When’s the last time you paid attention to airline pre-flight instructions? I feel sorry for the flight attendants as they go through their choreography while the passengers bury their faces in books, cell phones, and magazines, not so politely ignoring the presentation.
Yet buried in that barrage of federally mandated instruction is a very important life lesson.
Put your on mask on first before assisting others.
“Masks, Russell? You’re writing to us about masks?”
Stay with me for a minute.
The pre-flight instruction tells us “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling. If you are traveling with children or disabled people, put your own mask on before helping others.”
Because if you aren’t getting enough oxygen, then you might pass out before you get their mask on, thus leaving you both without oxygen. Or you might get the other person’s on, but then pass out; meanwhile, the person you assisted may not be equipped to help you. The course of action that gives the best chance of keeping you both alive is to put your mask on first.
Lesson – it is not selfish to tend to yourself.
I meet lots of people who want desperately to help other people, but their lives are in shambles. I meet young men who want to change the world, but they can’t even handle their laundry. I met people who are full of great advice, but their relationships are a falling apart.
If your life is a swirling vortex of chaos, you’re not much help to other people. The best way to help others is to first tend to yourself.
Yes, helping others feels very good; it releases dopamine in the brain and can be useful in overcoming depression. The benefits of altruism are well documented. I’m not saying that our lives must be perfectly ordered before we try to help others. Rather, I’m saying that it’s OK and indeed necessary to at times pull back from helping others to get yourself out of crisis mode. Also, it’s OK to not flame out in dramatic heroic self-sacrifice, but rather to do small acts of service that you can manage.
This side of eternity, you’ll never be completely healthy, so it’s a balancing act, an oscillation. Develop the habits of tending to your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing – and you will discover that your capacity to help others will dramatically expand even as the drama of your life decreases.
What do you need to do to take better care of yourself today?
Could it be you need to commit to exercise? Maybe you need some better nutrition habits? Perhaps you need to take more time alone? Maybe you just need to slow down? Or do you want to practice gratitude more frequently?
Take a few moments – think about how you can take care of yourself. Put your own mask on first. And then go be God’s instrument of blessing to others.
About the Cover Image: This photo was from this year’s visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. This armor is dramatically displayed as a part of the new galleries of Medieval and Renaissance Art, Arms, and Armor. I chose this photo in part because of the facemask of the helmet and in part because of the symbolism of the knight who must suit up in armor before helping others. As I designed the graphic, it occurred to me that Paul’s instructions about putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10ff) are a great picture of this concept of putting your mask on first.