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Unable to Reach Your Oxygen Mask?

Unable to Reach Your Oxygen Mask?

by Mark Worrell, U.S. Army Chaplain, ACBC Biblical Counselor

You've heard it before, probably many times on a plane. "Place the oxygen mask on yourself before helping small children or others who may need assistance." This picture is often put into the realm of self-care, but the term is not well-defined: do what makes you feel good, take care of yourself first, or you have to take care of yourself so you can take care of others? After all, they argue, Mark 12:31 says, "Love your neighbor as yourself," so I need to work on loving myself (caring for myself) first so I can then love others.

What does self-care look like for the New Testament Christian? Should we rest from our work? Can we just keep going indefinitely? God set an example for us in Genesis 2:1–3, resting from His work of creation. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy as an example for us.

When the Pharisees confronted Jesus about His disciples picking grain on the Sabbath in Mark 2:23–28, Jesus did not address the fact that His disciples were plucking grain or that they were walking through fields on the Sabbath. He pointed out that God made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath. Jesus expects us to take well-planned downtime to prepare for what's coming (the Sabbath is a day of preparation for the coming week). Think about that: God designed the Sabbath to help us.

Before we look further at the Sabbath's intent, let's look at one more snapshot of Jesus's ministry to the disciples. In Mark 6:21–30, we read of John the Baptist's gruesome execution and the disciples' ministry report to Jesus. In Mark 6:31, Jesus states, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile." Then Mark adds the comment, "for many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat." I believe that Jesus knew what was coming next, so when we read in verse 33 and beyond about the crowds flocking to hear more from Jesus and then the feeding of the 5,000, we can see none of this surprised Jesus. I believe He planned this as a lesson for the disciples.

In military terminology, I believe Jesus intentionally walked them into an L-shaped ambush. I think He wanted them to see that self-care was essential but not an end in itself. Jesus taught them many lessons that day: plan downtime but honor God and serve others when you do not get it. Serve others (love your neighbor as yourself). Give what you have to God, and let Him handle the results.

In the current virtual world, where people are connected by email addresses, MS Teams, Zoom, Whatsapp, Webex, phone, and texting, this gets even more challenging. How do you disconnect to take some downtime and prepare for what God has for you? We need to understand our roles in different areas: job and ministry descriptions, set times for connection, and planned disconnection. Which calls should you take when—and when do you call others? We've lost track of time zones (I currently live in Hawaii. Many people are virtually working here on EST or PST, getting calls or in class as early as 3 a.m.) We must plan "disconnect" time that can recharge our batteries and enable us to spend time with God and our families and prepare us for the next day or week God has for us. Planned regenerative disconnection is self-care. This is Sabbath.

In September–October 2018, I picked up three object lessons of self-care. I finished my Open Water Scuba Certification, then traveled to Korea and Alaska as part of my job. I got a coffee mug from the chapel I visited in Korea, and in Alaska, I got an ice-scraper. Each of these took on a particular angle of self-care that is important to consider.

First, let’s talk about the coffee cup. Think early morning coffee. I usually wake up at 5:15 a.m., and my first real event of the day is at 6:15. I back my day up so I can wake up: When I grab a cup of coffee that early, I hold onto it and do little else. That gives me a chance to think, reflect, and get more caffeine in my nose and mouth to clear my head. What time do you plan to sit and pray, think, plan, and prepare? Where do you take intentional downtime? I am not the best at it, but this is one of those times.

I got the ice scraper in Fairbanks, Alaska, as a first-time visitor at the chapel. They said, "You don't need this today, but you'll need it in about a week." (Remember, I live in Hawaii!) While I did not need it in a week, it taught me a lesson. You do not need an ice scraper until you need it—and then you need to be prepared. What are you doing to prepare yourself for challenging times? You should have enough cushion or white space in your calendar and on your family's schedule that you can serve others in those quick emergencies that are bound to arise.

The final object lesson was the scuba tank and regulator. If you are not familiar with scuba diving, let me walk you through three of the components divers wear to understand why this picture demonstrates self-care. Each diver wears a Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) that serves, among other things, as an inflatable life vest. Divers also wear a scuba tank and a regulator (that brings the 3,200 PSI to a breathable level and inflates your BCD). Most of the time, I inflate my BCD, enter the water, then hit a button on my BCD that deflates it. It is one of the most unnatural things I have ever done: I am immediately breathing underwater as I sink toward the ocean floor. I get to enjoy God's creation in complete silence.

Members of the diving group point out amazing things underwater, then talk about the dive later. My reason for discussing this setup is to ask you this: How is your relationship with God? There are times in life and ministry when we will have to push ourselves or face situations that do not make sense. Think of handling COVID lockdowns, responding to death, helping others through marital strife, an exciting event or taking phone calls at challenging times from counselees. Other issues might be deployment, work during the holidays, or specific job changes or challenges. Our daily walk with God fuels us in those challenging times, helping us look for opportunities to prove His reality. We can dwell in those times and serve others. Following those times, we can be thankful for those opportunities, then enjoy "normal" life once again. Even though I "changed" when I deployed, the relationships at home, the comfort of a bed and family, and freedom to travel helped me see that I truly am blessed. I don't want to go back to where somebody could shoot at me, but I am willing to do so to give others a small taste of the freedom that God offers.

How will you plan for self-care? Plan some downtime as a family or individually to consider what three things you will you do individually: weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually.[1] How will you maintain that plan? Who will hold you accountable?

We need to walk through two final thoughts: 1) If you feel like you cannot reach your own oxygen mask, is it because you are seeking to please man? Do you say yes because you think you must? Work will "never" end. There will "always" be one more email, phone call, presentation, or project. Step away and focus on other things, connect to your family, and come back later if you must complete those items. 2) How do you handle things when you do not get downtime? Do you push yourself to the point of failure or burnout? Do you rush to failure, or do you step back occasionally? While self-care or Sabbath is important, Jesus pointed out in Mark 2 that it is not an end. There is freedom in how we reset for the way ahead. Take a walk through a field with the Savior, grab some heads of grain, and prepare for the rest of the journey God has designed for you.


Mark Worrell is also a member of the Fallen Solders March Advisory Board, learn more below:

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[1] Chiyomi Chow, "Importance of Self-Care for Caregivers" (HUGS Dad’s Night, Honolulu, HI: Jan 21, 2021).

This entry was posted on Monday, March 22nd, 2021 at 8:21 am and is filed under Featured, Newsletter, Spotlight. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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