During December all four posts will be on the topic of Loving God with all of ourselves.
To love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, is Jesus’ first great Commandment. The Second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. These two commandments sum up all the law and the prophets. [Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28] They state the principle behind, and the spirit of, all the laws and commandments of the Old Testament. To love God with all of ourselves means to put him first above everything else, to have no attachments other than to Him, to love him unconditionally. And the proof of our commitment to love God with all of ourselves is in the Second Great Commandment, how we treat everyone else including ourselves.
So we can always ask ourselves, “How am I doing in following Jesus,” while looking with a critical eye at how we treat others and ourselves. Am I at peace, full of joy, patient, gentle, good and kind, am I faithful and self-controlled—with myself and everyone else using the standard of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5? Can we set aside our own needs, knowing that God will see to them, in order to serve others? Are we self-controlled in that way? If we are, then we can be sure that we have our priorities straight. To put it another way, how we love God is how we love ourselves and others. We either see ourselves and others as created by God, loved and forgiven by God or we see ourselves separate from them, separate from God; we judge them and ourselves. If that is true, we are not loving God!
The major thing that gets in our way of loving God and others is our own negative self-image. The one that says, “You’d better straighten up yourself, if you want God to love you!” Or this, “These are the “shoulds” you have to live by!” Or this one, “Boy, did you screw up again!” In almost every case we will be hard on ourselves, judging ourselves by a harsher light than God would ever shine on us. Our worst nightmare is our own self-image.
Until we can come to terms with how we treat ourselves, until we can see ourselves with God’s eyes as seen in the Parable of the Prodigal Son[Luke 15:11ff], we will be holding God at arms’ length lest he judge us as not acceptable. Check out the second son in the parable. He is dutiful, but has never felt God’s love or celebration of him. We would rather believe the idea of a vengeful, capricious God who judges everyone, than a God of love who is Love and Forgiveness itself. And which one would you rather serve? The hateful one who is ready to punish you all the time? or the One who loves you no matter what as long as you turn back to him?
It takes an act of will, given our preference for a punishing god, to take the story of the Prodigal Son and apply it to our own lives. For here is what Jesus tells us about the father in the story: he eagerly awaited the return of his son(or daughter); he greeted him(her) with open arms; he celebrated his return; he restored him to his place in the family.
We would have to apply how God views us as illustrated in this story to our own selves. We would have to embrace and accept all that we have done, all that was done to us. We would have to celebrate who we are in God’s eyes. We would have to turn the eyes of love onto ourselves. And as we do that, we can feel the resistance in us melting away. A new softness coming into being with judging anyone, including ourselves, no long an option, with there being nothing to project onto others in the way of fear or anger, only love and acceptance and understanding towards ourselves.
God did not make mistakes when he created us as we are. With free will he is trusting us that we can figure out what brings us joy and peace and love and what doesn’t. He entrusts us with his whole creation, all the plants and animals and other human beings, hopeful that we will treat them as he has treated us. As we rise out of the pit of self-deprecation we’ve been in all our lives, as we open up to who we are and whose we are, as we treat others as we’d like to be treated, as we dedicate ourselves to Him, we move onto a new plain of existence that views love and forgiveness and mercy as the highest values. What God gives us, we now extend to everyone else. And more.
And what about the second son in the parable? Isn’t his story the same, even though he chose to be the “good” son? He stayed with his father, but never felt or accepted what the father offered him. He was the dutiful son, full of resentment and maybe even fear that he would be overlooked when this errant son came home. He was living all the time with the father but unable to take in his love and forgiveness for him, unable to come into his own to love God and himself and others.
Before we can accept and embrace and feel God’s love for us, we must accept and embrace and love our own very human selves. Otherwise we cannot let God’s love in. We will forever be the “good” son who stays with the Father, but never felt worthy of his love
It is love that changes everything, even if at first it is simply a decision of our will that we must learn to love ourselves. It involves accepting all that we are, even embracing all that we have done and all that has been done to us, if only because it is the truth about us. And we want to live in truth. It involves forgiving ourselves, so that we can release the attachment we have to the past and move into the present. It involves shining the eyes of love on ourselves, and then we can see how we can begin to relax, no longer defending or hiding who we are from everyone else, including God. As we begin to shine our own love on ourselves, we can begin to feel, actually feel God’s love and forgiveness for ourselves, deep in our souls.
And then we are finally in God’s hands, guided by him. All our resistance has melted away along with our defensiveness and denial. And there is a new openness in us to God, to life, to ourselves. It is a miracle beyond belief when love and forgiveness are born in us. Amen!
Questions to ponder over the week: Do I believe deep in my heart and soul that God loves me and everyone else? Am I willing to use God’s love to turn the eyes of love on myself? Can I accept, embrace and love all that I am? If not, am I willing to ask God’s help? Will I follow God’s lead in this whole attitude about my life?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who can accept and embrace God’s love for us and all that it implies. May we be the people of God who can love unconditionally, fully. May we be free to love.
News from By the Waters:
My book, “Thy Kingdom Come!”, is up on Amazon in both paperback and kindle versions. Look under Patricia Said Adams.
If you want to spread the post for this week into five days, check it out at Facebook, By the Waters.