Our brains are hard-wired for maximum efficiency – paying attention to the familiar as little as possible. Our patterns get developed as we repeat behaviors, thoughts, or feelings. For instance, we all have a cadence for talking and walking. This isn’t to say that it never changes, because it does when relationships and emotions enter the dynamic (like being in a hurry is a different cadence than casual walking). However, these adjustments are habitual. For example, your body recruits the same muscles for walking or running every time and when a person is anxious their talking cadence has a pattern. For me, I talk faster and louder than my normal cadence. When giving speeches, I intentionally slow down my speech and talk softer, which leads to feeling less anxious. As a result of our automatic patterns, we are usually so focused on what’s happening or not happening, we forget to bring attention to our attention — how we’re thinking, feeling, behaving, or believing.
A relational pattern to attend to is, “I matter, you matter and we matter.” This concept, like a teeter totter, requires that the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ have similar weight in order for the “we-ness” to work properly. I believe this concept is supported scripturally in the ending phrase of God’s commandment to us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It doesn’t say, “Love your neighbor more than yourself.” It doesn’t say, “Love yourself before your neighbor” but it says, “Love your neighbor AS yourself” and from this place of neighbor and self the ‘we’ emerges.
For decades, I didn’t embody “I matter.” In my adolescence, I struggled to get more than five hours of sleep a night because I was so overextended from school, athletics, volunteer work and helping friends whenever they asked. During this time, I got mononucleosis three times before my doctor explained that I could develop lifelong chronic fatigue if I didn’t change my lifestyle. With the help of therapy, I came to realize that “I matter” felt selfish and prideful. I didn’t know how to prioritize self-care, which included sufficient rest, as more important than my volunteer work. At the time, I lost the ability to see how my choices were leading me on a path where the pressure to help, to succeed, to grow got greater and greater with each success and new volunteer cause. Eventually, I became depressed and burned out until I learned how to prioritize myself along with others.
The concept of “I matter” isn’t translated into “I matter and no one else does.” It’s not self-absorption or even self-care to the point of neglecting responsibilities. “I matter” in its healthiest form is a posture that values the self at the same time it pays attention to how personal decisions impact others. “I matter” is grossly abused when it justifies a father working long hours because work is satisfying while his family feels unimportant and unvalued. “I matter” must always be considered in relationship to the “You matter” and vice versa.
The concept of the “neighbor or other” is expansive. It’s anyone other than yourself. “You matter” becomes imbalanced when we’re meeting everyone else’s needs before our priorities, as I mentioned earlier. “You matter” is imbalanced when everyone else has school lunches and you don’t pack your own. Or when you donate to multiple causes but can’t pay your bills. We need to pay attention to prioritizing otherness and understanding how much of ourselves we can give, which all feeds back into keeping the metaphoric teeter totter in balance. This is incredibly challenging when caring for aging, ill parents or being a caregiver of an ill spouse or child. One question to ask yourself is, “Who are my ‘yous’ and do I need to expand or decrease who they are?
From the “I” and the “you” we create a “we.” There are a couple of things that can go wrong in the “we.” If the “we” is created out of duty and responsibility, then the “we” is inauthentic and the “you” becomes much more powerful and habitual than the “I.” Going through the motions and relating out of obligation can often reinforce depression, anxiety, resentment, and burn-out. Authenticity needs connection to the self – to know it’s loved and valued. Another “we” that can go wrong is being in relationship with the wrong people. These are people who don’t support the growth of “I” and end up using the relationship, which also creates an imbalanced “you matter.” A healthy “we” is one where both individuals thrive and grow. In assessing the “we” ask yourself, “Does this person support my dreams? Do they value me finding what I love to do?” These types of questions become highly important when choosing a “we,” including life team members.
A few points of application. 1. Rate yourself on a scale of ‘1’ to ‘10’ with one being you never consider yourself to 10 being you never let yourself be inconvenienced by anyone. (This is the “I matter” scale.) 2. Rate yourself on a scale of ‘1’ to ‘10’ with one being you never allow yourself to be inconvenienced to ‘10’ being you sacrifice something six to seven days a week for others, without thought of how it would impact you or your loved ones. (You matter scale) 3. How balanced are your numbers? What needs to change to get them balanced?
- Practice Saying “I matter” in the mirror or to a friend. Do you believe your words? If so, where in your body tells you that you believe it? What do you feel saying it? Embarrassed? Selfish? Empowering? Over time does it get any easier? Does it feel true?
- Pay more attention to what you pay attention to. Are you drawn to what others are doing to you? For you? What you’re doing for everyone else? What conclusions are you drawing? How does it feel to be on your metaphoric teeter totter? Do you feel stuck in the air? Always weighted down? Or do you feel like you have a good flow between you and others mattering?
I matter. You matter. We matter. Amen.