One thing I believe strongly is that life isn’t random, that there is a plan and that each of us have an important part to play in that plan. Recently, we marked the anniversary of 9/11, a day in this country that saw acts of horrible violence, but also acts of extraordinary bravery. Countless everyday people and first responders chose to put aside their own self-interest and try to save the lives of others, from those who ran into the two towers as they burned and fell to the brave souls who stood up to the hijackers above Pennsylvania, giving their lives to thwart their plans. Such selfless sacrifice is humbling to think about.
In each of these cases, though, the ability to respond in that moment, to make that choice to run up the tower to save lives or to tackle the hijacker, there were choices those people made long before they faced that final choice that allowed them to respond to the call for help. Firefighters train ceaselessly to be able to run into burning buildings carrying heavy equipment and carry people out of danger, but many of the everyday heroes were also people who had the physical ability to respond to that moment.
Imagine being faced with something like that…there is a need right in front of you and you see that you have been placed in this situation for a reason. You are the only one who can help…and then finding that you are unable to do so.
I find that idea heartbreaking, especially if there was something I could have done in the weeks and months before that moment.
And the fact is that the majority of Americans…aren’t in good enough shape to protect their own health, let alone be prepared to save the lives of others.
I don’t say this to guilt you. Our lifestyles, from the food that is easiest or least expensive to get to our work lives…aren’t designed to help us stay in good physical shape. I’ve definitely fallen into bad habits and let my own stress and misplaced priorities lead me to put off taking care of myself. I say this because this is yet another example of how taking care of your own health FIRST helps you be better able to help others, whether that’s taking care of family members or climbing a skyscraper.
Not all of us are meant to carry another person out of a burning building. Some of us just aren’t built for that, but we do have situations that will come up in our day to day lives where we have opportunities to answer a need in smaller ways. Even just making a meal for another family going through something is easier if I’ve eaten well and exercised myself. I have more energy to respond. I’m better able to have patience with my special needs son or stay up with a sick child if I have first taken care of my body.
It often feels selfish to take that time for myself and stick to making that my top priority. Inevitably, there will be things that try to sneak into that time, whether it’s a work demand or something a family member needs. It feels selfish to tell them to wait just so I can prep some healthy food or get in a workout. I’ve found, though, that once I allow that first request to take priority over my own self care, it creates a slippery slope back to putting myself last.
And that leads to me having less for everyone else…less ability to respond to those moments in my life where I feel that I have been placed on purpose to serve others.
A friend brought this quote into my life years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since…”Do you serve a purpose or do you purposely serve?” It blew my mind. When I think of serving a purpose, I think of how easy it is to let what is urgent take priority over what is truly important. If I fall into that, I quickly find that I’m serving someone else’s purpose besides the one I was created for. Often, I wind up serving my company’s purpose. To purposely serve, though, requires intention. I have to think of what is the higher priority, what is my purpose and then organize my life around that rather than letting others dictate what I choose.
When I find clarity of purpose and design my life around what I feel I am being asked to give, when I purposely serve others, I find a greater fulfillment and peace, but a big part of that is making sure that I’m prepared to serve that purpose. I’m not a firefighter, so that may not mean lifting heavy weights, but it does mean keeping myself in as good of a physical state as I’m able so that when I am needed, there is nothing holding me back from fulfilling my purpose. In most cases, this is a lot less dramatic than what those brave heroes were asked to do. It could be hauling up bags of food to my husband’s hospital room and being able to greet him cheerfully despite the weight. Or, it could be needing to run to the car to get a child to an appointment and being able to do that and be present to help soothe their fears.
You just never know what purpose you might be in a place for until it happens.
This is why I don’t see fitness and health as in any way conflicting with being a religious person. In fact, I feel that I have a heavy responsibility to take care of the body I have been given to the best of my ability so that when I am faced with a moment where I can see a higher purpose, a calling to fulfill a need…I’m ready and prepared to answer and answer swiftly. It may be that my body breaks down and my purpose shifts to one that is less and less physical as I age, but it’s up to me to be an active partner in taking care of myself so I prolong that until its time.
Do you serve a purpose or do you purposely serve?