Perhaps it’s because of the circles I run in or maybe because it’s long been a topic near and dear to my heart, but I seem to hear more and more these days the call to “the two greatest commandments” God has set forth to us as His disciples. They’re familiar scripture to most of us who’ve been in the church any length of time.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV).
Even Jesus says it. “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it…” Lately, as I’ve reread these verses and been reminded in sermons and devotions, I’m discovering there is a key component, seemingly hidden in there, a piece of the puzzle I hadn’t really taken notice of before.
Let’s read again the second commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There it is! Love your neighbor. As yourself. As yourself. Yourself. Do you see it? Nestled in that second commandment is the key component Jesus gives us, which we so often overlook, “Love…yourself.”
This seems to be counteractive to many of Jesus’ other teachings. We read throughout scripture to put others above ourselves, to deny ourselves, in humility count others as more significant, don’t seek your own good, but the good of others, and so on.
I’m learning these days to find the balance in loving myself well so I have what it takes to put others needs above my own and truly care for those around me. Similar to the instructions when beginning a flight, we need to put on our own oxygen masks before assisting others. Only out of the overflow of loving ourselves well can we love others as Jesus commanded. As author, Geri Scazzero writes, “A healthy spiritual life includes a careful balance between serving other people’s needs and desires and valuing my own needs and desires. Instead, I put most of my efforts into caring for others at the expense of my own soul.”
Taking a closer look, I don’t think we can effectively love our neighbor until we first love ourselves. While it sounds easy, we know it’s not. Between human nature, circumstances, past experiences and lies we’ve been told by ourselves and others, we continue to live with the fear that we’re not enough and don’t measure up. We convince ourselves of our unworthiness. Somehow, it seems more spiritual to live with a sense of false humility. I sometimes feel the blood of Jesus covers everyone else’s sin, but it’s just not enough for mine.
Lately, I’ve been asking God to show me what it looks like to love myself well. A few of the answers I’ve received include being more intentional to take a Sabbath rest each week and discerning when to say no.
I’ve often wrestled with the definition of Sabbath; is it a defined time legalistically set during the week, with rules as to what you can or cannot do? Or is it a commandment God gives us for our benefit, a time of rest He modeled for us after working six days to create the world? Reading through the Old Testament, a few commentaries and various books, I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, Sabbath is a 24-hour period of taking a break from my normal routine, resting and enjoying God’s presence. Typically, this includes a time of corporate worship as well as quiet, personal reflection. It might also include reading for pleasure, walking in the woods or on the beach, taking a drive in the country, shopping for fresh produce at a market, talking to my children or FaceTiming with my grandchildren. Perhaps it’s hosting a Sunday afternoon cookout with my husband or a tea party with my girlfriends. It’s important to realize here how personal one’s practice of Sabbath is, as it can be tempting to subject our values on others. (For instance, my husband LOVES to do the laundry. It brings him great pleasure in every step and he looks forward to spending a few hours of his Sabbath washing and folding clothes. For many, however, this is not a task that brings delight.) What brings us delight may not do the same for others. Part of the beauty of Sabbath is having the freedom to find delight in Jesus and rest for your soul in your own unique way.
The second way I’m learning to love myself better is by saying no to good opportunities. This enables me to have the time and energy to say yes to the best opportunities. Reminding myself of my limits and boundaries are healthy practices to loving myself well. And in turn, to loving others “as I love myself.”
Loving myself well is truly a key component to loving God and others more fully. As I discover ways to care for myself, I discover how to love and care for others as Jesus commanded.