“Don’t sacrifice yourself too much, because if you sacrifice too much there’s nothing else you can give and nobody will care for you.”
“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
In relationships we have to put in a lot of time. The specific hours may change over the years, but the number of hours usually don’t, except perhaps for small children, as they grow older. But everything takes time – Purpose, relationships, work, exercise… everything. And sometimes it can feel overwhelming. What is the answer?
For me the answer is to know what I want. What do I want? Me. Not, what do others want. What do I want? What do I need? Does this seem selfish? It’s actually the most loving thing to do. If I don’t know what I want or need, then I can’t give others what they want or need. Then what happens is I get sucked into the unexpected, into demands, into doing things I don’t really want to do. I feel resentful and irritable. I am impatient and unloving.
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computers, said,
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Does this mean I always do what I want? Does this mean that I never consider others? No. Sometimes, doing what I want is about serving others. What does that look like then? It might mean spending time with my kids, because what I want is to love them and demonstrate that love by being with them. Or it might mean sitting alone and writing because what I want is to serve God, the world, my loved ones, my Muse, and myself by doing my work. I might need to rest. I might need a vacation from all that is familiar. I might need time to myself. I might need to get a job or quit my job.
What do we do when there are two conflicting choices? What do we do when we don’t know what to do? I wish there were rules that would tell us what to do in times of ambiguity, but there are no rules. There are only guidelines. When it comes to people and the human heart, rules rarely work because love, fear, and uncertainty all come into play. So all we can do is do our best. The following guidelines have helped me in the past:
Do the most loving thing you can do. Sometimes you have to love yourself first. Sometimes you have to love others. Both are acts of love so neither is wrong.
Ask for help. We should not carry our burdens alone. And often we are too close to the situation to see clearly. Another person’s perspective might be helpful. Be sure, however, that the person who is offering help does not have his or her own agenda. In some cases professional counseling may be necessary.
Ask for prayer. I understand that our rational world sees prayer as a last resort, or something for the weak. Perhaps. But the truth is that we are all weak sometimes. The other truth is that there are spiritual forces that will come to our aid if we ask for their help.
Forgive yourself if you make the “wrong” decision. I put quotation marks around the word “wrong” because very few decisions are completely wrong or right. All decisions come with costs and benefits. There is no perfect choice. What makes it hard is that we worry more about the costs than the benefits. What if we only considered the benefits of every decision and just ignored the costs for a little while? Would this approach help?
Make the decision for yourself and not for the approval of others. I’ve made decisions that made me very unhappy, often because of the fear of disapproval. Eventually I unmade those decisions. The thing that often kept me stuck was the fear of disapproval. What I learned was that the people whose approval I wanted didn’t approve (or care) anyway or they weren’t around to help with the fallout of my bad choices. Martha Beck, author of Expecting Adam and The Joy Diet says
“In our world of commingled cultures and traditions, we may confront innumerable moral codes, all different from one another. There is simply no way to gain approval from each of these disparate sources; trying to do so will make you feel even worse. Instead, clearly define your own moral code and then stick to it whether or not others approve.”
In other words, we each have to know what we really want. Does this mean that there are no moral absolutes? No. We still need to be kind, loving, and do our best to not harm others, but those can all be demonstrated in a multitude of ways. Another absolute is that we need to love ourselves.
So what do we do when there are hard decisions to be made? There aren’t necessarily quick and easy answers, other than to ask, “What is the most loving thing to do?” Perhaps you can ask, “Which decision brings me the most peace?” Or perhaps you can just make a choice and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, make a new one. There will always be a new tomorrow. Do what you have to do today. Then Get Started and Keep Going to make that decision work for you and for those you love.