What Happens When We Listen To Ourselves

One day recently I was really struggling to get words on paper.

This was not new. Some version of writers block has been plaguing me for weeks. But on this particular day my husband suggested I go for a walk and I took his suggestion. I hadn’t showered in a few days and I was starting to get to that dark place I go when I don’t shower.

I needed an excuse to get out of the house.

inner-voice

So I walked, and as I did I tried to listen to myself. This is something I’ve been practicing lately—being present with the sensations in my body and using them as a guide for what I was feeling, underneath the thoughts floating through my head. I walked and listened and prayed God would help me see through the cloudiness I’ve been feeling in this season. And within a mile or two of my walking, this phrase came to me, without thinking:

Take care of yourself first… others second.

At first, everything in me cringed at these words. Although they felt true in the deepest part of me, I immediately wanted to push them back down. Consider myself first and other second? Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

All the phrases of my upbringing fought with the phrase that had come to the surface in that moment. The last shall be first, my brain argued. Lose yourself to find yourself, my thoughts challenged. But no matter how hard my thoughts fought, I couldn’t ignore the intention that had risen up from a deepest part of me. I couldn’t explain it, but I also couldn’t ignore it.

So I walked home with something that resembled a thought but that also felt much deeper and more powerful than the “thoughts” I usually had.

Yourself first, others second.

It felt more like an intention, like a meditation, than a simple thought. I didn’t know what it meant or what I was supposed to do with it, but I just held onto it, trusting the rest would become clear over time.

Later that day, an idea came to me I wanted to get down on paper. Feeling an energy I hadn’t felt in weeks, if not months, I opened my computer and started typing. Before long, I got an email from a coaching client who had a question she needed me to answer. I got a text message from a friend who was wondering if I wanted to go for a walk. My husband was asking me what we were going to do for dinner. And yet, for some reason, this phrase kept rising to the surface of my heart: yourself first, others second.

I texted my friend and asked her if we could walk later that evening, or the next day. I asked my husband if he wouldn’t mind picking up take-out for dinner. I assured him he would have my full attention in an hour or so. And I closed my email and resolved to respond the next day.

Miraculously, I was able to get a few thousand words down that day.

With the “myself first, others second” intention in place, I was able to clear the blockage and get moving again. It was almost like my body, my spirit, knew what I needed to do. It knew the solution to the problem even more than my mind did. But in order to get there, I had to get quiet and be able listen to myself.

What would happen if we listened to ourselves a little more often? What would happen if we stopped ignoring our instinct, our intuition, our fear and our pain? Maybe we would find relief from our worry, our anxiety. Maybe we would uncover happiness. Maybe we could give ourselves permission to stop caring so much about how many many people like us or hate us, or how viral a post we write.

Because with this in mind, we would have what we set our for all along—not fame or fortune or popularity, but a small and growing semblance of self.

11 comments on “What Happens When We Listen To Ourselves

  1. Really needed to read this today. As the mother of 5 young adults and grandmother (Noni) to 5 beautiful grand children 3 & it seems to some of my family I can never do enough to win their respect & love. Your article helped me to rethink my focus & hopes. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for the poignant words this morning.

    I’m also learning about the importance of this. If I want to care for others in the best way possible, then I need to care for myself in the best way possible, too. The latter seems harder sometimes, though.

  3. GREAT reminder this morning as I’ve been feeling quite exhausted and overspent lately. One thing I always remember is something my therapist told me: even Jesus took a break. There were still people to heal and people who needed him and he would disappear for days to spend time alone with his Father to recharge himself. We need to follow his example.

  4. There is definitely truth here, I definitely agree with this post. But I do find this very difficult to stomach – we’re called to serve others, to be generous, to love others before ourselves. So this can sound very self-centred and consumerist.

    Having said that, there is truth that you need to value yourself. You need to take care of yourself. You need to know you are worth something, and not let life overwhelm you. Take care of who you are, so you are best able to give out to others.

    So in the end, I agree with you, as I know your perspective is you want to serve others, to use your gifts for others. And for us to do that, we need to look after ourselves.

  5. It is so important to take care of ourselves and be recharged as we are serving and taking care of others. I’m not sure it’s to the point where we are first, but I know that it’s important to say no to others in order to protect myself. Great book resource for this: Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

  6. Thanks for being real Allison. I love it that you are so honest with us and I admire your brave heart. Keep listening to Gods nudgings in your spirit.

    The most difficult, but insanely important, thing that we can do for those we love is to love ourselves. But…some days…

    So glad you are finding ways to move forward. Can’t wait to read your new words 🙂

  7. I’ve been working on listening this year. I would have said, before that, that I was fairly in tune with myself, but I’ve been shocked to notice all that I’d been overlooking or pushing aside. I’m not even always sure what to DO with it all, but I am trusting that just noticing and listening is enough to start with.

  8. Over the last year or so I have been HEARING my body/spirit/heart/soul. My whole being is saying: “you need repair, renovation of the parts still salvageable – before its too late”. I know this translates into optimizing nutrition, daily yoga, daily prayer, creative time, more than 6 hours of sleep each night (and the list goes on). But opposing this is my addiction to busy-ness, always moving, doing something whether household chores, catching up on work, etc. In addition, I am an endorphin junkie, needing the run or spin class or weight lifting session, in partial fear of getting fat (?!) if I do something restorative like yoga.

    The problem is, I’m not LISTENING. I am addicted to the lie “I will start once I get caught up (or lose weight, or whatever)”. Occasionally I will start but the Siren of busyness seems to always bring me crashing to shore.

    Thanks Ally for the reminder to LISTEN. Listening is WORK. Work takes time. And persistence. And practice.

  9. Oh my, is a road I’ve walked. So much so, that I committed to the word “LOVE” for my word of the year in 2014. Little did I realize that it was chosen to love myself first. I actually had to google how to do that.

    I agree with James in that it does look selfish to put ourselves first, especially when we have small mouths to fill and floors to keep clean for their chubby knees to crawl on. We continue onward diligently wearing a badge of honor.

    Only when we do this, we die to ourselves inside.

    Being a tender wife to yourself is what God intends for us to do. To love ourselves FILLS us with God’s love and it flows through us and outward to all those who need it.

    This is a post to shout to the world, Allison. 🙂

  10. I’m a nineteen-year-old college student who’s had a really rough year. I’ve never learned that it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes. My first year of college was hell (among other reasons) because I thought saying “no” to people was selfish and unbiblical. I bought Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend after seeing it on your recommended book list and have read it several times recently. I find it so frustrating that so many Christians totally miss this perspective on boundaries and self care. I wish I had heard these words years ago. But in any case, I’m glad I’ve heard them now. Thank you for your thoughts…they truly have been key in turning my life around.

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