Paul wrote in Galatians 5:14 that all the law is “fulfilled in the Second Commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Let’s think about what this really means. Are we to love our neighbor as we love ourselves or as if he or she is me? Or is what I have come to believe about this commandment even truer? It’s to the extent that I can love myself, that’s the extent to which I can love my neighbor and God.
I am not sure we can feel God’s love or anyone else’s love until we turn the eyes of love on ourselves. Until we begin to dismantle the walls within us we’ve erected between ourselves and God and ourselves and other people to keep out the message of not being loved, until we can embrace all that we are, take joy in ourselves, have patience with our flaws, forego judging ourselves and forgive ourselves– we will not be able to feel God’s love. And how can we pour out love and worship and gratitude to God if we don’t feel loved? We’d have nothing to give. We certainly can’t have any love for anyone else before we love ourselves, because we’re too busy trying to protect ourselves, to control what happens to us and to get what we think we need.
Loving ourselves as we are opens doors in us that have long been closed, tears down self-protective walls, acknowledges and embraces our very humanness. When we turn the eyes of love on ourselves, we begin to relax, really relax. We can then begin to take in God’s love for us that has been there all along. We begin to own all that we are—the good, the bad and the ugly as the old western movie title goes. And then, finally, when we are no longer protecting ourselves, we are able to extend the same qualities of love to others—embrace, non-judgment, patience, joy, and more. Then finally we are able to keep the second of the Two Great Commandments of Jesus which Paul writes in Galatians 5 fulfills all the law of the Old Testament.
Loving yourself as well as loving your neighbor and God, means bringing your whole self to God, to the other person—body, mind, soul and heart. It means seeing yourself and them as whole human beings, no matter what dilemma they are sharing or what they have done with their lives. It means being wholly attentive to the person before you whether you’re having a five-minute conversation or you’re spending the day together. To bring your whole self to another is to love him or her.
It’s not about converting them to your point of view. It’s not about pointing out their “sins” or preaching at them. It is about loving them with all of yourself. It’s about presence. You are totally present to him as he is or to her as she is. No wishing you were somewhere else, or contemplating the next thing on your to-do list or rejecting what the person is telling you. No denying what they are saying. No formulating your answer to what they are saying before they are done talking. You are totally present to the person before you.
The training ground for this is being totally present to yourself—to your unfulfilled needs, to your desires, to your soul’s insistence, to the Spirit’s leadings, to your faults. If you can take the judgment off yourself, you can then embrace all that you are—warts and all. This is love.
If you can love yourself, you can love anyone. And if you can love anyone, you can love God who loves everyone. Love is the one great change agent in the world. If we can turn the eyes of love on ourselves, we change, we relax, we express our best selves.
If we turn the eyes of love on another, we are loving them. We don’t need to point out their flaws or “sins,” or call on them to change. Loving them changes them.
All of this, of course, we do because of God’s commands to us. In Jesus’ words we are to love God with all of ourselves, not just with our good parts, but with everything in us—heart, mind, soul and body, warts and all. We must be willing to acknowledge the whole of ourselves in order to love God with all of us. And if we turn the eyes of love on our selves and on everyone else, we are transformed into loving, co-creative creatures of the Lord. And so are they.
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I willing to look at myself—warts and all—with love? Will I be as understanding of myself as I am of others? How do I see this connected with loving God with all of myself?
The blessing for this week: That we would gaze at ourselves and out into the world with the eyes of agape love. That we would feel our own love for ourselves and for God in every cell in our bodies. That we would then express that love to everyone wherever we go. In faith and love, Pat