I have always found flying to be a centering experience. As I settle into my seat on the airplane and hear the instructions from the flight crew, I am forced to accept that while traveling on this plane, I am not in control. My life depends on the skills and professionalism of the pilot, crew, mechanics and air traffic controllers whose jobs are to make sure that my journey proceeds according to routine. Occasionally, there are some bumps during the flight. All I can do is try to relax and trust that everyone involved knows what they are doing.
In-flight safety instructions tell us: “Put on your own mask before assisting others.” The reasoning, of course, is that if someone needs our assistance, we can only be of help if we are still conscious ourselves. If the interior of the airplane loses pressure for any reason, oxygen masks will pop out of the ceiling above our seats. We’re all supposed to put on a mask, so that we don’t pass out from lack of air. Even consideration is given for those who might not be able to put on their own masks without assistance — children, for example. It’s an act of selflessness to take the time to secure our own mask so that we are then capable of helping others.
Such a principle applies to all of my life. There are so many ways in which I’d like to be helpful to others. It seems there is an endless supply of good projects in which to participate. There is important work to be done. Yet, I’m aware if I say, “Yes” to every opportunity that comes my way, I’ll soon be too worn out to be of any good to anyone. To ensure that I am able to serve others in the most faithful way, I have to make sure that I take time to care for myself.
Many times, this means that I have to say, “No” to things that I really believe are worthwhile. I must focus on the few things that God is truly asking me to do and trust that the Spirit will lead others to do those other tasks. This is what it means for me to put my own mask on before assisting others: to discern faithfully those tasks which are mine to take and finding the personal time I need to stay healthy in the midst of the work.
Sometimes, though, I am faced with situations that are just too overwhelming for me to face on my own. It may not be a big thing. There are many little things that, over time, can build up to weigh me down and disorient me. There are times in my life when I just don’t have the strength to put even my own mask on, much less help others. In these times of weakness, I discover that I can’t help anyone else with their burdens if I refuse to let others carry my own.
A life of faithfulness, love and service to others isn’t just about my ability to look out for other people, or even to care for myself. Rather, it involves both giving and receiving, caring for others and letting myself be the one who is lifted up. This is what we find in true community, a commitment to be brothers and sisters to one another. In Christ, we find the courage both to serve and to be served.
As we seek together to be a people that promotes justice, bears the burdens of others and brings healing and reconciliation to the world, what does it mean to accept Jesus’ invitation to take his yoke upon us? How can we bear this yoke together as a community? What does it look like to become a people whose burden is light, even while God uses us to move mountains?