Who Do We Put First, Ourselves or Others?

By Celeste

I keep thinking about the last point in this post I wrote about organizing our days into good, better and best.  I’ve thought a lot about it.  How should I know what is best and what is just good?

I don’t know about you, but my day typically has about a million conflicting priorities.  Often when I wake up in the morning I’ll lay there and think, “ok, what do I have to do today?  Well, I really should exercise this morning.  Oh, and I have to make cleaning the kitchen today a priority.  I should make the girls do a chore first thing.  Oh but actually, first thing I need to pray and read my scriptures.  But perhaps I should make an actual breakfast for Rich and the girls first, they’d probably appreciate that over cereal.  Service first, right?  Actually you know, I have those four blog post drafts I’ve been meaning to tweak and post for days, maybe I should just knock those out first thing.”

And on and on.  So it goes for most of the day.  Every time I have an hour of free time, I play this game of mental Olympics to try to decide what is most important.  It’s hard and often I feel like I get it wrong and then my guilty shoulder angel comes down and berates me for my lack of acceptable time management skills.

How on earth do I fit all these good things- exercise, cleaning, cooking, child-rearing, spiritual meditation, email-answering, errands, favors to friends, reading – all into one little day? Is there some magic formula to navigate these pressing demands?

Generally when I can’t figure something out, I turn to God.  However, God gives us LOTS of little (and big) importances (ie commandments) that even prioritizing those can be confusing.   But, He does say at one point, what is the MOSTEST important:
(And if you don’t believe in God, stick with me here, more on that in a minute)

Matt 22: 36-40

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Now, interestingly the self is not in this list of priorities- where should it go?  First?  Second?  Third?  Some kind of middle ground?

I think that most of our angst in keeping our priorities straight lies in misconstruing the order of these three things – God, others and self.  Let’s take a look at what happens when we switch things around:

Putting Self First

This, I believe is a very common mistake.  For sure in my own life it is.  And in a marriage, constantly prioritizing YOUR happiness, without considering the happiness of your spouse, can be fatal. 

Please note here that I’m not talking about playing the martyr or sacrificing yourself to put others’ needs above your own.  You need to put your own oxygen mask on before anybody else’s (ya know…. airplane reference).  And, for sure, everyone DESERVES happiness; they deserve to be in relationships that give them happiness, safety, respect, and love!

But, I think often we take this idea a little too far in our society. Ideas like “It’s all about me.” Or “I gotta do whatever makes me happy” can, if left unchecked, lead to a form of self-worship that is going to end in the unhappiness of you and those around you.

The danger of ALWAYS putting your needs, your wants and your happiness above everything else is that it blinds you.  It can handicap you from ever thinking about other people or meeting their needs, which, in the end can be the source of happiness that can lift you out of your own misery.

I hesitate to even give any specific examples in this category because what is wrong in one situation is going to be right in another, it’s all so dependent.  But I think a good goal would be to consistently strive to put the happiness of others (especially your spouse’s) above your own.

Putting Others First

The reason I was so hesitant to write any examples or dangers of putting yourself first is that there is also danger in ALWAYS putting others first.

Especially as moms I think we feel unnecessary guilt to spend ANY time on ourselves, thinking that we should ALWAYS be serving our husbands, our kids or our friends, and if we take the time to read a book or relax we should feel guilty.

Consistently putting others’ needs first can lead to being burnt out, resentful and feeling like a slave.

Putting God First

This, I think is the only thing that makes sense because here’s the thing:  serving yourself and serving others are not mutually exclusive events.  Serving ourselves helps us to serve others and serving others helps us to serve ourselves.  Often doing things to serve ourselves (exercise, reading, a little quiet  time with our thoughts or getting together with friends) will balance us so that we are in a better position to serve others.  Conversely, doing things to serve others will often solve our own problems, make us happier and serve ourselves in the process.

Getting the balance right can be so unbelievably tricky and not only differs drastically from person to person but from day to day, hour to hour in our own lives. The only conclusion I can come to is that we have to put God FIRST and by so doing, the other stuff will fall into position.

Now, I don’t know you well enough to tell you how and when to prioritize the many things in your life.  But I do know that God knows you.  I know He loves you and I know that He can clue you in to which things are good, better and best for you.

Now, do I think that people who don’t believe in God are incapable of prioritizing their lives correctly?  No.  No, I do not.  And if you’re feeling lost, I would give the same advice- just replace prayer with meditation.  Go to a quiet place when you can peacefully ponder what is good, better and best for you to do that day.  Let your conscience be your guide. 

This is something that I struggle with daily, so I’m genuinely curious, what do you guys do to prioritize your day?  How do you balance serving yourself and others?

3 thoughts on “Who Do We Put First, Ourselves or Others?

  1. Hard to argue with this logic! I think it’s interesting that the language in that scripture isn’t ‘put God first’ it’s “LOVE God with all your heart, might, mind strength” Putting LOVE first will automatically set our priorities straight. Because loving God means loving others means loving ourselves.

  2. I struggle with the same things, it’s crazy how many good things there are that can just fill up the day. One of my goals for this next year is to really put got first and then follow his direction on how to prioritize everything else.

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