Why are you pouring from your own cup?

By Olivia Kamil Smarr

I love a good analogy. I process the world in visual, kinetic ways, connecting my reality with other realities, thinking of my own experiences in relation to other processes in the universe. It’s helpful for me to understand life through comparisons between concepts that make them more palpable. One analogy that I think of often is “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. This poignant statement is about needing to take care of yourself first before you can help others. It’s about making sure that you are renewed and refreshed, that you have enough energy before you give your energy to someone else. It’s our reminder that we are not truly of service to anyone until we, ourselves, have been poured into.

However, this analogy isn’t applicable to every situation. In a lot of instances, I think it’s misused, and framed in a way that might be helpful in some circumstances, but contradictory in others. We live in a society that demands our productivity and energy. Our worth is often measured by what we are able to contribute, whether that be to others directly or to society at large. For those of us who are morally inclined to give to others in service of the common good, and both the personal and collective wellness of those we care about, the “you can’t pour from an empty cup” analogy is helpful because it reminds us to fill up ourselves first. However, not every cup is meant to be poured from.

I like to think of the analogy from a different perspective. The reality is that it’s YOUR cup.

The cup is meant for your own nourishment. You don’t have to share that with others. And in a lot of cases, you shouldn’t.

In times such as these, where there is an overwhelming sense of exhaustion due to disasters and crises and injustices in the world, it is imperative that each of us make a very important decision and choose who or what we are going to prioritize. I’d like to invite you to choose yourself.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling at first, especially if you’re used to being a giver, if you’ve dedicated your life to be in service of others, and/or if you’re the primary caretaker for someone else. Nevertheless, each moment in the day is another opportunity to care for ourselves, to think about ourselves, and to make every decision with our wellbeing in mind.

If we can’t offer grace to ourselves, then do we even understand what grace is at all? Before we begin the act of recognizing the Divine in others, we must recognize the Divine in ourselves.

I invite you to choose yourself, and not feel guilty about it.
Do what feels right to you.
Do what makes you feel joyous and fulfilled.
Make a decision that is centered around your wholeness, and your peace.

Do this as an act of self love and admiration.

You are not meant to give all of your energy to others. You are not designed to give all that you are in service of everyone else.

It’s okay if you only have enough energy for *you* right now. And it’s okay to admit that, to both yourself and to others.

Our limitations are not burdens. Our limitations keep us sustained and whole. We’re not meant to do everything or be everywhere. Our very own human nature demands that we care for ourselves first. Our limitations are a form of survival. They keep us whole, and here.

So I welcome you, I invite you, I implore you, to choose yourself.
Because you’re the only one who knows exactly what you need.
–Exactly what you’re lacking.
–Exactly what you are in abundance of.

Choose yourself today, even if it’s just for a few moments. You are divine. You are worthy.

May your cup be filled, and may you drink from it.

Olivia Kamil Smarr (she/her) is a Black queer mystic, public theologian and spiritual movement artist. She combines traditional West African dance with contemporary Black American dance styles, and incorporates music spanning the African diaspora to show how ancestral rhythms survive in our bodies and are embedded within our spirits. Olivia explores, challenges, and creates innovative ways of spiritual engagement—conjuring revolution, power, magic, and passion through movement. She engages with a theology that views the body itself as divine and holy, embracing the connection of sensuality and spirituality.

Olivia centers those with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and survivors of trauma, including religious trauma, in her work.

Olivia has a Master of Arts in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary, and successfully defended her thesis “Revelations of Divine Love: A Womanist Embodied Mysticism” in 2021. Her research explores the intersections between movement, mysticism, and nature, from a queer eco-womanist theological lens.

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