Monday, August 1, 2011

"Me Time", Burnout, and Jesus' Example

In the last decade, there's been a clamoring for women to embrace and seek out "me time". Especially moms. Oprah has promoted it, parenting magazines write about it, and online forums debate its merits. I've spent time thinking about the concept over the last few years, wondering in my own mind if it is a biblical concept or not.

It is tempting to take a black-and-white approach: embrace the concept entirely, or throw it out entirely.

And here's what I've come to think about "me time": we women have to be balanced and unbiased as we examine our lives and determine what our needs are, and then we need to work to meet our own needs as we meet the needs of others. Sometimes, from secular sources, we can hear voices that tell us to put ourselves first, and to seek self-fulfillment as we walk through life. At the same time, we sometimes "hear" from Christian sources about "self-denial" or "taking up our cross" and can wrongly infer that we are never to take time to meet our own needs.

So, on the one hand, we may be tempted to put too much stock in our own self-- seeking our own fulfillment and happiness at the expense of others that God has given us responsibility for or responsibility to. On the other hand, we may be tempted to be proverbial doormats, falsely believing that anything we desire or need is automatically selfish and that if we seek to meet those needs, we would be displeasing to God.

The Bible tells us to, "love your neighbor AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF" (Lev. 19:18, 34; Mt. 19:19; Mt. 22:39; Rom 13:9), the implication, of course, being that we know how to and do love ourselves. The assumption here is that we meet our own needs and care for our own souls... this is to be an example for us as we seek to love others-- we should show them the same concern that we show for our own selves.

The example of Jesus also speaks volumes to us as we seek to rightly balance the call of "me time" with true soul care. Many times in Scripture Jesus sought time alone to pray:
  • Just after miraculously feeding the thousands, Jesus is found praying alone. (Luke 9:18)
  • When troubled and with a heavy heart, Jesus removed Himself even from His closest friends and spent time alone with the Father in prayer in Gethsemane. (Matt. 26: 36-39)
  • In the midst of a heavy season of ministry, Jesus rose "very early in the morning, while it was still dark" to go to a "desolate place" for prayer and solitude, and yet left the solitude to continue on in ministry. (Mark 1:35-38)
  • In Luke's version of the scene of Jesus & His disciples praying at Gethsemane, we get this added bit of information: "he came out and went, as was His custom". He habitually spent time in solitude and prayer. (Luke 22:39)
  • In one particularly demanding time, Jesus got away by Himself, but when the crowds followed Him anyway with their demands, He "had compassion on them" and met their needs. (Matt. 14:13-14)
As women and as mothers, there are varying seasons.

Younger women, not yet married, or those without children, have varying degrees of "free" time or opportunities for quiet.

Many of you are in the earliest years of motherhood, with one baby, or with several little ones, all of whom require your full attention. I understand it can be very difficult to find time for solitude during that stage!

I myself am in a middle stage-- with elementary age kids down to our baby-- and I can sometimes make time for solitude, but have very rare opportunities for silence. I'm in a noisy season, for sure, and it doesn't look like that's going to change anytime soon.

My best friend is 42, and is in a different stage than I. Her 5 kids range from 12-21, and she has much more time for quiet contemplation and study than I currently do. She's busy, running from here to there, but she has much more solitude and silence.

My own mother has a quiet home, as my brother and I are both adults with our own families, and yet she has a massive workload, with many demands on her time, so while she has "quiet", she doesn't have much time.

We are always adjusting from one season to another, and I think we need to examine ourselves thoughtfully. The Bible encourages us to soberly assess our lives. Some of us tend toward self-denial (even to the detriment of our health & sanity-- think of mothers who have mental breakdowns), and some of us tend toward self-gratification (even to the detriment of our family & budget-- think of mothers who rack up debt, ruin their marriages, or hurt their children in their pursuit for self-fulfillment)... we each have to examine our own hearts and search out what is true, and what God would have us do.

When we examine ourselves, we may find sinful motivations, but we will also uncover genuine needs.

I am not able to tell you your needs, and you are likely not able to tell me mine... but we all have One to Whom we can run who knows us perfectly. And amazingly, He Himself knows our weaknesses! And He can help us discern when we are being wrongly selfish, and when we are foolishly burning ourselves out.

As a human man, Jesus felt physically exhausted. Christ-- The Messiah-- Himself needed to get away for prayer and solitude! And then there were times when He put aside His own desire for solitude in order to have compassion on and serve others. We can trust Him to help us as we seek to rightly assess our needs.

Think about what your needs really are... ask God to show you. If you are in a season of high demands, you will need to think more carefully about how to meet your own needs than someone who is in a less-demanding season. On airplanes, they tell you to "put on your own oxygen mask before you seek to help others", and I think for moms in the throes of high-demand seasons, that is a very wise piece of advice. Today, I read this (from a book, "Embracing Soul Care"):
"It is alarming how often leaders crash and burn... burnout is also the hazard of parents, medical practitioners... and anyone who cares for the needs of others. Many of us... don't know when to let ourselves breathe first. ... We want to see other people breathe so badly that we neglect our own air, falsely assuming that we'll take a breath when it's needed. The result is incredible stress, compassion fatigue, and emotional exhaustion."
Don't burn yourself out when there are little ones depending on you!

And on the other hand, we look at Christ's sacrificing of Himself for others and know there is beauty in denial of self.

My encouragement to you is to remember both truths: Jesus Himself got away and refueled during the difficult seasons of His life... and yet, Jesus sacrificed Himself for others when He saw their needs.

Examine your life thoughtfully, and see if there are needs going unmet in a way that is going to lead to burnout and exhaustion. If so, consider how you might better "feed" your soul. Is there a time you can carve out to spend time in solitude, go for a prayer walk, read your Bible, or get some exercise in, so that you are refueling in healthy ways?

For those who tend towards too much "me time", look around you and see where God might stir up compassion in your heart for the needy people around you. Just as Jesus spent time refueling and then was willing to lay aside His solitude for the benefit of others, consider how He might use your "plenty" to overflow into the needs of others.

May He give us all wisdom as we seek to find balance in our lives, love others, and honor Christ above all!

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