In a month, my husband and I will celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Some days, I hang on his every word. Other days, I hope to enter some kind of alternate universe in Target, never to be seen or heard from again. So far, marriage has been like the three-legged races we used to have on field day, except in real life. And we fall sometimes trying to figure out how to work in tandem. But, we’re determined to finish strong. We pick each other up and keep going, and we even manage to have fun along the way. That’s all you can ask. Honestly, if I were partnered with anyone else, I would’ve long given up on three-legged races, field day, and all the stupid kids telling me how fun it is, and gone inside to the air-conditioned library where I could be at peace with my books.
However, this post is not about my husband, even though marriage has definitely helped to mature my thoughts on consistent love. This is about a responsibility to love that we overlook in lieu of our obligations to family, church, job, community organizations and anyone who calls us acting like they need something only you can provide. This is about our responsibility, no, our mandate, to love ourselves and physically make the time and put aside the resources to remember how incredible and powerful our souls are. Rep. Maxine Waters calls it “Reclaiming My Time.” For me, it’s Selfless Selfishness.
Maybe it’s just me, but after many years of adulting so hard, I started to base my importance and usefulness to the world on what the people around me needed and expected from me. The things I loved to do had to wait, because I can’t be a good mother unless I sacrifice. I have to put my husband’s needs above my own, because I’m not a good wife if I don’t sacrifice and compromise. I had to put in a bunch of extra hours at my job with no visible results, because I’m not a valuable employee if I don’t make some sacrifices.
So, I stopped going to the theatre. I stopped going to museums. I stopped going to the symphony. I stopped practicing the piano. I stopped singing. I stopped writing. For love. For sacrifice. And I became so busy holding everyone down that I stopped thinking about it unless someone who used to know me — pre-family, pre-career, pre-activist, pre-saved — asked me if I was still doing something I truly used to treasure. I’d tell them no, because, you know, life, and they’d nod with a mixture of understanding and disappointment, because they hoped I hadn’t got caught up in this whole life sacrifice like they had. Oh well, another one.
But, a few months ago, I started physically feeling horrible. I had no energy. I had no drive. My body would not cooperate with what I wanted and needed for it to do. I kept going, but barely. I kept sacrificing, but I was slipping, and people were getting upset with me because I just could not keep up the way I had. I attributed it to getting older. I prayed I wasn’t sick, but I knew something wasn’t right. Turns out my uterine fibroids were growing and needed to be removed. And when the doctor told me this, I told him I needed to wait until December because I had work to do. Thankfully, he insisted. I had the surgery and an uneventful night in the hospital, then came home. The surgery was the easy part. I started feeling better within hours. The recovery scared me to death. I absolutely refused to take six weeks off from taking care of my family and work. I told my doctor I’d take two weeks, and I wanted to work from home the second week. Which is exactly what I did. But that one week of rest completely changed my perspective on…everything. I honestly think that’s the only reason God allowed me to have my way with the two-week timeframe. I finally learned the lesson.
God only wants me to do what He calls me to do. Nothing less, and certainly nothing more. If God asks me to sacrifice or compromise, then it’s for my benefit. But if I’m doing it just so I can fit some unattainable standard of a good wife, good mom and model citizen set by people in Hollywood writing stories to wrap around ads for soap and shoes, I’m not truly being obedient. And that lesson is hardest to recognize when, as far as man can see, you’re not doing anything wrong.
By day, I work for a political nonprofit in development, or fundraising. One of the first things I learned was the importance of taking extra special care of our top donors — the ones whose gifts take care of operations, grow the size of the organization or help fund new and interesting projects. Well, in our lives, we are our own top donors. We have to take extra special care of ourselves. We keep our operations running, and often the operations of our family, too. If we want double our output, create something special, or do a new thing in our lives, we have to cultivate ourselves, find out our needs and deliver it to ourselves. Yes, my husband loves me, but it is not his job to get me where I want or need to be. That’s self work. Our spouses, partners and friends can and should encourage us, support us and remind us of our power should we temporarily forget. But they can’t do the work for us. And just like we choose to love them and stay with them day by day, we also have to choose ourselves every single day.
Because we desire to leave the world better than we found it, we have to practice selfless selfishness. We have to say no to people who are used to us saying yes. We have to miss some things because we decided to love us enough to roam the halls of a museum or get a much-needed massage. Those events will still go on without us. It is more than okay — it’s necessary. We also have to give others the opportunity to be a blessing to us. If we’re acting like we have it all together, there’s no room for reciprocity for the things we may have done for others.
For me, writing this post is part of a recovery promise I made to myself. When I publish it, I’ll make my new website live, even though I haven’t completed it. In fact, for now, this is all that’s here. That’ll change soon, but I really felt like someone may need this message now.
You don’t have to sacrifice yourself to be good enough.
Can’t nobody love you better than you. (Except God.)