As I was thinking about the differences between serving others and serving ourselves, it become more and more complex and intertwined in my mind. Surely, we can serve ourselves and others in different ways throughout our lives, but is one more important than the other? Jesus Christ taught to focus on serving others, and that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (The Book of Mormon, Mosiah 2:17)1. We are also taught that serving others brings blessings to our own lives, so perhaps serving others is a service to ourselves as well.
On the other hand, taking care of our own wellbeing is important to our ability to serve others. So perhaps in order to serve others at all, we need to serve ourselves. It is important to be aware of our own emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health.
H. Wallace Goddard studied self-esteem and its impact on individuals and relationships, and he argues that self-love and self-esteem are important because they help us love others better.2 When we have love for ourselves we are better able to love others around us and strengthen our relationships. The importance of self-love comes, however, from its ability to help us turn outward, not to become self-absorbed by our own greatness. I think this is similar to service. We take care of our needs so we can better serve others, and that is where the value of serving ourselves comes from. We are taught to lose and forgot ourselves in the service of others, and it is important to not get distracted by serving ourselves and forget to reach out. Our individualistic society often teaches us care most for ourselves, and while there is definitely room for making sure our own needs are met in life, we do not want to get stuck there. “Those who are caught up in trying to save their lives by seeking the praise of the world are actually rejecting the Savior’s teaching that the only way to save our eternal life is to love one another and lose our lives in service”.3
As I thought about this, the more it became evident that serving others and serving ourselves are intertwined. There is never enough time each day to do everything we want or need to do, but it is important to give of ourselves and care for ourselves. Like all things, there is a balance between serving others and serving ourselves, and as we strive to better ourselves we will be better able to serve and love others. “Our Savior teaches us to follow Him by making the sacrifices necessary to lose ourselves in unselfish service to others. If we do, He promises us eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7), the glory and joy of living in the presence of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ”.3
“Let us now in our time, each one, reach out more generously to love those around us in the spirit of the Christ… [I]t is as Sir Launfal, worn and old, learned from Him who shared his crust, ‘the gift without the giver is bare; Who gives of himself with his alms feeds three—Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.’”4