I’m not a huge fan of airplane travel, mainly because it’s far less expensive to drive, but sometimes you have to fly. Like when I went to Ireland a few weeks ago. I couldn’t drive to Ireland (well, I could try, but I don’t think I would succeed).
As I sat and listened to the flight attendants run through their little spiel about airplane safety, I smiled when they got to the place about securing your own oxygen mask first. I was traveling with two other people on the way to Ireland, and I had laughingly joked with my sister-in-law that I’d need to make sure one of my travel buddies had her oxygen mask on if we crashed.
That’s the rule with oxygen masks
First, you secure your own and make sure that you are breathing. Then, you help the people around you, children, the elderly, or generally distracted (but totally adorable) traveling companions. It’s a two-step process. First, take care of yourself. Then, take care of those around you.
The problem I usually have (when I’m not flying on an airplane) is that I skip ahead to step two without doing step one. I tend to want to take care of everyone around me first before seeing to my own needs. I want to help people, and I don’t want myself to get in the way. But it’s too much for one person to do alone, and I exhaust myself. (Exodus 18:14-18)
I’ve spent years telling myself this fact over and over again, but only recently did a new way to think about it occur to me. Using airplane oxygen masks correctly is a process.
A two-step process for an airplane
In an emergency situation on an airplane, you can’t just randomly try to help everyone around you. You’ll be in the way of people who are trained for that situation, and you’ll do more damage than you prevent. You’re supposed to stay seated. The best way for you to help those around you is to first take care of yourself.
That goes against my personal programming, but if I don’t first make sure that my thoughts are clear, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be of help to anyone. The truth is, if I don’t take care of my own needs first in that sort of situation, I won’t be able to help anyone around me.
If we accept that concept on an airplane, why can’t we accept it in our everyday lives?
A two-step process for life
I’m talking to myself here. I run myself ragged for the benefit of others. I wear myself down and work my immune system to its lowest point for the sake of those around me. It’s how I’m wired. But I need to start looking at taking care of people as a two-step process.
If I want to help others, I need to take care of myself first. I need to sleep, to eat properly, and take care of my physical and spiritual needs first. Granted, that doesn’t mean I completely ignore people who need help, but before I work myself to exhaustion helping the helpless, first I need to make sure I’m strong enough to be of service. And this isn’t just something I’m making up. This is a biblical principle! (Ephesians 5:29-30)
As Christ-followers, we are called to serve others but not at the cost of our relationship with God or our physical health. Life is a balance between being a good steward of what God has given us and giving sacrificially so that others can share our blessings.
Wearing yourself out helping others may be a noble concept, but it’s not practical or healthy. And it’s not what God intended for us. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) If you really want to help others to the best of your ability, first take the time to make sure you are taking care of yourself.