The New Testament tells us that this is the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. I am intrigued by this verse and at the same time I often wonder if it is misunderstood. I hear people use these words to compel their loved ones to be kind, compassionate, and generous to others. I wholeheartedly agree with these intentions and yet I’ve witnessed many people live out these words to the neglect of themselves. I’ve heard people say, “Scripture tells me to love my neighbor… it says nothing about loving myself”. No disrespect, but I beg to differ.
The verse says: “love your neighbor as yourself”, the imperative word here being “as”. The long form of this phrase would be “love your neighbor as you love yourself”. This implies that in order to be kind, compassionate, and generous to our neighbor, we must first be these things to ourselves. Let’s reflect. If you are invited to love someone as you love yourself this means that if you dislike or are cruel to yourself then you are to dislike or be cruel to that someone. Conversely, if you cherish yourself then to others you are invited to do likewise. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. This verse takes it for granted that we love ourselves, which in reality is a rather large assumption.
I know a lot of people who are good at judging themselves. I know people who criticize themselves or call themselves names. I even know people who appear pretty self-satisfied on the outside but are masking an extremely low sense of self-worth on the inside. I do know some people who kind of like and are generally okay with themselves, but I know only a few people who really seem to accept and love their full selves, flaws and all.
Several months ago, my yoga instructor invited us to spend 2014 putting ourselves first, to move ourselves to “the top of the list” as he put it. This isn’t because he is secretly trying to breed narcissists. It’s because he knows deeply that if we are to have the energy, empathy, strength and passion that we so want to put back into the world, we must first give it to ourselves. We must nurture ourselves in order to nurture our loved ones… and our neighbors.
I don’t know what it looks like for you to practice loving yourself or to practice self-cherishing. Perhaps it starts by forgiving yourself when you are sometimes impatient, or asking yourself what you really want to do on a Friday night, or taking 30min every day to do one thing that you deeply enjoy. Whatever it may be, I encourage you to give yourself permission to do it and not apologize for it. Perhaps this world needs more people who aren’t afraid of caring for themselves.
So this week, perhaps this month or this year even, I invite you to practice love.. practice loving yourself, your neighbor, and your God. Lay down guilt and shame and pick up love. What an ancient, difficult, essential invitation. What a great commandment indeed.
Nikki Holm, M.A., Chaplain