I used to be “in demand”. Needed. Wanted.
In high school my science teacher told me “Jill, you don’t burn the candle at both ends. You break it in half and burn all four.” I was a busy teen! I practiced piano for hours a day because I was competing and played for all the high school choirs and the church orchestra. I was the choir president, very active in the church youth group and led the high school on campus Bible Study.
I started college with 21 academic credits, an almost full time job at a law firm, and an active ministry at a local Korean church. One year later, at 19 years old, I joined a team and started, “planted” a church in a nearby community.
Not long after that I married, worked full time, pastored a church and completed my bachelors and M.Ed degrees, while growing and delivering our first baby.
My adulthood was a blur of activity and responsibility. I started a photography business, a consulting business, and two more churches. There were those who admonished me to slow down and take care of myself. With their words they chastised me while also stroking my ego and patting me on the back. I produced for others and they liked it. I liked it.
But I worked until my chest hurt so bad I would curl up in the fetal position on my office floor until the burn subsided. Even after the four children passed the infant stage, sleep was evasive. Some days I did laundry and cleaned house until 3:00 a.m.
The skin on my hands peeled until my fingers bled openly and stress caused me to forget, everything. I was late to everything and rushed through every conversation and event like a race horse with blinders on. Just get through it. Don’t stop. Don’t get sidetracked. Just run.
This insane trend continued until three years ago. My health deteriorated to a point where I could no longer care for myself. I was removed from my primary job, abandoned my other jobs and was cut off from all responsibility.
However, what should have been a welcome chance to rest, was confusing and hollow. Who was I without my jobs or accomplishments? There were no phone messages, text messages or emails. I wasted hours a day checking my phone to see if anybody was looking for me – needed me. They didn’t.
In the silence I discovered a truth – I needed me. I desperately needed to care for my body, mind and spirit. Now every day begins with “what do I need today to take care of myself?” Wise mentors tell me “your vocation is self-care”. I exercise hard in a gym five days a week and attend yoga frequently. I draw, knit and make stuff. I make sure I go to my doctors appointments and take medications four times a day. I sit on the couch with the kids and watch tv shows. I read books. And I’m coming alive. Not stress walking through life but really living. While I recognize my ability to “step aside” from the working world is an enviable and privileged position, I also acknowledge that I have chosen to live life differently, wiser.
Three years ago, not a day that went by where I didn’t unintentionally crave being needed by others because I thought that meant I belonged somewhere, to someone. Don’t get me wrong, I love people and loved my job. It’s just that I am learning people will take as much from you as you are willing to give. At the heart of it, we are all overgrown junior highers, largely oblivious to those around us. To live well, be well, we must protect ourselves; mind, body and spirit, a task that cannot delegated to anybody else.
Now? I am learning to belong to myself without the recognition of other. And daily I remind myself that I am a treasured child of God, not because of what I produce but because of what I am, who I am, whose I am.