“Do you ever have moments where you feel like your perspective of faith inhibits you from taking care of yourself?”
“I can’t say that I have. Why do you?” He responded groggily and slightly muffled by his pillow as he laid in bed next to me. I had been laying awake for a good long while coming painfully slowly to a personal realization.
“Yes, I do.”
I began explaining it in a jumbled and partially incoherent stream of thought. But the basics of it came down to this: I spent so much of my life focusing on the self sacrifice of my faith, that I had become toxic in it, and often gave up things that were healthy habits for me to continue, because I felt like they were things I could give up in order to practice self sacrifice and take care of other things or because I thought it was selfish of me to take care of myself.
For a real life example, when I got married, my husband and I began contributing to a joint account while also holding on to our own personal bank accounts so that we could build a fund together to pay for joint expenses like insurance and groceries, but still have our own money to make purchases for ourselves without needing to talk it over. Of course, I contribute quite a bit to it so that we can build a better savings, but in doing so I had to give up purchasing vitamins and lotion to take care of common diabetic issues I deal with frequently. I felt like these were things I didn’t need, but rather could do okay without. After having stopped taking my vitamins, I began to see a decline in my health, both emotionally and physically. I stopped taking my St Johns Wort, which I used to help my mood when depression was getting bad. I stopped taking a couple vitamins I used for my blood sugar regulation, and my blood sugars got higher. I stopped taking my vitamin for my kidneys and sure enough….my kidney function went down when I got them checked soon after.
Of course, I spoke to my husband about it when I began to notice the severity of the changes, and I decidedly began taking vitamins again and contributing less to the joint account to do so, but it had been a choice made in my Christian faith to contribute so much to my household financially while also allowing me to practice a form of self sacrifice and self control.
What I hadn’t understood was how backward I had it. Self sacrifice doesn’t mean giving up your health in the name of faith. It was actually the opposite. To “love your neighbor as yourself” there had to be a little love of self in there to fully understand how that works.
The more I think of it, the more I realize I had done this for relationships too. I had practiced giving myself to people by offering them my time, only to have them use me to the point of abuse. I recall a former friend ho was very toxic, controlling, and destructive. Still, I held onto a relationship with this person because I had the perspective that I was to love people no matter what, and that’s what I as asked to do out of love, stick with this person and allow the abuse. Allow the hostilities to constantly come back and hurt my feelings, because that was love and I was being forgiving.
No it isn’t and no I wasn’t.
I understand now that love can be at a distance. I wasn’t being a good loving friend by enabling their toxicity. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything they did to me was okay, it just gave me a means of moving on from what they did to harm me and taught me to accept an apology I was never given. I was not obligated to stay friends with them if they were becoming harmful. So I forgave them and never spoke to them again.
The more I think about it the more I’m beginning to realize that much of what I thought was selfish or at some point in my life was told was selfish of me….is actually what my faith asks me to do. It’s to be joyful and have love for myself and to take good care of myself. To invest in the things that help me to be a better person and to keep me healthy so that I can take care of others, is actually just being responsible for what I have been given in life, which is exactly what Christians are called to do.
Where the mistake often gets made is the act of overindulgence. Things that are not absolute necessities to live are what we can self sacrifice and have self control in. We are asked to take care of that which we have chosen to be responsible for or are called to be responsible for. Our responsibilities and priorities to God, ourselves and our family are what ought to be our focus. For me, my health affects a huge part of my life. If I am not doing all I can to remain healthy, I cannot take care of my husband who I promised Before God that I would take care of. If I am not healthy, I cannot take care of my home because I will not have the energy to do so. If I am not healthy, my actions are not going to be in alignment with God’s commands and I will not be in an emotional place to be kind, caring, and loving. My health holds a lot weight in my faith, and by sacrificing my health, I have found that my faith hasn’t been health either.
I can’t believe in all my years of being a follower of Christ that this had never occurred to me, but I realize more and more that so many people of faith have this backwards too. Probably the same people who lead me to this impression of sacrificing health as a means of self sacrifice, were probably told the same thing by another toxic person before them and so on, to the point that it just became a cultural norm.
Well the toxicity of my culture stops here, and it’s time to learn a little more self love.