We’ve all heard the rule: If you’re on a plane and it’s going down, put your mask on first—then help your neighbor. Assisting the person next to you before yourself, no matter how well intentioned, could kill both of you.
This same concept applies when learning to love and care for a broken and hurting world. As a homeless advocate on L.A.’s Skid Row for many years this was something that didn’t come naturally and at one point, threatened to drown me. But along the way I picked up a few tools to help keep me afloat.
Roughly five years into my career, I wrote up my resignation letter, certain I couldn’t keep doing this job. At that point I’d watched numerous homeless friends pass away, been held at gunpoint and heard countless stories of pain from the community I’d come to call my own. I was watching the world scream in pain, while stifling my own, and slowly watching the job I loved turn me inside out. I didn’t want to quit as much as I simply felt I couldn’t keep going.
At this point someone suggested that before quitting, I see a counselor. I’d been to one before, so while not afraid of it, I was unsure of how much good she could really do. I was wrong to be skeptical. Through counseling I learned to process the things I was seeing and feeling through a balanced, more healthy lens.
Counseling also taught me how to set up healthy boundaries—learning where to let go and to recognize that I can’t make people’s decisions for them even when I desperately want to. At the end of the day, I really have very little control over most things. And that’s okay.
We weren’t made to live life on our own, we were made to walk with one another and share one another’s burdens. Sometimes this is easier said than done. It’s tempting to want to go rogue, keeping your life and burdens to yourself—true community can be scary. But living a life void of authentic support is not healthy and definitely unsustainable.
There’s an African proverb that puts it like this, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We are far greater and more effective together; it’s why God uses the body of Christ as a metaphor. We need each other to function well.
Take a day off. We live in a cultural society that glorifies the word busy. We are taught that staying late and working ourselves to the grind is something deserving of a medal of honor. We are rarely told to stop, rest and reenergize, lest we fall behind someone else.
Physically we know that pushing your body beyond its limitations will lead to pain, fatigue and illness. It’s no different when talking about the mind and heart. Taking time to step back, do something you enjoy simply for enjoyment’s sake is vital. Don’t be afraid to take a break, say no or let someone else step in if need be.
When I first started getting my feet wet in the fight for justice I felt very disillusioned. For a while I would get really angry and scream things like “God, if you were really good you wouldn’t allow injustice” or “Just fix this already!” and the response I heard back the loudest was always, “That’s what you are here for.”
While it might not feel this way all the time, we are fighting with God, not against or in spite of Him. Isaiah 61:1 tells us that God has called us to be His hands and feet, to bind the broken and free the captive. We must have faith to believe that He can and will equip us with the tools we need to do so.
Caring for a world that is fractured is hard. But it becomes absolutely impossible if caring for yourself isn’t a priority. The more tenacious, passionate and mission-driven you are, the greater responsibility you have to refresh, recharge and relax. If you’ve been called to service then you have to follow the rules… Put your mask on first before assisting others.