Our pastor shared from experience last Sunday about the very taxing mistake of not taking care of yourself. It reminded me of some thoughts I’d been meaning to share with you guys for a while now, because I think they are important and if I don’t say them to you, I’m not sure who will!

The lesson began for me several months ago when I was deep in Skype conversation with an adorably sweet young lady back home who loves, loves, loves Jesus. Let’s call her Emily. Emily was in a bit of a tough situation because her health had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. She had developed a very debilitating health condition that was hindering her ability to function normally. And while the doctors weren’t sure whether it was genetic, stress-related, or just some strange thing that showed up on her doorstep, an hour into our conversation, I was beginning to draw my own conclusions. (Which have nothing to do with having half a PhD, mind you.)

It was clear that Emily was stressed. She’d mentioned several of her commitments here and there, and it seemed plausible that she was struggling under the weight of them all. I began to ask more questions about those commitments, and there were so many I had to start writing them out on my laptop just to get a reasonable idea of everything. Let me give you an idea of the breakdown.

Emily was a senior at university, and with her particularly time-intensive area of study, she basically had classroom or practical commitments from 7 am to 5 pm every day. She was committed to two Bible studies each week, one on Mondays, which she had the responsibility of leading, and another on Fridays, which she simply attended. She attended the college student ministry on Thurdsay evenings and had a church-related babysitting commitment on Sunday afternoons. In addition to the classroom-based work she was doing she had an additional three hours of online study for which she was responsible. Another ministry had just started up in the downtown area, and the leaders were asking her to be more involved. She usually attended the downtown ministry’s evening meetings at least two out of three nights a week and sometimes had responsibilities in the meetings.

I think you’re starting to get the idea, even though I’m not sure I remembered everything on the list. Emily had said so many “yes’es” that she had no time for herself. She didn’t even have time to get homework done. She hardly ever cooked for herself, and she never got to bed before midnight. Then she got up around 5 am the next morning to start the routine of craziness all over again.

While I know this is a bit of an extreme case, the lesson in Emily’s story, that was also a part of the pastor’s this Sunday, is that if you don’t make sure you’re taking care of yourself, no one else will. It is not necessarily a matter of ill intentions, it is just a fact of life that people will take what you’re willing to give. As Proverbs 30:15 wisely puts it, “The leech has two daughters: give and give!” While this is a play on words for the fact that a leech has two suckers which it attaches to its host, it also makes the point of saying that many things in life will take, take, and take until they are satisfied. And since you’re not likely to please ‘em all, they are never going to be satisfied.

The problem is that we often believe the lie that we are being selfish when we take time to attend to our own needs. You might feel guilty for saying “No” to a request because you feel like it’s going to put too much on your plate, so you say yes, even though you shouldn’t. You might feel selfish for making exercise a priority, or for taking an extra fifteen minutes in the morning to choose an outfit and some accessories so that you feel presentable to start your day.

And all these thoughts bring me back to that simple and elusive word: balance. Because somewhere in between gyming so much you don’t care about anything else, grooming so little that people are grossed out, and saying yes to every request that comes your way, there is balance. It’s this place where you are following the leading of Jesus which could have you out on a limb in a foreign country, or pouring soup in a kitchen in a rough neighborhood…but it’s also a place where you are getting a reasonable amount of rest, being careful about what you’re eating, and making exercise a part of your lifestyle.

He makes us lie down in green pastures, ya know?

It’s sometimes a place where you need to take those extra ten minutes to get ready in the morning, and it’s less about vanity and more about sanity. Because completely neglecting yourself to only always ever attend to others will not get you very far for very long.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a fiery Scotsman who I am rather fond of, was also mentioned Sunday. (And I’m not just fond of him because we both went to the Univeristy of Edinburgh or because of his great reading plan I’ve already told you about.) A pastor, poet, evangelist and “lover of souls,” his sermons are incredibly profound, and you might read a few (please do) and then be overwhelmed to realise how old he was when he penned them. At the age of 29, his health was failing. Just before his death, he said,

“God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride.  I have killed the horse and now cannot deliver the message.”

Hear, oh, people-pleasing folk who are too much like me: You are no good to anybody if you’re not taking care of yourself. In light of the leading and wisdom of God’s Word, and with the guidance of His Holy Spirit, think about your priorities and your schedule and see to it that you don’t kill your horse!