Caring for Yourself in a World of Needy People

It's been three months or more since I have felt like life's demands were at a reasonable level and my state of mind and mental health was in a really positive place. We've been on this seemingly never-going-to-stop roller-coaster ride that has been exciting at times and scary at others, but that refuses to stop and let me off.

You know how it feels when someone desperately needs you, right? You kinda like it -- you're doing the world a favor and doing unto the least of these and making a difference in someone's life. It feels good. But that good feeling can morph into something closer to resentment, where you feel sucked dry and don't want to hear another problem or see another needy person. I'm coming out of a season where service became too all-consuming. I've been going through the motions of life because school lunches must be made and children must learn their letter sounds and laundry must be done and boxes taken upstairs. But I'm exhausted. Any help I can provide is coming from the dregs of my bucket, not the overflow. 

And I really believe people are best loved and served when they aren't taking the last bit of life-giving care that we have to offer. 

I loved listening to Shauna Niequist talk a little bit about hospitality tonight.

"We long to be loved, but many of us settle for being impressive."
"True hospitality is creating sacred space for God to move in us and through us."

I've always valued efficiency. Neatness. Keeping things in control and nice and not messy. If people come over, the house must be clean, the food must taste good. The guests must be happy and feel comfortable and be entertained. My expectations are unrealistic and often lead to burnout.

Pair these personality traits with a season of life where stresses piled up higher than we anticipated and you have a recipe for disaster. I have listened and served and sacrificed to the point of emptiness and frustration. When this happens, it's easy to feel like even the simplest things we must do for those closest to us are too much.

How can we care for ourselves in a world of needy people? Why do we often have such unrealistic expectations? And shouldn't we admit to having certain needs that must be met before we can love and serve freely and effortlessly?

As Christians, I think we walk hesitantly along that fine line between loving and giving and self-sacrifice and doing things we think look like selfishness. We're afraid we'll be looked down on for choosing to spend our time in a way that will refresh and build us up when maybe we should have been serving at a soup kitchen.

One thing? Really quick? Being a mom IN AND OF ITSELF is serving 24/7. Moms are innately really really good at self-sacrifice. 

So when we feel called to give even more of ourselves to our neighbors and friends and orphans in developing countries, we must be careful to keep from running dry.

Self-Care Tips for Moms Who Serve [which is ALL of us!!]

Be aware of your social needs:
I'm not the type who looks for friends to walk with or shop with or cook with. I'm well aware that I prefer to do all those things alone and that I must do them alone if I want to invite friends over for a meal or spend my mornings teaching preschool or enjoy playing games with my family. Some moms feel drained and tired without social stimulation and need to interact with people on a more regular basis to build up their energy and enthusiasm. Know your social needs.

Take care of your body:
When I exercise early in the morning, I am legitimately more focused, alert, confident, and comfortable in my own skin than I would be otherwise. When I'm intentional about what I need to eat, whether it be healthy fats or protein or carbohydrates, I notice the difference. When I sleep eight hours each night, I'm happier. Vitamins, skin care, water, hair... It's not rocket science, but these are the things that get neglected when life starts to spin wild.

Discover what things recharge you:
So, obviously what refreshes one person may not refresh another. We all have our favorite ways to rest up. It's important to know what works for you and not just go out for coffee with a friend because, well, everyone is doing it! I've had a difficult time finding things to do that actually leave me feeling more energetic. Most things are so stimulating, I end up needing a break. Playing soccer or ultimate frisbee or ice skating or rollerblading all pump me up. Playing board games with friends, writing out my thoughts, lying in a hammock with a good book...these things are good for me. Traveling, hiking, swimming, kayaking, listening to music, playing the piano or guitar. Figure out what you can do that actually leaves you better off than when you started!

Know what overstimulates you:
I'm overstimulated by a lot of people talking to each other in a small room. I'm overstimulated by people arguing or really any conflict. I'm overstimulated by any group gathering where I should know people, but feel like I really don't. I'm overstimulated by a very long time [1 hr+] spent in conversation with just about anybody. I'm learning to avoid these situations when I can or to just be aware that I'll need some recovery time afterwards.

Outline your top values and set boundaries accordingly:
If you value adventure and spending a lot of quality time with your family, you probably won't choose responsibilities that keep you tied down with work that doesn't allow for that. If you value creativity and beauty around you, you'll probably make space for that in your home and in your schedule. If you value great home-cooked meals, you'll put time for that at a higher priority than maybe chatting with a friend on the phone. Our time is finite -- we just have to choose what is most important to us and do it! If that means saying no to a friend or even to yourself, you must! Boundaries must be in place in order to suck the marrow of life.

"Taking care of yourself is the most powerful way to begin to take care of others." Bryant McGill