Jesus speaking: “’Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is nearly as important, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The rest of the law, and all the teachings of the prophets, are but variations on these themes” –Matthew 22:37-40 (The Voice).
Wow! I kinda wish Jesus had stopped at loving God. It’s easier to think I love Someone who is ethereal and theoretical and defies definition. A Person who is nebulous that I can conform to my own ideal. A Person who says over and over how much I am loved, accepted and cherished. Why did Jesus have to add that last bit? It’s not part of the Deuteronomy passage of Moses telling us how to love God. It’s mired in a rather obscure Leviticus passage. Why did Jesus juxtapose these two passages? Why do we shorten His thoughts to ‘Love God and love others’, omitting the ‘as yourself’ part? I’m growing to believe that the ‘as yourself’ part is key to how we love God and love others.
Most women understand a love/hate relationship with body image. Some of us struggle more than others; but society has taught us well that some body types are better than others. Every generation can look at the fashion and determine which body type is in style for each particular decade. Women (and some men, too) tend to internalize that how we look on the outside determines our internal worth. I believe that Jesus communicated that to the degree we love and accept ourselves correlates to how deeply we can love and accept God and others.
I find that when I dwell on my shortcomings, my view of God becomes more and more distant and judging of who I am to Him. I begin to listen to all the negative voices in my head telling me that I am not smart enough … pretty enough … strong enough …
I am not enough.
Self-shame begins to fill my thoughts and heart. And through that shame and loathing, I look at God and others. I am judged by God, so I judge others by the same standard I believe He judges me. God is distant because I am not good enough for His time and energy, so I grow distant from others to protect myself from their rejection. I wouldn’t want them to see the truth about me.
That I am condemned by God.
Comparisons breed insecurities. Insecurities breed shame. Shame breeds isolation. Isolation spirals to very dark places of our souls. In the loneliness of isolation, we may find it difficult to crawl and scrape our way up from the rabbit hole we’ve fallen into. Some never recover, as we see in many headlines of suicides and violence throughout the world. I can make a case that much of the world’s horrors stem from people not knowing how to love themselves so they lash out at others. When those people unite (as in the cases of Boko Haram, ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups), the damage becomes globally felt.
So how do I (we) learn to love ourselves and reverse some of the damage we inflict on others? I believe Jesus understood the cycle well: Love God with everything in you. How do we love anyone fully? 1 Corinthians 13 tells us how God loves us. I love verse 12 which tells me that I am intimately known by God. When looked at with the rest of the chapter, I discover that being so deeply known, I am loved.
I am accepted.
But not just accepted, I am cherished.
Let those thoughts sink in to your soul for a moment. Bask in the presence of the One who looks at you as in a mirror. You reflect His image. Let the shame of all your perceived shortcomings melt away as God exposes you for your true self–beloved … adored … created to look like God.
Out of that knowing, my confidence rises. But confidence that humbles me. In that humility, I begin to see others in the same light. They are loved. They are accepted. They are cherished. Because I know the God who loves me and teaches me to love Him back, I can love well those He loves.
Quiet the voices that say you are not enough. Let the voice of God speak louder for a moment each day. Hear Him say that you are loved. You are accepted. You are cherished.
And as we all learn to love ourselves more, perhaps we will begin to see a change in the world around us. Perhaps others will begin to hate less. Perhaps the world really can become a kinder place. But, only if it starts with me. With you. With us.
I welcome comments. Please keep them respectful and constructive.