Posted by: Dan | July 13, 2007

Self-Care, Luxury, and Love

The spaces of this life, set over against eternity, are brief and poor.
~ St. Anthony

Where there is no love, put love and you will find love.
~ St. John of the Cross

I recently had the chance to talk with an old friend. As we were chatting, I mentioned that, as I move more and more into intentional Christian community and journeying alongside of those in exile, I suspect that I will have less and less time or freedom to spend doing some of the other things that I really love doing — things like reading, writing, camping, whatever. These are the things that I feel that I will have to continue to sacrifice — they are, after all, signs of luxury and of privilege, and proof of my own distance from the poor.

This concerned my friend a great deal and she tried to warn me that giving up such things might make me unable to minister to, or genuinely journey alongside of, others.

Now there is some truth in this. I do find that I am “recharged” through study, solitude, and prayer, and I do intend to practice these things, as spiritual disciplines, over the course of my life. However, I do not think that some of these things — study, in particular, and probably times of solitude as well — will continue to hold the space that they do in my life. And that's okay. If we are called to “lay down our lives for those we love” then surely this means we will be forced to sacrifice things we love in order to embrace people with love. If I desire to challenge others to surrender the luxuries that they cling to, then who am I to cling on to my books, and my leisure time?

In this regard, there is a scene at the end of Schindler's List that I often remember. Near the end of that story there is a moment, after the war has ended, when a group of factory workers present Herr Schindler with a gold ring. Schindler realises just how valuable this ring is and then comes to the realisation of the value of so many of the things he still has. He looks at the ring and seems to think: “For the price of this ring I could have saved another 10 lives.” Then he looks at his watch and seems to think: “and here, if I had given up my watch, are another 10 lives I could have saved;” and he looks at his car and seems to think: “Had I given up my car, I could have saved another 100 lives.” Thus, precisely at the moment when he is being praised as a hero and a saviour, he realises how much he did not do, and he breaks down and weeps. I wonder how many of us will make the same realisation at the end of our “brief and poor” lives. If I had not clung to my luxury, if I had not clung to my time, if I had not clung to my self and my privilege, then I could have done and been so much more — so much more for those who desperately need something more, so much more meaningful, so much more like Christ.

Further, as I thought about my friend's warning, I remained suspicious about many of our notions of the forms of “self-care” that we seem to find so necessary. It is worth remembering that most of the world does not wake up feeling comfortable and well-rested. Most of the world wakes up hungry. Most of the world wakes up tired. Most of the world wakes up sore. Who are we to think that we need to be full, and rested, and comfortable in order to minister to the needs of others? Eugene V. Debs once said that: “while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free” and I wonder why such thinking should not apply here. While there are those who wake up tired, I will wake up tired; while there are those who wake of sore, I will wake up sore; and while there are those who force themselves to do what they must do simply in order to survive the day, I will force myself to do what I must do.

Besides, this is all a part of what it means to travel the road of love; it is all a part of what it means to go to where there is no love in order to put love and find love. Love is that which is focused on the other, on the beloved, and not on the self. That I find these sacrifices burdensome or difficult simply shows how little I know of love.

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