So I grew up with three sisters. One older and two younger. For most of my life I had people telling me, “You must be spoiled”, and for years I never understood what they meant. Then as I got older, I began to understand that living in a house full of women with one boy meant I must have been catered to more often than not, and additionally got my way most of the time. Well I can say with certainty that my father did not allow that to occur during my formative and pre-teen years.
Not only was I assigned specific chores like taking out the garbage, yard work and washing cars, but I was also responsible for washing dishes and cooking. Of course I seldom thought it was fair, but such is life, and eventually I came to realize the benefits of thoroughly knowing both scopes of household duties.
As a brother (older to the majority of my sisters), I took on specific responsibilities and obligations that only we young men do, like looking after them, protecting them and making sure they were generally good in life.
Coming from a divorced home, this philosophy became more pronounced if you can imagine. Not only did I self-appoint myself as the man of the house at fourteen, but I now felt a stronger obligation to fulfill the roles I once thought were somewhat optional, but without hesitation I owned and accepted them with honor, at least for a season. A very long season albeit.
Fast-forward a few decades and I recall a phone call I had with one of my younger sisters over the phone. It was during a rough time in my life. I was going through a tough time in my first marriage. No one knew about my struggles and she called me for martial advice. “Really”, I thought to myself. So as I listened to her and shared what I thought to be encouraging words, I also asked her, “What if I wanted to do what you are thinking about?” As I look back, her answer was pivotal and tremendously significant regarding what I am attempting to share today with you.
With every piece of sincerity and love she had for her older brother, she answered calmly with, “Henry you can’t do that because….you just can’t.” I still remember where I was driving during that conversation, like it was yesterday. It left an indelible print on my heart and mind and ultimately became the theme song I played over and over in my life for years to come.
I deduced from that conversation, along with the baggage I had already inherited as an older brother and then man of the house, that it was my duty and responsibility to take care of people, especially the ones I claimed to love. And at all cost.
So for years I lived this life of caring for my world and the people in it. I actually became quite good at it. There was just one problem, one major issue that lingered in the background like a bad taste in my mouth. I neglected one important person. Yes myself. I forgot about loving numero Uno. Can you relate?
So after years of self-inflicted torture and this, what I believed to be inherent calling to save the world one person at a time belief, while simultaneously denouncing my own needs, I finally came to my senses. Well actually I cannot even call it that because I would have still been on that same road if it were not for my own brokenness.
Yes, it was my own brokenness that caused me to see the light or better yet recognize I was worthy of loving myself before anyone else in the whole wide world. This was/is not simply a second nature task for someone with my background and longing to help everyone. Placing myself first was completely a foreign place. It was uncomfortable, strange and actually felt like I was doing something wrong. “Is this was people do?”, I thought to myself. I suppose it was and I realized it was time for me to experience it as a normal part of my life as well.
So how does one come to practice this way of life, loving yourself first? Well after many days and nights of prayer, counsel and self-help books that declared I mattered, I finally came to this one conclusion.
Never again apologize or make an excuse for being a priority in my own life.
In short, I believe the current term now is “do you”. For some this can become an excuse to be selfish which I will admit is a huge societal problem, but for those of you on a real mission to become more than what you are today, it can be a place of real struggle and the propensity to retract is ever-present.
Obviously if it were that easy to arrive at this freeing place, we would have all been there yesterday (to put it figuratively) but it is not. For years we have driven ourselves into the ground and labeled it as duty. For years we have taken a front seat to causes we did not agree or believe in, in the name of honor. For years we have taken a back seat to what we do actually believe in, all in the name of sacrifice. For years and most of our lives we have neglected ourselves and only given to others, all in the name of “love”. Was that really love or something else we can label as noble? Hmm…
Only you can truly answer the questions that plague your heart and mind and leave you awake at night staring at the ceiling. Only you can determine when enough is enough. Only you and God can understand when you finally arrive at your breaking point where you finally realize that not only do you matter, but you are worthy of love, not only from God and others, but also from yourself. If the golden rule in life is to treat others as you desire to be treated, how can we afford to share that with people who have not first learned the art of loving themselves? The answer is we cannot. We will only give our community more complexes, therefore perpetuating the issue. So learn to love yourself better today than you did yesterday. True love never fails.