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Putting Myself First

My Baptist upbringing introduced me to the concept of self-denial at an early age. Sacrificing my own interests and needs was seen as a righteous act that mirrored the path of Jesus who (literally) sacrificed his physical body in order to save the world. John 3:16 was one of the first scriptures I committed to memory. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Even God had to sacrifice something, so it was expected that those who believed in God would do the same. Self-denial in the name of sacrificing was a morally correct way of living, and I adopted the same philosophy in my own life. I sacrificed my time, money, and energy for church causes and church people, believing that my reward may never manifest in the physical realm but would be multiplied in heaven. I relished the idea that my sacrifices placed me closer to God. However, as I look back, I realize how limited my view of God created a limiting and self-sacrificing practice in my life that would ultimately become my detriment. In fact, self-sacrifice and self-denial showed up in numerous ways in my family structure and surroundings…

Conflict seems simpler to resolve when you deny your own interests. Self-sacrifice justified staying in abusive relationships and toxic marriages because children and mortgages made it difficult to untangle our needs from others. It made finances, free will, and free-thinking easy to relinquish to capitalism and religious institutions. People pleasing became part of life because one was required to always, always put others before oneself because such acts were applauded for their selflessness. For years, I participated in self-sacrifice and wore the personal anguish and trials that followed as a badge of honor because isn’t this what Christ did?

It took me taking a step back from church theology to gain a deeper understanding that God never intended for us to deny ourselves or to sacrifice our being (the very being that is also taught to be dreaded in God’s divine image) in order to gain personal relationship or reward from God. In fact, sacrificing Self in the context of what I learned was a form of lovelessness. We are taught to exert tremendous effort so that everyone knows our goodness. However, the price of being “good” in the eyes of this society costs you your happiness. While, we should not subscribe to every personal indulgence, especially those that do not align with our highest well-being, we are also not to completely forget our interests, hobbies, desires, dreams, feelings, and worth in any spiritual practice or in any relationship—children and spouses included.

My persistent self-denial and constant self-sacrifice make it difficult to determine my own interests, needs, and desires later on in life and I was left frustrated, anxious, and fearful as I got older. I didn’t know how to address the misalignment and compromise in my relationships, careers, or with myself, and found myself running marathons for others when I had yet to get to the registration table for myself. I’m still learning this and working my way to prioritizing myself and my interests and needs, filling my own cup, and putting down my superhero cape. I’m (re)learning myself and doing so without giving up parts of me for the sake of perceived godliness. Because I don’t believe God intended for me to exist in such a state to begin with.

I believe that tapping into ourselves, deeply studying what (and who) is best for us, treating our minds and hearts, and emotions as scared vessels allow us to truly align with a righteous way of living where our first instinct is not to crucify our existence for the sake of others, but to exist in our highest well-being where we are able to honor ourselves, make decisions that encompass all of who we are that are detached from societal and familial expectations and live a life in which we are intentional in the things we surrender—not because we wish or hope for something else—because we know that choosing ourselves first allows us to create harmony in all other areas of our life and in the lives of those that intersect with our own.

Choosing oneself is not selfish, but forgetting oneSelf and ignoring one’s needs is self-destructing. Balance can exist and it first starts with understanding oneself as a sacred and divine vessel with wants, needs, desires, dreams, and feelings that is worthy of a life where you do not erase yourself to make room for others. Instead, you take care of yourself so that you have an overflow to take care of everything else.


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