“The Second Most Important Commandment”
Several years ago, I sat across from a bright, talented middle-aged woman. She was sharing her story of failure as she criticized and belittled herself. Rather than allowing this unhealthy pattern to play itself out, I interrupted her. I asked if she remembered what Jesus had told a Pharisee the most important commandment was. I knew she would remember it well. She did. She recited for me, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your spirit.”
“And what was the second most important commandment?” I asked.
“To love your neighbor as yourself,” she responded.
Then, she launched back into her story of self-loathing.
I interrupted her again. “I’m sorry. To love your neighbor as who?” I asked.
She gave me a look that said, “You must be joking.” Then she swiftly said “yourself” as she launched back into her story.
“Tell me again.” I interrupted. “Love your neighbor as who?”
If looks could slap, my face would have been bright red! Still, she patiently said, “yourself.” This woman has the patience of Job. She has far more patience than I would have given some of the circumstances of her life.
And then, she went back to her story.
I interrupted her 5 times. On the fifth time she started to say “yours …” And then her eyes lit up. “Oooh.”
I must confess, I was quite delighted to see the lightbulb click on in her face for that one brief moment.
Too quickly it was gone.
Tears flowed. Tears for years of self-loathing. Tears for at last being set free.
“No one ever told me it was ok to love yourself. I always thought that was selfish.”
“Self-love at the expense of others is selfish. That would be narcissism,” I explained. “However, we need to know how to love ourselves, in order to know how to love our neighbors. It’s like the oxygen masks in an airplane emergency. You put the mask on yourself first so you can survive to help others.”
Her spirit softened that day and from then on.
I learned a lot that day as well. Active listening does not include listening to someone actively repeat a damaging, unhealthy pattern. And writing a self-help blog does not mean I write surface ideas while you (possibly) continue to speak harshly to yourself.
Self-compassion is the term mental health professionals are using these days. For me, it is about learning to embrace the love God has always had for you. Most of us are far more critical of ourselves than God ever would be. That is why we sometimes do not experience God’s love. Not because it is not there, or He does not wish to give it. It is our own self-loathing that creates a wall between us and that love.
When we embrace the height and depth and width and breadth of Christ’s love for us … getting sober and staying sober does not get easier but, it takes on new meaning.
… eating healthy is not about looking great for someone else, it is about caring for the body God provided for you.
… being self-disciplined about expenses is not a burden inflicted on us by some outside circumstances, it is a gift we give ourselves so we might have a better future.
… staying in an unhealthy relationship becomes a little more difficult as we recognize this is not what we were created for.
… and so much more!
This Christmas season when we are spending so much more time at home, sometimes alone, why not make it a season to learn how to speak kindly to yourself? Use your alone time to practice embracing the love that God has for you. I do find that most of us are not able to turn this new wellspring of love on all the way, all at once. Most of us need practice. We are able to do this a little at a time. So simple baby steps like saying to yourself “I love you” three times a day is a start.
After all, that tiny infant in the manger that we sing about and celebrate came to save you. Not because you or I have done anything to deserve it. No!
He came because God Loves Us.
God Loves You. Now Love Yourself as the second most important commandment commands!
Merry Christmas! And may God’s Love resound in your heart.