We are only days in to the new year, 2018. I was happy to say farewell to 2017. It felt like a deep exhale. Breathe out all of the pain, grief, fear, doubt, illness, confusion, and loss. Breathe in health, hope, joy, peace, growth, and newness. If 2017 was a crash course in letting go, 2018 will be a lesson in continuing to unfurl my fingers, stretch out my hands, and hold things loosely.
I discovered the author/musician/artist Morgan Harper Nichols on January 1st. I was looking for a quote to write in my journal for my monthly calendar. The words in the image above struck me deeply. A year ago, I had no idea that this is where I would be now. Six months ago, I had no idea how I could even make it to this point. But by incredible grace, here I am. I started listening to Morgan’s music and reading the poetry and letters she writes in response to stories that strangers send to her. Reading her words and lyrics felt like taking a deep, satisfying breath. Many of the words felt like my own, like she’d written them just for me.
I bought a pin last fall, designed by the incredible Emily McDowell.
It says “Put Myself First,” a pretty purple reminder that self-care is not selfish and it is absolutely, 100% okay to prioritize myself and my health. It took me months to unlearn certain scripts I had come to accept as truth about myself in relation to others, about faith, about what I deserve. I tend to be more of a listener than a talker. I’d much rather sit with people in their messes than my own, offering encouragement and a listening ear. Somewhere along the way, this gentle tendency morphed into an underlying belief that other people and their needs should always come first, that I don’t deserve to be heard.
Growing up in a Christian church culture, I heard as a young girl that people are so inherently sinful and selfish that we have to consciously put others first and sacrifice our own wants and needs for the good of others. Paul writes in Philippians 2:3-4 to “in humility, count others more significant that yourself. Let each of you look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others” (ESV). Without a greater context, I saw verses like these to mean that loving others was a way of loving God, and to love others meant to put them above yourself. In my “good little Christian girl” mind, prioritizing my needs and desires was a sin. I assumed that older, “better” Christians had figured this out already, and in my shame, I didn’t ask more about it. Every now and then, I would hear a “you can’t pour from an empty cup” message, but these were outnumbered by sermons about caring for others, helping the poor, the orphans, the widows, and spreading the love of Christ. I now recognize that I can’t extend more love to others than I have for myself. I can’t give others more grace than I give myself. Maybe that’s the message that sensitive people need to hear over and over again. I know I did.
Self-care is not selfish, it’s not a privilege, it shouldn’t be a luxury. It’s a necessity. It’s not just about self-indulgence or a “treat yo self” day. It’s about nurturing and loving yourself, being mindful of your needs and desires, and prioritizing your well-being and health. That looks different for each person. For me, it means regular therapy, daily yoga, journaling, reading, talking to long-distance friends, writing letters, eating meals, and drinking water. Some days it’s relaxing on the couch with a cup of coffee and a book. Some days it’s challenging myself to do something new, like taking an art class or joining a gym. I’m proud of how I’ve learned to love and care for myself in the past few months. In 2018, I’m going to continue treating myself with the respect and grace I used to only bestow on others. I’m going to continue to breathe, in and out, grateful for the life I’m living.
In 2017, the fear of letting go was so consuming, that I thought I might be crushed by the weight of it. I could not conceive of a life without the things and people I thought I needed, thought I could not live without. I forgot who I was, what I wanted, what I longed for. But in opening my clenched fists, I found pain, yes, but also freedom. My world and perspective started to expand along with my lungs. Growing, growing.
Let us live into that newness this year, friends. Let us nurture ourselves, tending to our growth, goodness, and light.