private study time to approach something similar.
The spiritual path is like this. The amount of effort in letting go of old habits, discovering deep wounds and doing the forgiveness work to heal them, learning to love God and all people, meditating to receive meaningful guidance, refraining from old vices that used to comfort you… moving on from all the ways of the old life requires a lot of energy. But one day, it will be as natural and effortless as if you were speaking your native language. Getting to that point happens when you are committed, you work hard and you learn not to resist.
One of the tricky aspects to growing on the path is learning to love yourself and not take it to the extreme. Finding that acceptable line between self-care and selfishness or even over-indulgence requires discernment. For example, you might enjoy a nice hot bath after a tough day. You relax deeply and truly enjoy the feeling of being submerged in the tub in the privacy of your home. Nothing wrong with that.
But if you have to have a bath each night and if you don’t get it, you get irritable. Or come bath time, you withdraw from people and all you can think about is your bath, now it has become indulgent. In the former example, you remain relaxed and can enjoy the experience without a lot of drama. In the latter, you may have become too dependent on the experience and it has tightened you up. This is how addicts are. They crave their fix to the degree that nothing else matters.
As you mature spiritually, you will find yourself very appreciative of good experiences and also very cognizant that they are fleeting. God is in charge so you will learn to ask for what you want and accept what is given.
Loving yourself starts with you knowing what you need in order to function joyfully and energetically and making sure you get those things. The very basics begin with physical needs. You must ensure you eat healthy balanced meals, maintain good water intake, exercise your body regularly and have adequate sleep. An example of an extreme would be someone who gets very rigid about what they eat (everything has to be totally natural), has to sleep 9 hours per night, drink 80 oz of water a day and exercise an hour each day. This kind of obsession with physical health is not realistic for a life of service. It’s unbalanced and actually it won’t yield happiness to live this way. It’s driven by fear and not love.
The opposite extreme is where you hardly care at all, drinking multiple coffees a day, staying up late and maybe getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night, eating junk food, drinking sodas, smoking cigarettes… a sort of ‘whatever makes me feel good’ approach. This is also not love but actually a form of hate. To love yourself, you must honor that the body is the temple of the soul and is an unbelievable creation that we can barely explain scientifically. How loving of God to have all these biological systems working in our bodies that require no conscious effort on our part. Praise the Lord.
The middle ground with the body is to provide the essentials in a disciplined manner and enjoy treats in moderation. You will find if you are working with Light and growing in Christ, things like coffee, alcohol, cigarettes and sugar binging won’t feel as good to you anymore. You will outgrow these things like children outgrow certain kiddie foods (mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, overly sweet drinks, candy etc).
The hardest aspect to loving yourself comes up when you are asked to start giving more. Aspiring to follow the Will of God means eventually the focus will shift away from you and your issues and more to giving. Emotions, feelings and various levels of resistance may arise when challenged to give of yourself.
Growing to be a confident, shining and reliable servant to God takes time. We often talk about feeling stretched on the path. These are the moments when you may feel it is too much, that too much is being asked and you want to disconnect from the pressure. Instead, take on the challenge and use these instances to become totally reliant on God. Pray with more fervor. Take a deep breath and go for it.
At the same time, you need to monitor when you get off balanced. Loving yourself means you are in tune with your limits. If you really want this life, you can feel when you are being stretched and it’s just part of you that is irritated that you have to give. In those cases, you don’t give validity to that emotion but the higher part in you deals with the inner fit and you give of yourself anyway. At times it may be too much though and that’s when you have to love yourself and pull back. The main thing is that you want to take it on and please God. That is the choice you are making. If you are resisting and a significant part of you doesn’t want to serve, then you will sabotage most opportunities to give. You’ll find very compelling reasons that you can hardly give at all. Nothing will seem to work out and lo and behold, you have your old life back.
Assuming you are clear inside that at least 80 to 90 percent of you is committed to a life in service to God through Jesus and Mary (the remaining percentage will follow suit over time), then you just need to learn when you hit your limit. You will be able to stretch beyond that limit if you are loving yourself consistently. If you are eating, sleeping and exercising well, your body won’t throw a fit because one night you only get 4 hours. If you are meditating daily and addressing emotions as they come up, you won’t fall prey to an inner tantrum because someone needs you and you can’t watch your favorite Netflix episode. If you are attending classes and services regularly and actively implementing the teachings, you will have the tools at your disposal to be useful when the Spirit says it is your hour.
Always remember that God loves you and it is His good pleasure to give you the keys to the Kingdom. Being a servant is different than being enslaved in an oppressive way. You are to be a servant by choice, giving your will over so that His Will might be done in you. It can be hard at times simply because we have so many bad associations with authority which is why coming into the full expression of your life of service takes years. God wants you complicit and not kicking and screaming in rebellion. You have to want to fulfill this higher calling even though it tests you and stretches you.
Having said this, it is important to receive the grace of God and take time to do things you love. God will carve out space for you to relax, find solitude so you can go deep into meditation and do fun things with the people you enjoy. Sure we could look around us and see there is no time for frivolities because there is so much suffering. Caring about people you don’t know in an intense way is you becoming more Godly. Don’t block this.
But also, it’s a long term plan so you give each day consciously and get into the rhythm the Spirit sets up for you. That means time to retreat and take care of the important things for yourself so you don’t get off balanced. There will be feasting when it’s time to celebrate, socializing and sharing some good laughs and engaging in activities that bring you joy. God knows what they are. As long as they aren’t perpetuating harm against you or others, and hopefully are bringing glory to God by honoring His creation, participate and keep a light heart. Don’t feel bad or guilty for enjoying life.
God is not going to ask anyone of us to fix the whole world. As you get ushered into one level of giving or service, adjust to it, keep your practices and maintain a balanced physical life, the time will come when you can pray to go deeper so you can give more. At that point, you will have seen how giving freely becomes the source of the most purpose, joy and energy. Why wouldn’t you want to give more? God will test you then to make sure you are not getting prideful, saying you want to give more when really you aren’t ready yet. These tests create adversity to see if you want to dig in deeper and push through. By loving yourself, you don’t lunge out too soon. At the same time, loving yourself means you accept the challenge when it’s your time.
For now, take inventory of where you are as far as making time for things that you enjoy. Are you tending to your physical body and being disciplined in your devotions? If not, the life of service might be hard for you. Being disciplined is the hallmark of a disciple.