Putting on Your Own Mask

This Lent, my church is studying The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, president of World Vision. Written largely from the author’s personal experience, the book focuses on the problem of rich Christians (that’s you and me and others who enjoy unlimited access to the Internet, electricity, motorized transportation, artificial climate control, and fresh water) who are perfectly happy, thank you, living the American dream and being good family-values people and churchgoers, and would rather not be bothered by such uncomfortable Bible passages as Matthew 25:31-46: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat … whatever you did for one of the least of these … you did for me.” At least, not bothered beyond the point of putting a surplus $20 in the special offering, then letting someone else get their hands dirty meeting poverty face to face.

I definitely am not against Christians considering where we might do more for our less fortunate brothers and sisters. Still, for many of us, self-examination in any “what more could you be doing?” manner is prone to the dangerous side effect of turning into “what aren’t you doing?” and metastasizing from there into the self-flagellation of “remember when you forgot this, and when are you ever going to learn to do that, and you’re nothing but a pile of shortcomings, and you’re a hopeless failure.” Jesus said that calling someone a worthless fool is a sin fit to be punished with hell-fire (Matthew 5:22); but many well-meaning Christians are creating their own emotional hell by constantly calling themselves worthless and stupid.

Anyone who’s flown by commercial airliner has heard the safety announcement that has become a popular metaphor for self-care: “If oxygen masks deploy, and you are traveling with someone who cannot adjust his or her own mask, please put on your mask first, and then assist”–the reason being that if you pass out from lack of oxygen while trying to take care of the other, it does neither of you any good. Neither does it do much ultimate good when someone drives herself to illness through years of trying to meet everyone else’s needs while continually shelving her own. Plus, eventual collapse is far more likely if service is due to guilt rather than love; while serving in love carries its own energy recharge, guilt takes and takes and gives nothing in return.

On the other hand, we don’t really want to be like the rich Christians profiled in Hole in Our Gospel, who are so busy adjusting and readjusting their own oxygen masks for maximum comfort and style that they’re oblivious when their seatmates stop breathing completely.

We’re less likely to fall into either pit if we remember three important principles that most people think sound like too much work:

1. God creates everyone as a completely unique individual with a completely unique mission; hence, no one else’s path (of mission or conviction), nor even a purely intellectual knowledge of Scripture, can tell us exactly how we should apply Scriptural principles to our lives.

2. God cares less about how much we accomplish, or about how well we follow any path that seems humanly logical, than about how close we grow to Him and how well that shapes us (and the world we touch) for eternity.

3. God does want to show us the path we should take–but not in the “just give me my marching orders and I’ll get back to You for more after I finish the list” way we often hope for. Rather, He favors the “walk close beside Me and keep your ears open, and trust that I can keep you on track without needing to give you an unmistakable view of every step” approach. The former approach would be a boss-to-employee relationship that allowed us to maintain some autonomy and comfort zone, but would never cultivate the deep friend-to-Friend relationship (and life to our souls) that the second approach brings.

If you feel you’re not doing enough for God, it may be that what He really wants you to do is stop doing things for a little while: to put aside everything, work or play, that requires busyness; find a quiet spot; and give your mind a while to settle. Once it does (and it can take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks), it’ll be much easier to breathe the fresh wind of the Spirit and hear what God actually has to say.

Then, if He shows you something you’ve been neglecting, you can proceed in a way that makes you a breath of fresh air to everyone. Including yourself.

Leave a comment


  1. Steve Duson

     /  March 6, 2015

    Nice piece, Katherine.

  2. Susan Bozarth

     /  March 6, 2015

    This post is “a breath of fresh air”. Thank you for being that breath to me today.

  3. Jo Swank

     /  March 7, 2015

    Well said! A great analysis! Amen! : )

  4. Katherine, thank you so much for this deep and inspiring piece! I feel it is so important to maintain this friendship with God, especially in our frantic days, when most people feel pressured to achieve and surpass.
    Your posts are one of my favorite sources of wisdom. I am looking forward to reading more of them


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