It’s a pretty important directive handed down by Jesus. He lays it out as the second most important charge for his followers: Love your neighbor as yourself.
We know very well of our call to love God. We’re even aware of the command that follows. But I’m always struck by the phrase, “as yourself.”
Love your neighbor as yourself.
We are prone to “love” ourselves, however that may play out. We might love ourselves well; we might also love ourselves badly. We may display love to self in very selfish ways; we may also show deep kindness to self.
What I have most learned is that we will love others in the same way we love ourselves. If you’ve never considered it, let that sink in for a moment.
How does this specifically play out for me?
I love myself for what I can become, rather than for who I am. This is the real challenge for one who has been trained in the deathly ways of perfectionism. Expectations are always high, things could always be better.
I can perform better, do more.
I can talk less, listen more.
I can be a better husband, a better father.
I can earn more, make ends meet better.
The litany of better could go on and on.
And when you walk around with that kind of list, you don’t stand much of a chance. I know, I have the scars to prove it.
Here is what happens. If you are one that expects that you can always do more and, subsequently, you are not meeting those “more” expectations, you will usually end up punishing yourself more. Because there is always room for more, there is now room for more self-contempt. It then builds and builds and builds, ultimately forming into a mountain to overcome.
This is an odd display of “love” toward oneself. It’s actually a complete lack of love for self.
So, moving on to loving others as yourself, you see how this can play out. If one functions similar to the way I do, you’ll regularly lack love for those around you. You’ll always expect more, want better, and push harder when it comes to the “neighbor” around you.
You’ll form a practice of loving people for what they can become rather than for who they are.
We could look at how this affects love for God – that you’ll most likely expect God to function very similar to the way you treat yourself. But that’s another post at another time.
It is paramount that we love others and love them well. Yet we must grapple with the fact that we will love them as we love ourselves. So, perhaps, we do need to start on some level with a proper love for self. I do not speak of excusing sin. Our Father is not interested in that. But our Father also knows who we are – of dust, fallen, broken, full of sin. Most times I am harder on me than God is.
Let us learn to love ourselves as we are. Sure, we will continue to journey the path of transformation; there is much change laid out for us. If we will allow God to shape a healthy love for self, we just might see remarkable change in our love for others – those close to us and the random neighbor that will pop into our lives.
It is in the practice of learning to love ourselves as we are that allows God to transform us into who we CAN be. Wanting to be “more” in order to “please God” doesn’t work, because that causes us to rely on our own efforts. It is when we face and accept our weakness as part of us (just as God does) that He can work within us in SPITE of our failures and shortcomings to “work out our salvation” through acts of love towards others just as they are, rather than who we think God WANTS them to be. This is a great paradox. It is counterintuitive to our thinking, ESPECIALLY Western (American) thinking. It truly requires a “change of mind” (repentance), a TRANSFORMING of our mind. It sleem like foolishness (“So, you don’t try to sin less? You just do whatever you want?”) to most people, but it is the true path of freedom.