Back in the late 90’s the silicone bracelets were making their debut as the “it” thing, post-WWJD lanyards. They started with the large causes, but then filtered down to the church, not only as the WWJD style wording but the latest lingo; “I’m Third.”
The “I’m Third” movement started as a way to make sure that people were cognizant of the keeping god and service in the center of our lives, before considerations of self. The idea was “God First, Others Second, I’m Third.”
God First: Looking back, this fits perfectly into the expectations the church had of us. We were expected to put god at the center of all we did. Of course, what god wanted us to do was often filtered through the mind and voice of our pastor. We were youth, and thus rather new to the idea of religion, and our minds were suggestive. We had such high standards as to what we should be shooting for, nothing short of perfection.
Read our bible for hours a week, pray more, and attend as many church events as possible. This was the formula for putting god first. This formula also was prescribed whenever there was a struggle in our lives. We either needed to do “all the things” more, or we haven’t done “all the things” enough. Either way, our failure was the common denominator. However, complications arose as we were also told that we were broken, and born in sin. A man had to come and literally die for us, because we are born in sin. God had to be first because we didn’t deserve any of his love anyway. (And we were reminded of that frequently.)
On top of this, we were to use our gifts to serve the church (meeting goals 1 & 2) but somehow do so without calling attention to ourselves. If we had a talent for music (in my case) we had to dance a fine line between “guiding people to the Lord” and performing from the “self.”
Others Second: The idea of subservience was implanted through service, thinking of others before ourselves. This fed the church as well, having many people who thought that service was a requirement, like some sort of punch card to heavenly admittance. We served by being ushers, youth leaders, prayer team people, and doing all the grunt work of the ministerial staff. This was seen as a way to continue to validate god’s desires for the church.
As women/girls, we were being groomed to be wives. This was the ultimate goal of the girls, to find a godly man, marry, and have babies. Of equal importance was the idea that men were “over” woman, as we were to be submissive to our husbands. Other’s second also set up a dangerous precedent for an unhealthy marriage. Women especially were taught to please their husband, over their own desires. In the worst cases, this led to abusive relationships, and even marital rape. Biblically, women were to submit to sex whenever their husband desired it, regardless of their own desires.
Again, we were an after-thought, after men.
I’m Third: In an environment where self-care was “self-ish,” it’s no wonder there were so many tired, broken people. We (especially women) spent all our time trying to earn our god credit (putting him first by DOING), and our relationship credit (sacrificing self for others, our husbands and children) that we lost our souls in the process.
I recall that self-care (though this buzz phrase was not specifically used) as defined by the church was explained as a way to call attention to self. To feed one’s soul first was to miss the point completely. If you were doing the formula right, you wouldn’t need to do anything else to be happy. Happiness came from serving god and others. To expect more was to be selfish and egotistical, or because one just wasn’t “doing it right.”
Adventures in Missing the Point: Though I no longer consider myself to be part of the church, I do feel as though I extend myself into the spiritual often. I see a perfect blue sky, I hear an amazing piece of music, I fellowship with people I love.
As time has gone by, I processed the “I’m Third” framework and realized how backward it is. I spend time paying attention to my feelings and responding in practical ways to them. I work on my soul and historical references in therapy. I meet the needs of my chemical imbalance with antidepressants. I do things that make my soul happy like being in a hammock in the sunshine on a Saturday. I sleep in on Sunday mornings and feel more connected with a higher power than I ever did. I spend time with my friends when I want to, and say no when I don’t. I refuse sex from my husband when I don’t want it. I take nights away from my family and go out for sushi and margaritas, and leave my husband to parent (read: not “watch” or “babysit”) our son.
The more I feed my soul, the more I care for myself, the more I have to give. It goes back to the cheesy (but true) adage, “fill your cup first so you can give the overflow to others.”
I am learning how to not be third anymore.
I deserve to be first in my own life.