In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis points out that the devils use a little trick to get us humans to give up quickly, the trick of making the race seem longer than it is. If only they can get us to throw in our towel when we are but feet from the finish line, then we give up all that is good and all that we worked so hard to reach. By making the tunnel seem longer, the light seem farther away, those devils feed the despair that sits on the edge of our consciousness, and by fertilizing with stress and overwhelming responsibilities, they often get me to consider quitting. I am, by nature, a duck-and-run person. I have, of late, taken to giving God back all the stress in my life, and telling him, flat out, that it’s HIS problem.

So far, so good. Aside from a proliferation of gray hair, an alarming drop in weight, and a general feeling of malaise, I’m doing great. No, really. Mom’s got me by the shoulders, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been carried most of the way by my Father. So with parents like that, and a Savior whose lap my head often lays in, I’m OK. (This paragraph is my mantra of late.)

Which brings me to a conversation I was unable to participate in last night. Going around a circle, with everyone giving their thoughts, I found myself thinking, “Well, I approached this all wrong.” The question was: “How do you feel about the balance between your love of self and your love of others?” My initial answer: “OK.” (You might get the impression I don’t play nicely in group support settings. You would be correct.) I was about person 10 or 11, and I was thinking, “Wow, I guess I need to reevaluate.” Now, if you’ve read my writing for very long, you might understand why this was a problem when it came to be my turn. I needed to reflect and chew and pray a rosary and think on this, after digesting what everyone said, which gave me quite a bit of food for thought. But it was my turn to speak, not my turn to think. Everyone was looking at me, waiting. There was no comforting glow of computer screen, no reassuring hum of laptop, no clickity-clack of keys as my mind poured forth. There was expectant silence.

I didn’t do well. And if I stick with this support group thing, I think maybe my lessons in humility are going to multiply a lot.

That said, I have my answer. I can explain my service to others and my love of self. Here, where there are not hovering faces, people waiting to fill in the blanks for me, and the pressure of extemporaneous public speaking (because, let’s face it, 13 people is a crowd, and therefore “sharing” could also be called “public speaking”).

I don’t know who I love more, self or others. The Great Commandment, given to us, is to love first the Lord our God, and then to love our neighbor as ourself. Therefore, what I should be striving for is to love others at least as much as I love myself, or, perhaps, to love myself at least as much as I love others.

My service to others is one way in which I can love them. I remind myself of my role in ministry to others often, especially when I face stress as a big brick wall, the way I have lately. Jesus didn’t ask me to hide in a cave or go do my own thing. He asked me to serve others. He called me to the Catholic Church, and his mother held my hand as I struggled my way there. He blessed me with more than I could have requested, and his Father wipes my eyes when I come to him crying. He gave me an example to follow, and he carries me when the going is to hard or my feet are too weary.

Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, and as such, we have an obligation to take care of them. Our roles in life – father, mother, sister, brother, friend, spouse – sometimes prevent us from doing as good a job as we should. But if we are focused to God, if we are a people of prayer, a people of the Eucharist, it should come full-circle. No, we should not abuse ourselves. But think of those saints who gave up everything to help the poor, like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Think of the fasting of certain orders.

I can’t help but feel that in loving others first, I am loving myself. Giving of myself allows me to like who I am, it allows me to model myself after the One who came and gave it all up for me, it allows me to open up my hard heart to the grace that God will give me, if only I am open.

Putting ourselves first is a temptation of the devil. Again, I’m not saying we should abandon our health or our well-being. But think about all you do for others. Think of the smile on your face when you see how you have changed someone’s life, if only for a moment. Think of the warmth in your heart when someone emulates you because you have inspired them.

Think of the smile that must be on our Father’s face, and in our Mother’s heart, when we give of ourselves in the example they set for us.