A Long Hard Journey

Music has always been a really good way for me to learn.  Give me a song, and I’ll learn is quickly, but trying to learn a poem is really difficult for me.  It’s always been that way.  I can easily remember all the songs I ever learnt.  I can sing perfectly the parts I had to learn for school choir, so many years ago that I’m not saying how many.  But I don’t remember much of what I learnt in classes at school, or even university for that matter.

So it makes sense that the songs I learnt as a child, had their impact.  I still know them word for word.  The songs regularly leap to mind and actually when I think about how I learnt how to live my life, it came from songs.  That can be good, but it depends what those songs were.  And like I spoke of in Happiness Is…, the songs I learnt in Sunday School  made the biggest impact on me.

This isn’t a theological discussion of what children learn in Sunday School, but rather an explanation of my personal experience.  I’m not saying it was wrong to use such songs.  Actually I think music is an excellent tool in such settings.  I’m simply saying that for me, they made their mark.

This is one song that perhaps left the biggest mark.  It was sung to the Jingle Bells music:

J O Y,    J O Y,
This must surely mean
Jesus first, yourself last and others in between,
J O Y,    J O Y,
This must surely mean,
Jesus first, yourself last and others in between.

Note that I didn’t have to go looking for lyrics.  I know this one perfectly so many years later.  Whether or not this is my, or your, interpretation of what joy might be is not what message I got from singing this repeatedly.  What I got from it is that I always had to put myself last.  My needs didn’t count, but that Jesus came first and then other people.  Actually this is a message I got repeatedly as a child.  I’m not saying it was intentional for me to learn that what I needed didn’t matter, but it is the lesson that fixed itself in my head.

That ‘yourself last’ is what I heard over and over again, right through to well into my adult years.  It was what would make me a ‘good Christian’, apparently.  And if Christianity wants to believe it, that’s fine, but for me, it was actually very harmful to learn about where I came in the world.

I was last.  My needs were last.  Actually my needs didn’t matter because it was what other people needed that did matter.  It’s an often taught principle in the part of Christianity that I grew up in, to put the needs of others ahead of yourself.

But what if I’m being harmed by my needs coming last?  On a number of occasions this idea that my needs didn’t matter, caused me great harm (physically and emotionally) because other people took advantage and it was said that what they wanted was more important than what was safe for me.

The following is an example of the type of teaching I got, both as a child and adult:

We must aim to put Jesus Christ first in our lives. Matthew 6: 33 says “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you”.

If we want to know the fruit of joy in our lives we must do all we can to have a close growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We must seek to be like Him And to live for His glory in our daily lives. We must put ourselves last. Too often we are taught in these life that we need to blow our own horn .We need to praise ourselves. But God tells us to be humble and not braggers about ourselves.

In humility we are supposed to seek to live gentle lives for the glory of God. In our day to day lives we are to seek to help others. We are to seek to be light in our dark world. The lives of others and their needs ought to be the emphasis of our lives and we need to seek to be extended leaders pouring out ourselves for the glory of God. We are to seek to put others in-between Jesus and ourselves. We are to seek to be magnets that draw others to you our Lord.  ( 1.)

Let me be clear that my point is not about whether individuals choose to ‘put Jesus first’.  To me, that is an entirely individual choice and it’s not what I have the issue with.  My issue is that I was taught to always put other people’s needs ahead of my own, and how I interpreted that (as a child and then an adult struggling with serious self-esteem issues) was that what I needed didn’t count.  Even my safety didn’t count, and I saw this demonstrated in a number of ways over the years as both child and adult.

I don’t mean to offend anyone’s beliefs but for me this didn’t work, and I don’t even believe that God wanted me to get harmed by what I as taught was my Christian duty.  I believe it is important that we practise compassion and be there for other people, but I don’t accept sacrificing my safety and my needs in order to do that.  Let me put it this way: by having this teaching, I was harmed and I have spent many years very unwell because of that harm.  That meant that  I have been unable to be there for other people.  Isn’t that crazy?  If I had been protected then maybe my journey would have been different, and maybe I would have been able to help more people.

I totally agree with helping others, and much of my life at the moment is devoted to trying to do that.  But I can’t do it unless I put my needs first.  I have to make sure I am safe, and I have to make sure that my needs are met.  If I don’t do that, I can’t adequately be there for others.

In practice what this means for me is realising that I, personally, can’t help some people because it is harmful, or at least triggering, for me.  It’s okay for me to leave those people to someone else to help.  I have to do this or I never get free from my own past hurts.  Maybe one day I can use my experience to help, but for now my physical and emotional safety has to come first.

The lyrics of the song were harmful to me, but then I was taught this message repeatedly in different ways, and so I can’t completely blame the lyrics.  I needed to know that I was important.  I needed to know that I was safe.  I needed to know that I was loved.  And I needed to know that my service to others was not to be at the expense of myself.

It has been a long, hard journey to learn this, and actually removing myself from a church environment was necessary for me to ‘get’ that I matter.  I’m not saying anyone else needs to do that, nor am I saying that I have given up my Christian beliefs.  It’s just that these particular beliefs didn’t work for me.  Actually they worked completely against me and I was hurt by them badly.  I’m inclined to think that too often religious beliefs like these get warped by people who don’t care about what happens to others, and they simply cause harm.

“Putting yourself first is the highest level of service you can offer in the world. It allows you to serve your partner, family, friends and others with joy and generosity. As long as you put yourself first to keep your love tank on overflow, your heart knows no limits in its ability to love.”

 - Susan Blackburn

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19 responses

  1. Faith and organised religion are two completely separate things in my book. Faith is a wonderful thing which can get you through the darkest of times. Organised religion is a very different animal altogether. I’ve been toying with the idea of a blog post about this for days now, it’s no coincidence that you were thinking along similar lines at the same time, I think.

  2. There is such a difference between religion and faith.Being a compassionate Christian doesn’t mean being a doormat. (Took me a long time to realise that.) I love your post and this sentence stuck out for me: “In practice what this means for me is realising that I, personally, can’t help some people because it is harmful, or at least triggering, for me.” ~That is so self empowering! Taking care of your own needs doesn’t mean you are abandoning your faith or others. In fact you can help people so much better if you are strong in yourself, which you obviously are!

  3. Hi Cate :)

    I am so truly sorry for the harm that has been done and the pain and hurt that you have suffered,

    For me putting Christ first is a given but in my personal beliefs I differ so very much in the teaching you seem to have been given on putting others first.

    For me putting others firt is by no means meant to imply or be based on the fact that I don’t count or that my own needs are not as important as theirs.

    Actually, for what it is worth and I know so much harm has already been done, sadly what you seem to have been taught is not an uncommon mis-teaching.

    But my understading differs and is very opposite to the basic premis that the needs of others are more important than our own needs. The fact is, in my humble opinion, that our needs are just as important as the next persons and it is that fact which makes our willingness to put others first such a valuable gift of love.

    Sadly I know only too well how removing yourself from church could be necessary for you to get that you matter. Christianity can be full of seemingly counter-intuitive and juxtapositions which so many churches seem to both fail to truly grasp or teach properly.

    There is a very real difference between Christianity and Churchianity and so very sadly so many have been so hurt it seems in the wake of the latter.

    Excellent post, but again I am so sorry for your hurts.
    KInd Regards and God bless you.
    Kevin.

    • Kevin,

      Loving how you phrased is as “Churchanity”. My partner and I have often discussed how we are not supporters of organized religion people but do believe there is a higher power of some sort. That phrase really nails it!

      PIM

      • Hi PIM :)

        Glad it made sense :) I am also releived that you and your husband are not fans of organized religiuon – especially as it is often presented today. Something which I have just commented on in my response to Cate below.
        Kind Regards and God bless you
        Kevin.

    • Thanks for that Kevin. I agree totally. One thing I do wonder though is whether it is how I interpreted the teaching rather than how it was taught. I’m sure there was a bit of both in that, and it would have been good if someone wiser that the young me had realised. But hey, I know now and I can move on. It just makes me think that we have to be so careful how we teach children.

      • HI Cate,

        I am so glad it made sense to yo and I agree with you that we need to be so careful how we teach our children.

        It is one of my greatest sadnesses when I hear or how children are mistaught just how another is when I read of someone who has pulled away from God as a result of the mistakes that we as His respresentatives have made.

        I struggle so much with own personal experiences and understanding of God and th way in which He is represented and taught by a lot of churches and part of that struggle is the fact that I do – despite all their faults belief in the concept of church.

        I have however come to the conclusion that we are all God’s children and that a personal relationship with Christ ia paramount. I have also come to the conclusion that whilst orthodoxy and tradition in faith have things to teach us and benefit us they can become a hindrance and that as Christians we need to grow and develop in that relationship with God through Christ and that sadly suckling at the breast of orthodox church or religiousity will never provide us with what we need in that relationship or help us to grow,
        I hope that makes sense.
        God bless you and Kind Regards.
        Kevin

  4. I don’t belong to a particular religious organization but I was raised Mormon (and I have one mother by the way, if that reference makes sense if not I can explain). One thing I liked about this religion, aside from not being God fearing and not thinking God was a massive meanie, was that they followed what was called “The Word of Wisdom”. This was a set of rules of what you should and should not eat. It was essentially a food guide. Eat fruits and vegetables, don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol, don’t drink caffeine, all that jazz.

    What I’m getting at is I think that is a great form of self care. By being aware of what we are putting into our bodies we are showing respect for ourselves and ensuring we can lead a healthy life!

    • I totally get your reference to one mother, and I’m pleased for you. I’m sure it must be confusing to have more than one, but I guess it’s what you get used to. From what you say about the Word of Wisdom I like that there isn’t much room for confusion. It sounds very clear and I think sometimes that’s what I needed. No trying to guess the meanings.

  5. How important that you have been able to shed those old lessons and come to value your own beliefs; that you are worth putting first. I guess the J O Y would work: if everyone follows it. Unfortunately they don’t. You have to put yourself first in life or you get burned over and over again. xx

    • I think you’re right about the J O Y working. The problem is that we all are human and have our faults. People interpret it the way they want to and as you say, people just end up hurt.

  6. Hi Cate!!

    I was taught the way you were and in fact I believe “duty” is a nasty four-letter word and despise it to this day!! It was only when I was an adult that I truly saw the words and understood for the first time what Jesus said when He said, ” . . . love others as you love yourself.” I didn’t love myself!! I had been taught/trained to believe I was many bad things. Therefore, before I could love others I had to learn how to love myself. I always think of what they tell you on airplanes: If the oxygen masks fall down, put the mask ON YOUR FACE FIRST before you put it on the ones you’re taking care of, like little children or older people.

    Recently, which came as a shocker I promise, I discovered that I actually have great value and that I actually deserve things in this life because that’s what God made me when He chose to send the One He valued above all others to take my place: Jesus!! The parable of the “pearl of great price” is me!! I am that pearl!! You are that pearl!! Once God “found” us, He went and sold all He had (Jesus) in order to purchase us, the pearl!! Therefore we are greatly valued by God!! This still shocks me!! I certainly was never taught this by anyone in the church when I was growing up!! Then I learned something the best human counselor I ever had told me and tried to get me to see: That I deserve to claim my place on this earth. Those were the words she constantly told me. She’d point out how I held my body in — trying to shrink myself in size by the way I sat or stood or walked. She said I had the right to claim my total space and place upon this earth and I finally got it!! I haven’t seen her in years, but I finally got it!! The neighbor I always refer to wants me not to be here — not to claim my rightful place. Yet God gave me this place!! He created me to be here on this earth and He gave me this body to live in and He gave me this apartment, also. So I have staked out my claim upon this earth until He takes me to my real Home. I haven’t put it into action completely, because this is a new concept for me, but I’ve been working on it during the times I feel well enough to be able to do so.

    I don’t always like being here, as you know. I don’t always feel good about myself, as you know. I don’t understand right now what is happening in my life, as you know. Yet none of these things change the fact that it is necessary according to the words of Jesus and no one else, to love myself before I can truly love others and that I belong here, both in this body and in this apartment, because God gave these things to me and I deserve to stake my claim here. I cannot feel my joy right now. I cannot jump up and down in happiness and excitement. Yet I still know there are things I deserve and I still know that one of those things is I deserve to be loved by myself . . . and by others.

    Thank you for writing this, Cate!!

    • That makes total sense to me Kathy and I think we’re on the same wave length. I have been thinking a lot about the “love your neighbour as yourself” issue and I was the same. I didn’t love myself, nor did I have any idea how to, let alone that it was something I should do. My understanding was sadly that I was sinning if I loved myself.

      I like too what you say about claiming your space and the parable of the lost pearl. That make total sense. It’s something that I have struggled with for so long, but I am starting to see that actualy I have a space and that’s ok. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that, especially when times are tough, but the truth is there for us. We just need to hold onto it.

      Thanks for your comments. I always love hearing your thoughts.
      Cate

  7. Your post reminded me of when you’re on an airplane and you have to put an oxygen mask on b/c of some malfunction or other. Well you have to put your mask on first then help others because you can’t help anyone else if you can’t breathe! So in life we take care of our own needs first so we can be there for other people more fully :)

  8. Pingback: I Matter | Infinite Sadness… or hope?

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