Love Yourself...Please!

October 8th, 2013

Why? Because we really do end up loving (or not loving) others the way we love (or don't love) ourselves. Talk to me about loving you?

This often comes up with folks in spiritual direction. Somewhere along the line Jesus' summation of the law to “love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” got translated by well-meaning preachers, teachers, authors, small group leaders, and folks themselves as “Love God. Love others. Don't love yourself because that's selfish.”

Sometimes I wear a Scrabble-tile necklace with this quote from the Dalai Lama, “Love Yourself.” It seems like a radical idea. Some Christians unfortunately think it an unChristian idea!

My daughter is seven and my desire for her life with God goes beyond regular church attendance.  I want her to value the Great Commandment to love God and her neighbor as herself.  Yet who will be her models?  Too many times I have witnessed Christians refusing to love themselves while pushing and guilting themselves (and often times pretending) to love others.  I've witnessed my own stumbling toward loving myself and others for that matter! We have heard and believed we have a choice to make, it's either love our neighbor or love ourselves (and we better choose the former or we're selfish). It took me years until the epiphany came--that was not what Moses or Jesus communicated!  I want my daughter to know that not only are love of neighbor and self not mutually exclusive, they are intimately tied together which is why they are so intertwined in the Great Commandment.  Through conversation, prayer, and example I believe it is possible.  In fact, considering that God wants us to love ourselves that we may authentically love others, I know God is delighted to be part of the process of teaching us how!

Here's my little conversational and prayer exercise to help kids learn or help us relearn the basics of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Wherever you are whether brushing your teeth, at dinner, driving in the car, or bedtime, allow these questions to lead you to love...

  • In what ways have you offered love to yourself today? What kind of love do you need?

  • How can you offer that same kind of love to someone else? Who needs that kind of love?

Whether with yourself or another, you might have a conversation at the beginning of the day as a way of recognizing what you (or your child) need.  This teaches discernment as we go deeper than our assumptions to what our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls (what we're told to love God with in the first part of the Great Commandment) really need in the way of love.  Sometimes it is something very simple like a hug.  My daughter often tells me that what helps her most when she is sad, scared, or worried is a hug.  When the questions are asked at the beginning of the day, our hearts are then encouraged to be open throughout the day to those who may have the same needs.  Or you may have a conversation of reflection at the end of the day. In reflecting on when/where you loved yourself (or didn't love yourself) you might remember how you loved others (or didn't love others).  Reflection can also lead us to be on the “love lookout” on behalf of others the next day or the rest of the week.

Try incorporating these into your time of prayer. “God, show me ways I can offer love to myself today and in turn offer this same love to others"  or "God, help me to receive your love for me today that I may love myself and others with the same kind of love.”  Allow some silence to see what stirs in your heart and mind. 

This week I told my daughter that I was loving myself by making and eating really tasty and healthy food. As I was feeling grateful for the food and looking at how much I'd made, it dawned on me that there could be someone else who might need or enjoy this food, too. A friend's face popped into my mind. She recently had an injury that makes cooking difficult so my kids and I later dropped off a portion of our food to her. On a related note, I've noticed when my mind and life are cluttered not much can "dawn or pop."  Spaciousness offers me the opportunity to be shown how to, and the space that I actually can, love my neighbor as myself. 

I asked my daughter how she has been loving herself and she said, “I'm taking care of myself.” I asked her how and she replied, “I'm drinking lots of water.” We then talked about a variety of ways, large and small, that she could offer the same kind of love to someone else. Together we remembered how our church had collected money a couple of years ago to build a well in Nicaragua so that people there could have clean water to drink. I said, “You could also get a family member or friend a glass of water, just keep your eyes open to who might be thirsty.”  This led into our time of prayer, “God, thank you for telling us to love ourselves. Thank you for clean water to drink each day.  Help us see where people are thirsty this week and allow us to love them by offering them a drink.  In Jesus' Name, Amen.”

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