"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
May 22, 2015
Self-Care and the Parable of the Ten Virgins
by Sarah Hancock

This past week I had the opportunity to sit in on a class for NAMI San Diego's pilot family support specialist training program. As the class progressed we talked about motivational interviewing, which is a technique to help people identify what they are interested in changing and act on it. Well, that's a story for another day.

You know how when you're talking about one thing and suddenly two things connect together that previously had no connection. Many people call them "aha moments;" we refer to them as whisperings of the Holy Ghost. It happened to me. We were discussing self-care and suddenly I connected our discussion with the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Mathew 25).


In this parable, there are ten virgins eagerly awaiting a bridegroom so that they can enter into the wedding and celebrate with everyone. As the parable progresses, we discover that five of the virgins have extra oil (the wise ones), and five of them only have what's in their lamps (the foolish ones).

As the night grows longer, the foolish ones run completely out of oil. They turn to the wise ones and ask them to share the oil. Those five wise wnes reply that they cannot because if they do, there won't be enough oil for both themselves and the foolish ones — leaving everyone without enough oil.

The wise ones remind the foolish ones that there is a vendor down the street and encourage them to go and buy for themselves. The foolish ones go and buy their oil, but while they're gone, the bridegroom comes and the wise ones are invited into the wedding party. When they return, the foolish ones are locked out.

This parable always confused me, even knowing that it is most commonly compared to having one's own testimony. Obviously it compares to that. But I still felt like since we share our testimonies, it wasn't something that made sense to me — not sharing the oil. But this past week, comparing the parable to self-care made a lot more sense.

In this life there are many things that demand our oil: stresses at home, work, family, poor health, and simply the spontaneous random uncontrollable events that life brings. Sometimes people come to us asking favors that infringe on time we would have spent caring for ourselves. It’s at those times where we are forced to choose between good, better and best.

Yes, staying up to study for an exam might help you learn that last tidbit of knowledge, but will the lack of sleep cause an inability to focus on your exam? Helping a neighbor clean his yard can be gratifying — you’ll certainly have a grateful neighbor. But if when you’re finished with the project you come home to your own overwhelming mess, how will you be able to have the strength to do what you need to do?

This perspective might go completely against everything you’ve been taught about the importance of service and volunteerism. In our Church, we value serving others. Serving others is a noble and vital component of life on this earth. However, serving others while postponing caring for ourselves ultimately leaves us with what Stephen Covey eloquently referred to as a dull saw.

Taking time to sharpen our own saw will not only help us become more effective at work, school, home and community; it will allow us to have extra time to help cut firewood of our neighbors.

Flight attendants discuss this priority when instructing parents that, should the use oxygen masks be necessary, they should secure the mask on themselves before assisting children. It’s the same concept for those wise ones who declined sharing their oil with the foolish ones.

They didn’t leave the foolish ones helpless. The wise ones told the foolish ones where they could buy oil, and their responsibility ended there.

It wasn’t the wise ones’ fault that the foolish ones weren’t prepared. They only needed enough oil for themselves, and the parable says nothing about any feelings of guilt they suffered because they did not bring enough oil to share.

The parable also says nothing about how the wise ones came about their extra oil, only that they had guarded it carefully from the foolish ones demanding of it. Establishing personal boundaries and sticking to them allow those around us to know what we expect not only of them, but what we expect of ourselves.

Keeping those boundaries allows us to save up extra oil for when we need it most — those dark nights in life when we feel all we are doing is forever waiting for the excitement of what lies ahead.

In short, be good to yourself. The personal oil of emotional self-care isn't something we can share; it is physically impossible. We can guide others in how to care for themselves, but we cannot do it for them.

In the long run, if we provide emotional care for others, but don’t do those things to refill our own lamps, we jeopardize our ability to provide the long-lasting light of hope to those around us.

So what will you do to replenish your own oil? Watch a sunset? Take some deep breaths? Listen to a favorite song? Read your scriptures? Play with your pet? Write in your journal? Go to the temple? Take a walk? Whatever it is, do it often enough to keep your lamp full, with some extra oil the long nights when you’ll need it most.


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About Sarah Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, a graduate of San Diego State University's rehabilitation counseling Masters of Science program with a certificate psychiatric rehabilitation.

Having embarked on her own journey with a mental health diagnosis, she is passionate about psychiatric recovery. She enjoys working as a lector for universities, training upcoming mental health professionals. Sarah also enjoys sharing insights with peers working to strengthen their "recovery toolbox." With proper support, Sarah knows psychiatric recovery isnt just possible its probable.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sarah served a Spanish-speaking and ASL mission for the LDS Church in the Texas Dallas Mission. She was graduated from Ricks College and BYU. Sarah currently resides in San Diego and inherited four amazing children when she married the man of her dreams in 2011. She loves writing, public speaking, ceramics, jewelry-making and kite-flying not necessarily in that order.

NAMI San Diego's Fall Keynote Address: Living in Recovery with Schizoaffective Disorder

Having recently moved into a new ward, she currently serves as a visiting teacher.

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