One Cannot Pour from an Empty Cup: Spiritual Self-Care

You cannot pour from an empty cup: take care of yourself first.

I write for myself as much as I do for any audience and though the mantra to prioritize oneself seems like second nature or even common knowledge – this is the one lesson in truth that bears repeating, (time and time again), for me. Why is it that for those who operate from a nurturing, other-centered and service driven lifestyle, it is admittedly hardest for us to embrace ourselves with the same level of vigilance in compassion as we do all others in our midst? There is a saying that doctors make the worst patients . . . well if this idiom rings true, then it stands to reason that teachers make the worst students. Some life lessons are too meaningful and central to our survival as caregivers to be forsaken. As a case in point, the need for spiritual self-care is a non-negotiable and powerful tool, which is useful for pouring into ourselves that which is necessary to continue to serve our divine purpose and to fulfill the greater good.

In my case, this lesson is so much easier said than done (sigh). This past week, I was hurled headlong into the full range of human emotions and am still praying for clarity on all of the lessons gleaned while experiencing the residual effects of my own neglect of self-care. My week was comprised of a heart wrenching operation for my 6 year old niece who had fractured her arm during school recess and required pins to reset the bones. As I stood firm at the ready to be a support base for my brother and his wife (and their other two children), I crisscrossed the city from early morning to early evening to be by the family’s side at the hospital, and later to pickup my nephews from school. It was the least I could do to extend a mere fraction of the love, time and support that my family has so readily extended to me. While in the surgical waiting room, God sent us angels in the forms of caring, attentive and capable nurses, physicians and staff who wrapped the entire family, especially my courageous niece, with the kindness and warm embrace that one can only hope to receive during a medical crisis. All morning and afternoon, our family’s heartache and fear was replaced by relief and gratitude, as we raved on about the warmth, professionalism and collective peace of mind that the hospital’s five-star service afforded us all. Even in retrospect, I am still awed by the wide ranging breadth of the entire experience and this thoroughly traumatic occasion will forever be remembered as an opportunity to witness firsthand the endless capacity for human strength, compassion and empathy that caregivers are blessed to offer the world.

At the other extreme on the emotional spectrum, my week culminated with witnessing my daughter as an honored recipient of an unexpected, privately funded college scholarship. Talk about being overwhelmed by gratitude! This generous blessing was awarded in such an esteemed and celebratory manner that there is no doubt that God was completely in the midst. A well respected former colleague – a teacher with such extensive credentials and high moral standards that she effortlessly mentors novice teachers in her midst; but perhaps most notably an administrative leader either sinks or swims after having been measured by her discerning yardstick – saw fit to nominate my state college enrolled offspring with the highly prestigious, arts and community service based collegiate scholarship. After single-handedly spearheading all efforts to determine my daughter’s eligibility, my thoughtful colleague then connected our family to a distinguished committee of her philanthropic peers, in just the nick of time to earn the coveted acknowledgement. So essentially, a God-fearing and kind soul, in the form of a veteran teacher with a pure heart of gold, became my selfless, heartfelt and loving reminder that God is indeed good, and his grace is always sufficient. I mean how else could she know that I had secretly struggled to pay tuition for the past two years since transitioning from a building administrator to a self-employed CEO? Surely, she was unaware that I harbored guilt that my beloved offspring was unfairly forced to go without because our family income and tax bracket had undergone such drastic change. Honestly, how could she even predict that in the two years since we last saw one another (in the physical, non-Facebook sense of reality), I had endured my own series of medical complications and I am still admittedly slowly, (but surely), recovering from not one but two orthopedic reconstructive surgeries in my severely damaged yet dominant right leg? Well the truth of the matter is that she couldn’t and did not know my private situation and/or innermost fears, and yet still God saw fit to use her to bless my family in a way which signals His infinite love, grace and mercy. And for that I am immensely thankful and deeply humbled.

Only God knows the full extent of my lengthy, four year saga of: a workplace slip and fall on black ice, resulting in dual fractures of the right arm/leg, and requiring a reconstructive surgery of the tibia, followed by a long stint in a rehabilitation center to strengthen the leg with the surgical implant and to learn how to walk again. This challenging chapter of my life was not yet over, because almost 2 years to the date after the original fall/surgery – the bone just above the implanted “hardware” was fractured after I pivoted the wrong way during a workout session (unsuspectingly causing my right knee to buckle), and resulting in a second fall on my already injured right side. The second round of reconstructive surgery (this time of the femur bone) has in turn, proved much more difficult to recover from. And try as I might to will the completion of this final stage of healing and learning to walk without a cane, on what is now an entire leg of titanium surgical implants, I can only hope that this is indeed the final chapter of this ironic “not easily broken” segment of my life, from which I am still working diligently to fully recover from and piece myself back together (mentally and physically). So even as I attempt to make sense of the countless lessons of my own life . . . far too often, I subconsciously offer a fabricated mask of strength and poise to the outside world. Therefore, I am humbled beyond measure, that my life is now a poignant reminder that one cannot ever successfully mask our reality, and since life happens . . . it behooves us all to deliberately engage in spiritual self-care.

Despite whatever crises, tests, situations and environments we find ourselves in, we must be our authentic selves and navigate our unique paths, without displaying harm towards others. The only way I have managed to present my genuine self to the world and to continue to exude the capacity to teach and love (despite the wide array of emotions and obstacles in my own life), is to consistently and mindfully engage in spiritual self-care on an intentional and regular basis. In this vein, I exert the power of the word “NO” more often than not and I avoid calls, visits, people and situations which compromise my evolved sensibilities and needs. As an educator, I need to love and respect you in order to effectively teach you. That’s why spiritual self-care is paramount. As a Revolutionary activist, I am justifiably angered to the core by injustice in every form, but I am unable to significantly effect change and will only self-destruct if I allow the evils of this world to permeate who I am as a person, and as a self-avowed warrior for justice. So despite either internal or external hurts and disappointments, we must appropriately grieve our individual losses and mindfully practice spiritual self-care, so as not to pour out from an empty cup.

Let us each resolve to pledge, at all times, to take care of ourselves first – because nobody can take better care of you, than you. #Periodt

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Published by Nefertari Nkenge

Nefertari Nkenge, Ed.D. is a well respected transformative leader in pedagogy. The unique combination of over two decades of classroom instruction, curriculum/professional development innovation, urban school administrative leadership and a lifelong commitment to grassroots activism and social justice - informs the empowering Educate to Liberate model.

5 thoughts on “One Cannot Pour from an Empty Cup: Spiritual Self-Care

  1. I hope there has been significant improvement for your niece and that you continue to heal as well. This is an awesome post and I can relate. I think as women we tend to take care of our families first and leave ourselves until last, much, if not most, of the time. Self-care is not selfish, but rather allows us to recharge our batteries so we can better help and support our loved ones. Great post – as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yea, yes, yes to this!!! I found myself needing to force myself to take even a small 15 minute break this week! Stress was killing me! Just to dance around, sing, something! Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

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