The Myth of Selflessness, the Gift of Selfishness

In the world of ministry, there seems to be a badge of honor for those who work themselves like a dog “for the sake of the Kingdom.” This goes for those who serve in full-time paid ministry as well as those who are bi-vocational or volunteers. I don’t know where this came from, but I know it’s got to stop!

I was just at a retreat/conference/gathering for African American ministers/leaders in my denomination, and we had a workshop on soul care. The presenter, Rev. Harvey F. Carey, started us off by having us listen to Larnelle Harris’ recording of “I Miss My Time with You.” If you haven’t heard this song before, it’s about how Christians often substitute “doing for God” for being with God. As I reflect on it in this moment, it reminds me of the difference between Mary and Martha when Jesus visited them at their home.

We’ve heard this message time and time again: God would rather we spend time with Him than spend time working for Him. We’ve also heard the airline announcement analogy countless times. The one where we are reminded of the flight attendant safety speech that tells us that, in the event that oxygen masks are needed, we are to put on our own mask before attempting to help others. Many of us hear these things, are convicted and respond by getting back on track with a routine for spending quality time with God. But a few days or weeks or months later, we look up and realize that we’ve drifted back into our old habits. Sometimes, this is a result of our inability to break free of this myth that selfless Christian service means to ignore our emotional, spiritual and physical needs for times of rest and refreshment. Somewhere along the line, we were convinced that self-care is selfish, and we allow this thought to render us spiritually stagnant.

Yet, once we commit to spending regular and consistent quality time with God, the path seems to be filled with obstacles. I’ve found from my own experience that it can be difficult because we are trying to conform to an unwritten standard. For some people, waking up before the sun and spending two hours in prayer works. For others, not so much. Maybe you connect best with God while walking in a labyrinth or while sitting in a city park – or your local coffee shop. The particulars aren’t important, just that you do it and you do it consistently.

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If you need help with the particulars, there are a number of resources you may want to try. Working with a spiritual director is highly encouraged. I’m a journaler. One of the ways that I’ve “revitalized” my spiritual practices is by replacing my regular lined journals with a blank sketchbook and markers. As the artsy fart that I am, it allows me to be more creative in how I express myself – in general and with/to God (see a sample page on the right). Also, a few books that I refer to often are:

 

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So here’s the last giveaway for the week. Those who provide a significant response to this post will be entered into a drawing to win a blank sketch book and set of markers. (Signing up for the mailing list will earn you an extra entry!) Winners will be announced next week! (For info on how to purchase these items, see the link at the bottom of this post.)

 

What are some of your tried and true spiritual practices?

Before you leave, I encourage you to take a moment to sit with Larnelle Harris’ “I Miss My Time with You.” I also recommend Orchestra Ebenezer’s version, which can be found on their album, “For the Battles of the Day.”

If you’d like to purchase the sketchbook and markers, you can find them on Amazon at:

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