Put On Your Oxygen Mask First

Todd Poulter is the Alliance’s Consultant for Leadership Development. He lives in Hawaii, USA.

Imagine you are on an aeroplane that suddenly loses cabin pressure. Oxygen masks drop from the ceiling and dangle in front of you. You know what you should do: Put your mask on first before you try to help others around you — even if they are your own family members. But you hesitate. Your instinct is to help others first.

There’s a good reason every aeroplane safety briefing instructs you to put your mask on first. As your brain is starved of oxygen, your capacity to do simple things deteriorates. A trained engineer experiencing oxygen deprivation was unable to perform a simple children’s task: naming the shape of a plastic block and placing it in the same-shaped opening. When he was warned to put on his oxygen mask or he would die, he smiled, looked puzzled and didn’t do anything. Someone else had to put his mask on for him.

During the COVID-19 crisis, let us focus on you as a person and as a leader: a son or daughter of the Father, a friend and colleague in the Alliance, and a leader in the mission of God. It is easy to lose sight of your own wellbeing when you are intently focused on dealing with a crisis, supporting those you lead, caring for your own family and trying to keep your organisation going.

Your life matters, as well as the lives of those who look up to you for leadership through this pandemic. In light of the challenges that you are facing, please put on your own oxygen mask first each day.

A woman reads her Bible.

What, for you, are the most sustaining and life-giving practices that keep you going when you’re not in crisis mode? Which practices have sustained you in the past, but you may have abandoned them because you were too busy or stressed? And what new practices might you begin doing, to help you survive and thrive for as long as this time of uncertainty lasts? One simple action is to create small pockets of time during each day to pause and put on your oxygen mask.

A morning encounter with God may not provide all the oxygen you need for the day. Is there a particular passage of Scripture that God has impressed on you to memorize or meditate on? If you have not been in the habit of practising silence, solitude or fasting (from food, social media, etc.), these practices help to resist the pressure of being constantly “on.”

What works for you to keep your energy level up? Exercise is a special challenge when you can’t go outside for a walk or go to a gym. What creative alternatives are available? If you’re sitting all day at your computer, try to get up every thirty minutes and do something different.

What gives you joy and lifts your spirits? Inspiring music? A good book? A cup of coffee or tea? Something beautiful? Or something funny? You’ll have more to give if you keep yourself sustained with these simple things.

What do you need to keep yourself sane when you are isolated from friends, family and co-workers? Who are the people you count on for support? How are you keeping connected with them? And who are the people who will be especially encouraged to hear from you?

Look for ways to balance the day’s headlines with the eternal realities of God’s active presence in history. If you have not been in the habit of practising a weekly Sabbath rest, this is a great time to start. By hitting the pause button for one day out of seven, you remind yourself of God’s sovereign goodness and give your mind and your emotions a break from work, as well as from the overwhelming daily onslaught of information.

Personal reflection

  • What practices do you need to sustain you at this time? Are you making them a priority?
  • What is a daily activity that could give you joy and lift your spirits? Can you schedule this?
  • Are you connecting regularly with people who encourage and support you? If not, how can you start?

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