I sat on board the plane, waiting for take-off. When the flight attendant started her safety spiel, I zoned out. It’s important stuff, I know, but I’ve heard it so many times I can’t seem to force myself to pay attention. I look down at my book, and glance up again as she demonstrates how to use the oxygen mask. If the plane loses pressure, the masks will drop out of a compartment above you. Tug gently on the mask to start the flow of oxygen. Secure your own mask before helping a child or elderly person sitting beside you.
That has always struck me as backwards. Shouldn’t we be selfless and help the needy first? After all, they may not know what to do, or they may be less able to follow the instructions. But, to be practical, if you don’t have air, you can’t help someone else. Neither one of you would be able to breathe. As a Christian, this idea seems particularly hard to justify. Aren’t we to help others? To give the coat off our backs to someone in need? To feed them, clothe them, pray for them and love them and show them God’s love? To put ourselves last, to be the least among our brethren? It seems obvious – we are never to help ourselves first.
But as soon as I had that thought, a still, small voice told me I was wrong. It’s just like the oxygen masks. Yes, of course we are to do for others, in all those many ways. But if we do not take care of ourselves, we aren’t much use to someone else. If we don’t feed ourselves with the word and fill our faith tanks with prayer, we have nothing inside us to give to the needy person next to us. God created us, and He breathed into us the breath of life. In John 20, it is written, “He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” If I’m not nourished by the presence of God in my life, I have nothing helpful or valuable to give to the person beside me.
I wrote these words many weeks ago, and now the oxygen mask means a different thing to me. When I wrote, my world was not crashing down, I was not falling topsy-turvy through the sky, I was not gasping for air. My mom has been diagnosed with cancer, and I feel like I’m free-falling, waiting to crash. During this time, I have to remind myself of two things. One, that God will give me what I need to be able to breathe, to be able to survive. And two, it is the blessing of my loving friends and family beside me who, thank God, have kept their air tanks filled and are holding the mask to my face for me. When I can’t help myself, I find myself grateful beyond words to those who sit right next to me, holding me up.