“Why It’s Okay (Actually, Essential) to Put Yourself First” is a wonderful article recently published on Oprah.com. The author, Valerie Monroe, tells a compelling story of how she “learned the hard way to put myself first.”
There are really two selves to consider here, one the “self”: that woman, wife, mother, sister, friend, daughter who is always putting others first, and; the “Self”: that marvelous, unique person who has been created by God and whom God constantly invites into deeper relationship, and fuller expression, in life.
Take for example the sisters in scripture who embody these two selves: Martha and Mary.
In Luke’s Gospel, we read: “But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’”
Let’s rewind a bit and take a look at the scene that took place before Jesus’ remark to Martha. When we first met Martha, she was running around her house hosting Jesus and his disciples. Martha was trying to be a good hostess; after all, she had a celebrity in her midst! In her whirlwind of activity, she noticed her sister, Mary, had seated herself at the foot of Jesus and was enjoying his teaching. Noting Jesus’ hold on Mary’s attention, Martha asked him to intercede with Mary and ask her to contribute to the work of entertaining their guests. Instead, Jesus turns his rebuke to Martha, and seems to judge her efforts as unimportant.
How hurtful and confusing! Martha was doing what she’d been raised to do—prepare a lovely table for her guests—and doing it well, no doubt. Yet the teacher whom she admired seemed unsympathetic to her plight. Imagine the sting of embarrassment in her heart, the flush of red on her cheeks, and the tears that filled her eyes as she turned away from Jesus.
We cannot hear the tone of voice with which Jesus speaks to Martha. If she was harried and unable to enjoy herself at the party, perhaps his words were spoken with compassion. Perhaps he was inviting her to relax a bit and enjoy the fellowship of the gathering, and not let the tasks of entertaining consume her. This is good advice for everyday of life, not just when hosting a party. Martha, so occupied with serving others, needs to tend her “self” so that she won’t get burned out.
Perhaps Mary’s is the better choice, or at least should be the first choice in our busy lives–to take time in prayer and quiet ourselves in the presence of God. Mary
is tending to her “Self”: that part of her where God resides.
Our busy days challenge us to attend to the Self as well as the self. When both are cared for, marvelous transformations take place.
Consider the next time we meet Martha in the Scriptures, in John’s Gospel:
“Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’”
Just a few few short years after her dinner party, we meet a woman transformed by faith. Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus very much. When Lazarus died, Jesus came to visit the sisters, and Martha was the one who met him on the road and proclaimed her faith in him. The one busy and distracted by many things becomes the one to declare her faith so simply and plainly that Jesus performs one of the most powerful and dramatic miracles of his ministry. Her faith healed her brother, and her family. If Martha can be so changed, there is hope for all the Martha’s in the world!
And so it is essential, to be the fullest expression of God’s love to those around us, to put our Self first, and our self.