“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:36-39
I had a conversation recently with a friend recovering from divorce and adultery. He was talking about how he was struggling to focus on himself, to make sure that he knew who he was and what he wanted. This focus on self was so foreign to him that he was apologetic.
I’ve run into a similar situation with my oldest son. He has avoided confronting a situation for months, maybe even years. He has been completely distraught but hasn’t wanted to stand up for himself because it would leave his brother and sister vulnerable. He is so concerned about them that he has left himself in complete turmoil.
As a wife and mom, I often focused (still do) so much time and attention on my children that I neglected myself. There have been days when I find myself hungry as I am getting ready for bed. As I look back over my day, I realize that I made sure everyone has been fed—except me.
We are taught from a young age to look out for others, that we should put other’s needs ahead of our own. We teach our children to always think about others before we think about ourselves.
While we absolutely must think about others, I found myself meditating on the second greatest command recently. Two interesting realities came to me: 1) It is implied that we must love ourselves, and 2) we must love ourselves before we can love our neighbor.
Have you ever met someone who didn’t love himself? Those people are very insecure. Insecurity often reveals itself through extreme self-focus. Everything in life revolves around the insecure person who doesn’t love himself.
I love how Galatians 5 describes the self-centered, flesh –controlled life in The Message:
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom….My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness….It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. Galatians 5:13-21 (selected portions)
This passage, especially the phrase “an impotence to love,” captured me several years ago. It is clearly associated with walking in the flesh, being a slave to the law, being consumed by self. I began to realize that an impotence to love often comes from a hatred of self. The one who does not love himself/herself has a complete impotence, inability to love anyone else.
The antithesis, however, is living in the Spirit. It is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with someone exhibiting those qualities?
So, if self-centeredness is a work of the flesh and often a characteristic of not loving yourself, how do we love ourselves appropriately? How do we learn to love ourselves so that we can love others?
We must remember that love is an action verb. To love ourselves, we must take action. We must actively care for our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
After my melt-down last week, I am focusing heavily on loving myself. I can’t even say that I know exactly what it looks like, but I am trying to figure that out. Here are some of the questions I find myself asking:
Who am I? Loving ourselves starts with knowing who we are. We must see ourselves as God sees us, as a masterpiece created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). We must see ourselves as valuable, loved, and worthy. We must be able to set aside the voices thrown at us by the Accuser of the brethren that say we are stained, unworthy, broken, and useless. We must replace those voices with the loving, reassuring voice of our Savior.
Then, we must know what recharges us. I am an introvert. I like times of solitude and silence. I like peace and order around me. At this time in my life, the thought of a Girls’ Night Out is almost nauseating. It becomes just one more thing on my already crowded schedule, one more evening where I have to be “on,” able to converse and be alive. Nothing about that situation would make me feel alive right now.
Perhaps you are an extrovert, empowered by relationships. Find those people who will build you up, give you the energy and companionship you need.
What empowers me? I have found that physical fitness is a key to my emotional well-being. When I ran the half-marathon a couple of years ago, I felt invincible! I didn’t care how long it took me to run it; I challenged myself and did more than I ever dreamed I could! If I could conquer a half-marathon, I could conquer the world!
There is something about having a strong, healthy body that recharges me. I have recently made some changes to my fitness routine in hopes of regaining my half-marathon level of physical fitness. I make it a point to listen to sermons or praise music as I pound away at the pavement or on the elliptical. And, it’s a great time to pray. God likes to meet me in the solitude of exercise.
When I am physically fit, I can look in the mirror and like the reflection in the mirror. It’s not about my size of clothes or the number on the scale; it is about feeling strong, capable, and ready to face the world. It is about caring for this temple that God entrusted to me.
What drains me? Sometimes we have to look for the things that are sapping our energy and find ways to avoid them. Clutter is a killer for me. I cannot cook dinner if my kitchen is messy. I cannot function if my house is out of order. I need a somewhat organized (not perfect) home if I am to maintain a state of peace.
As a single mom, there are a lot of things clamoring for my attention. Between kid activities and my own schedule, I have found that it is often difficult to clean my house regularly. I finally decided that it would be worth the peace of mind to pay someone else to clean it on a regular basis. The peace I gain from coming home to a clean house is well worth the amount I pay.
I also stress the importance to my kids of helping me keep things picked up. We all know the laws of the universe that tell us that things tend to go from order to disorder. It’s especially true when we have kids. It takes a team effort to maintain this part of our lives.
What can I eliminate? Sometimes the best thing we can learn is the power of saying, “No.” When our lives are ruled by the next item on our agenda, we lose peace.
As a single parent, this one is essential. And, unfortunately, there are times that I find I have eliminated everything that I can, and I am still overbooked. It’s in those moments that I have to trust God to give me the strength to keep going.
My rules are pretty simple: my kids each get one extra-curricular activity (unless it’s during the school day). I do my best to let my kids have friends over and run around, but I am learning to say no when I need to. There’s no doubt that this season of my life is busy, and there is no way around it. But, sometimes “No” is an essential word in our vocabulary.
What boundaries do I need? Have you ever had someone or something that just drains you? Or maybe it’s just a need for a period of silence and solitude?
My mornings are typically my time. I wake up early before the kids and spend time in prayer and in the word. I enjoy the solitude. I have one child, however, who shall remain nameless. He is my early bird. He occasionally wakes up before 7:00, and he loves to come “enjoy” my silence. The problem is that when he gets up with me, I no longer have silence! And it throws my entire day off.
I am learning that one boundary I need to set is that I am off-limits until 7:00 am—unless you are bleeding profusely.
Why do we need to love ourselves? If we aren’t loving ourselves, we have nothing left to give to others. I pray every day that I would be a drink offering, poured out and used up for others. The problem is that I allowed myself to become completely used up without finding ways to get refilled. We are human. We cannot give to others what we do not have ourselves.
My children deserve the best. I can only give them my best when I am loving myself properly.
I think God planned it that way.