Love Who Now?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Ok, awesome. I can handle that one, Jesus. And…oh, you say there’s another one?

Love your neighbor Oh cool, I can work on that one t- as yourself.

…what?

Surprisingly to some, the hardest part of the two greatest commandments for me to want to obey has been this part. I’m fine with loving God, that one’s pretty obvious. I’m even open to loving my neighbors – all of them – the poor, the rich, the sick, the unpleasant to hang out with, the fundamentalist Christians, etc.

But wait. You want me to love myself?

See, I know me better than anybody else in the world (save God) knows me. I know all the important details of my life. I know all the idiotic and horrible decisions I’ve made that make it very hard to respect myself sometimes. There are a few reasons I find it problematic to love myself: first, as I just said, I’m a horrible person and I know it better than anyone.

The second is…not like it. Christians are called to be selfless people, to put ourselves beneath those around us, to make ourselves nothing for the good of others. We are to be more concerned with the uplifting of others and the spreading of the good news than with our own life. This is why we have immense respect and awe at tales of martyrs and missionaries who lost everything in pursuit of souls for God’s Kingdom.

How do I take such a selfless view and still love myself? What does it mean to love myself?
Perhaps we’re not called to put ourselves below everyone else. Perhaps it’s more accurate to think that we view ourselves as the least, then treat everyone else as the least with us – not in a way disparaging to them, but in a sense saying we are equals in our worthlessness. Except, of course, we aren’t worthless. God values us so highly that He died for us, and we clearly value one another as well. So throw that out, but not completely. We are still called to humble ourselves, and yet we are told to love ourselves and others with equal measure.

Let me propose an answer to the question of what it means to love oneself. How did Jesus tell us to show love to others? How did he separate the obedient sheep from the obstinate goats?

  • Feed the hungry
  • Quench the thirsty
  • Invite in the stranger
  • Clothe the naked
  • Visit the sick
  • Meet the prisoner

Now, take for example feeding the hungry. If we are to love others by ensuring that they are fed (and not just fed, but noursihed – let’s not go colonizing asia and africa with mickey d’s. Oops, too late), and if we are to love them AS ourselves, then we can backsolve that equation and determine that we are supposed to keep ourselves fed and nourished as well. If I want to feed my brothers and sisters, I have to feed myself as well. I am not to starve myself (Lottie Moon gets a pass here because she had good reason) and I am not to stuff myself with unhealthy garbage (this is where this half of the commandment gets particularly difficult…). Rather, in my quest to nourish others, I must keep myself nourished.

And quenched. And at home. And clothed (well, not all the time). And healthy. And out of jail (unless I have a good reason).

Sometimes I need to hear Jesus telling me Do unto yourself as you would do unto others and Love yourself as your neighbor.