April 25, 2021 By Norris Burkes

What might you think of a chaplain who told you to put yourselves before others? Well,  I think there’s someone out there who just might need to hear this advice. 

Today, I want you to put yourself first.

My self-care counsel is very similar to the instructions given by flight attendants prior to a commercial airline flight.

Most of us can easily recite it: “If you are traveling with children, or are seated next to someone who needs assistance, place the oxygen mask on yourself first, then offer assistance.”

From my perspective as a chaplain, it seems counterintuitive to put myself before all others. But I know that sometimes the only way we can save others is to be sure we ourselves are safe.  

As ironic at that advice sounds, it’s solid counsel – especially when it comes to prayer. In fact, it is guidance I routinely give to families I visit in my job as a hospice chaplain.

After speaking with the patient, I often turn to the caregiver or family member and ask, “What are you praying for yourself?” (I encourage the nonreligious to supply their own verb: hoping, seeking, desiring, etc.)

I urge them to dig deep, saying. “In your heart of hearts, tell me what you personally seek from God.”

Invariably, most respond with a single word like, “peace, forgiveness, direction or contentment.”

I know it sounds outlandish for a chaplain to suggest that you pray for yourself before praying for others, but there’s rhyme to my reason.

Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University, a leading authority on faith-and-medicine, explains it best. He conducted studies investigating the efficacy of two kinds of prayer: Intercessory Prayer (praying for others) and Petitionary Prayer (praying for yourself.)

Koenig says that “…in studies of intercessory prayer where one person prays for the health of another, there is scant if any effect.” Now please don’t think he’s arguing that prayer doesn’t work; it just doesn’t lend itself to the laboratory.

However, he did find “tangible and quantifiable results in the studies of petitionary prayer where a person prays for his or her own health or peace of mind. Amazingly, he concludes that “When you pray for your own health–especially your own mental health, … science suggests you may be on solid ground.”

Over the years, this study has caused me to urge a family to pray for themselves before praying for that errant grandson. Before praying for a new job, perhaps pray for yourself. Before praying that your spouse will stop drinking, pray for yourself.

So this week, I encourage you to voice prayers for yourself. And while you do, my prayer will be that whatever miracle you seek from God’s hand will begin with the changes he makes in you.

Now ladies and gentlemen, as we prepare this column for landing, please return your seats to the upright position. I can only hope that your baggage has shifted during the reading of these words.


Readers:  Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! Last week I asked you to contribute to the Chispa Project by matching the $5,000 my family gives annually. Your response took my breath away. This campaign helped raise over $25,000 and it’s still growing.  Learn more at www.chispaproject.org/thechaplain.

Visit www.thechaplain.net or https://www.facebook.com/theChaplainNorris. Email: comment@thechaplain.net or via voicemail (843) 608-9715. Twitter @chaplain.