The Trap of Selflessness

As a single woman constantly revolving in conservative Christian circles it can be difficult for me to find value in my life.  When I am surrounded by women who are raising children or serving their husbands, I can feel quite out of place.  When I cook, it’s just for me.  If I do manage to do some housework, the only one who sees it is me.  When I am eating alone, which is 95% of the time, I never have to yield to someone else’s food choices.  In so many ways I do what I want when I want.  As long as I get to work when I’m supposed to and accomplish what I am supposed to, the rest is up to me.

Sometimes being around my friends who wear the mom hat so well makes me feel guilty.  My life looks so selfish compared to theirs.  So what do I do?  How can I pursue selflessness, self sacrifice, and those other godly characteristics when I don’t have a family?

I have sponsored a Compassion child even though my finances really don’t support it.  But I have felt guilty because I don’t have (or most of the time really want) my own child so I better feed some child somewhere.  And she learns about Jesus, so that’s good right?  So that’s selfless.

I accepted requests to babysit whenever possible and accept whatever payment offered.  I hope they don’t read this and take even more advantage, but I allowed families to take advantage of me.  I enjoyed their kids, and I liked being able to support their endeavors in their marriage.  So I went to great lengths to help them out because this is an act of self sacrifice.

I accepted the weird long hours things at work.  I don’t have a family, therefore my evenings are not as important as someone who needs to go home every night to their children.  I have friends who are stay at home moms.  I understand how frustrating it would be for dad to be away from home all evening after being gone all day.  So there I was voluntarily sitting at work supervising all sorts of things.  Being selfless.

So I gave of myself and I gave of myself.  I served others as well as I knew how.
And for the most part, it left me tired and still broke.

Whoops.  I’m supposed to say that serving others helped me grow in my faith and gave me a sense of fulfillment.  Isn’t that what single people are supposed to do?  Just deny yourself and serve others and you will enjoy your life.  I did enjoy the kids.  Sometimes.  I do enjoy some of the late jobs.  Sometimes.  But when I was looking for those things to make my life fulfilling, they didn’t measure up.

I call this the trap of selflessness and I know so many people who are trapped in it.  Sadly, I have found that the trap is so often set by the church.  They need single women to serve in the nursery.  Single men to do maintenance.  You aren’t serving your family so you should serve the church.  Free those who do have families to go enjoy their families.  And if you say no so you can sit and relax in front of your TV we will assure you that you are going to hell.

My therapist would ask me from time to time, “What have you done for you lately?”  Um.  That’s not to be confused with getting invited to join a family on a beach trip – as the vacationing baby sitter.   I would flippantly reply, “I fed myself.”  Then I would realize that at one meal a day I don’t really do that very well either.

I have heard that mothers sometimes have to be intentional about doing something for themselves every now and then to remind themselves that they are worth it.  To take care of themselves so they can take care of their kids.  I thought it strange that as a single person I would need to consider that too.  I had become so invested in serving others that I didn’t serve myself.  I found myself completely surrounded by relationships where I was constantly serving and receiving very little in return.  I was washing dishes for people who had never visited my own home.  I was babysitting so people could go have a girls night and hadn’t had a girls night of my own in years.

Service is great and service is good.  In moderation.  Self-service has it’s place.  Reminding myself that I am worth bothering to do something nice for is good.  Doing things I enjoy helps.

My therapist asked me another question around this time.  What do you enjoy doing?

I struggled to answer the question at the time.  What do I enjoy doing?  In context she was trying to get me to figure out what I could invite someone to do with me.  Seems like a simple question.  It was the hardest question she asked me all day.

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