When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt 22)
But why should we care? Why is it important what some old law book and dusty old profets think about? One way to answer that question may be to ask ourselves, why did Jesus care? Why was it important to Jesus what the law and the profets stood for? The simplest way to answer that is to understand that the law / Torah was shorthand for the Jewish way of life. The entire Jewish culture was built on the Torah. And Jesus was a Jew so the law was the single most important cultural marker for him. The profets where the Navi which means messenger from god (or crazy person, and the profets where often both). So if Jesus says that his entire way of life and the ones that speak for the divine all have this one command as their core or bottom line then maybe we should start paying attention.
##The perenial tradition
This command is echoed throughout history and cultures, we find it in every living tradition that we know. All religions, all cultures have in some way echoed this idea. the correlation between self love and loving others, what has been distilled in the golden rule. Don\t do to anyone else what you wouldn’t have done to you or do to yourself.
Let’s look at what the other traditions say:
Confucianism: Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state. (Analects 12:2)
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (Udana-Varga 5,1)
Hinduism: This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you. (Mahabharata 5,1517)
Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. (Sunnah)
Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. (Talmud, Shabbat 3id)
Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. (Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien)
Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself. (Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5)
How we missed the point
Now I have heard many sermons on this topic … they all meticulously spell out how we should love our neighbours because we love ourselves. The trouble with all these sermons are that most of us do not love ourselves that much. We try to love our neighbour to the best of our abilities and we are dismayed at the results, we are simply not very good at it most of the time.
What if we simply cannot love our neighbour or anyone else any more than we love ourselves? What if loving ourselves actually in the long run means loving our neighbour?
What if love just like forgiveness comes in this bi-directional pipe (like a snorkel) where we by blocking the output also block the input and vice versa? let’s just for a minute try on the idea that for me to be capable of loving someone else, I must first love me.
Renowned shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown says:
Love is not something we give or we get: it is something we nurture and grow. A connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists in each of them – We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
The second and maybe even more scandalous and never mentioned point Jesus makes when he states the greatest commandment is that the second command is like the first. What does that mean? Is jesus simply saying that they are both commands about love? Or is he actually saying that loving yousrelf and loving your neighbour is actually like loving god? Is he saying that you can love god by loving your neighbour as yourself? However we decide to interpret this scandalous statement have no option but to conclude that loving is the way Jesus insists on. Loving god, loving self and loving neighbour.
So with this in mind I would like to address the unpopular notion of self love. This idea, to love one self is taboo in Swedish culture it is seen as ego/centric or selfish. We see this in our everyday interactions with people and especially in how we handle such a simple thing as compliments.
“Wow what a nice dress!
What, this old thing?”
“Do you play the guitar?
Not really, I try… I know a chord or two.”
In the Salvation Army we have a culture that will not allow us to take credit for anything. When a musician performs a piece of music or someone preaches a nice sermon, instead of owning the accomplishment we are taught to give a salute, which means not me but god.
The proper, honest response to a compliment is of course “Thank you!” Whatever you may think of yourself, this other person is apparently impressed and maybe if they see the gold in you, maybe we can allow ourselves to do the same.
Berne Brown writes in her book “Gifts of imperfection”:
Loving and accepting ourselves is the ultimate acts of courage. In a society that says: “Put yourself last”, self-love and self-acceptance are almost revolutionary.
Loving yourself because you are loved
Do you need a reason for loving yourself? Here is the reason, you are loved. If it is true that it is only possible to love others to the extent one loves oneself, it only makes sense that god, who is love, loves you greatly because god also loves godself greatly. In his letter to the Romans Paul states that we love god because god first loved us. And if god loves me surely I can love me too.
Listen to the words of Rumi:
I SWEAR MY DEAR SON MY BELOVED DAUGHTER
no one in the entire world
is as precious as you are
look at that mirror
take a good look at yourself
who else is there above and beyond you
now give yourself a kiss
and with sweet whispers
fill your ears to the brim
watch for all that beauty
reflecting from you
and sing a love song to your existence
you can never overdo
praising your own soul
you can never over-pamper your heart
you are both
the father and the son, the mother and the daughter
the sugar and the sugar cane
who else but you
please tell me who else
can ever take your place
now give yourself a smile
what is the worth of a diamond
if it doesn’t smile
how can i ever put a price
on the diamond that you are
you are the entire treasure of the house
you and your shadow
are forever present in this world
you’re that glorious bird of paradise
“RUMI, Fountain of Fire”, ghazal number 2148,
translated 19 January 1991 by Nader Khalili, Daughter mother added for equality
Saying that you are bad, unlovable, not good enough is going in the face of god’s proclamation that you are a master piece (Eph 2.10, poema), that god created you masterfully and wonderfully (psalm 139), that we as humans are like gods (psalm 8), That we are created very good (Gen 1), that when god looks at you he smiles, winks and does a little dance (Zephania). After hearing how much God loves you how can you not love yourself…. well, if you don’t the bible is full of examples of people like you.
“Moses, I choose you to lead my people. What me, no I am not a leader and I can’t speak in public”
“Gideon, arise mighty warrior. What me, no I am from the least important tribe and in that tribe I am the gofer”
But listen, if you turn to god, and listens in on gods heart, because god is love, all you will hear and feel is love. God loves you with infinite scandalous love and there is nothing you can do to make god love you more and there is nothing you can do to make god love you less. God loves you with abundant everlasting love and god’s love never fails! In fact in his letter to the Romans Paul asserts over and over again that nothing seen or unseen, nothing above or below NOTHING can separate us from the love of god.
Ok, so god loves me, maybe need to love me. What does it look like?
Lets start with the mind….
Loving me with the mind
Lets just admit that what we call the mind is not infallible, there are all sorts of strange ideas and thoughts rumbling around in there. For example, what where you thinking when I was saying how much god loves you just 30 seconds ago, I’ll bet you anything that for many of you the thought started with “Yea, but….” The mind on it’s own can do come up with the most ridiculous things, what we need to grasp is that the mind is a tool, that we need to use correctly. You are not your mind so don’t let your mind run the show.
In the great commandment we are told to love god with all our mind, it means whether or not our mind wants to, this is what we should do with it. We should love, god, self and neighbour. The kicker is, at the core, at the source of things we are all one, interconnected in this quantum web, god is in me, in you and in everyone and everything so love is always the proper response to everything and everyone, starting with me!
So, think nice thoughts about yourself. Allow yourself to see and be grateful for all that is wonderful about you. Do what you did when you where a child. Look at your own hand and be in awe over how marvellous it is. Look at the Iris of your eye and be mesmerised by the secret landscape and colours hidden within. Look at the curve of your lip, look at how fantastically and ridiculously awesome you are. The things that you can do with your body: Run, walk, swim etc…
Start with affirmations, say them to yourself until you believe them. I am wonderful, I am beautiful, I am bountiful, I am smart, I am kind, I am lovely. Only when you see these things in yourself can you start seeing them in others. Fall in love with yourself. Only when you love yourself, can you love others.
Now after all that, I just want to make this clear, don’t lie to yourself here. Do not say I am an amazing guitar player if you never held a guitar in your hand. Stay true. Only by accepting where we really are can we grow and move on from that point. Don\t pretend that you think you are beautiful if you do not think you are. Instead endeavour to see the beauty in yourself and affirm the beauty you find.
It will take time to renew your mind, to repent, that is to look at the ways you have been thinking of yourself and start thinking differently, it will take conscious effort and training.
With the mind sorted (as if) lets move on to the heart.
Loving me with the heart
The good news is that your heart already loves you, and god, and your neighbour, and your neighbours cat and … well you get the drift. This is true because this is what the heart does. It loves. The problem is that we have been told in kindergarten, in school, in church, in our offices to trust our fickle and untrained minds and to be wary of our hearts. Feelings can not be trusted, we are told in this western society that prizes the mind over anything else. But while our mind can be deceived and can send faulty signals due to cultural conditioning and brokenness our feelings are always true. Our sacred tells us to especially guard our hearts because our hearts are the source of life (Prov 4.22)
When you are scared it’s true, you are scared! You may be completely deluded (by the mind) about what it is you are scared of and it may be completely baseless, nevertheless it is true you are scared. When you are angry it is true, you are angry, you may be deceived, deluded and completely duped by your own mind and thoughts into being angry for no reason but it is still true, you are angry.
So while our minds can deceive us with all kinds of thoughts our feelings are in a way always true reactions to our perceived reality.
Renowned shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown explains in her book Daring Greatly that we cannot selectively suppress feelings and emotions, when we suppress any feeling or emotion we suppress them all. So when we suppress the feelings we perceive as negative (anger, sorrow, pain) we also put the lid on passion, love, joy etc.
Therefore, to be able to love ourselves with our hearts (something our hearts already does) we must allow ourselves to feel the entire range of emotions, we need to be feeling beings. When a feeling or emotion comes up we need to let it, we need to really feel it, (and remember thinking you are feeling it, is not feeling it), we need to breathe through it and see where it takes us. Our feelings and emotions always has something to teach us about our thinking or about our reality.
Loving me with the body
So to love myself fully, I need to come to terms with and accept that I am an embodied being, I have a body and I need to love it and love myself with it. There are so many ways to do this but lets start with some of the obvious ones.
Take care of your body. Your body needs clothes for warmth (at least here in Sweden) so dress yourself, comfortably and warmly. Your body needs food so feed yourself, healthy, nutritious food. Your body needs rest, so take a day of, walk in the sun, sleep long nights and take naps. Your body needs touch, so embrace yourselves, caress yourselves and make love to yourselves.
Seriously, do you really intentionally and with presence feed yourself, do you pick out the juiciest fruits and the most delicious vegetables to make yourself a bountiful treat? Do you pick clothes that caress your skin and make you feel wonderful? Do you put yourself to bed and tuck yourself in and indulge in the softest best pillow and care for your sleep hygiene? Do you hug yourself, caress yourself and show yourself love when you feel lonely or scared and feel the need to be loved and touched? When you are starved for intimacy do you arouse yourself and give yourself the intimacy and pleasure you need?
My cup runneth over
So what is all this self love for, why should I put myself like this in the centre of my own universe? Isn’t this just selfishness? Will I not just become a self centred egoistical human being like all the others running around hoarding my own treasures and jealously guarding them?
In short, NO!
Abundance as god’s intention
When we go to the scriptures we see that god’s intention for us is abundance listen to these words on what it means to be blessed:
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways. The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you undertake; he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. The Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you. The Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom (Deut 28.3-13a)
God wants abundance for you, god wants to lavish god’s love and blessing on you like a prodigal son or daughter. Because it is when i act out of this abundance that I can truly give.
Abundance as the only valid starting point
If I love myself so deeply, so profoundly, so completely that I do not need anyone else’s love, approval or care then I will walk through life knowing that I have all I need, that I am all that I need to be and that what is true in my life is abundance not scarcity. Then I can recognise that while I do not need love from somewhere else I have tons of love to give. and I will be acting with what C.S. Lewis called give-love instead of need-love. I will give because of my abundance and not with the hidden agenda that I actually lack and give only so that I can receive from the other. When we step into abundance, we step into agape, love with no condition, love for no other reason than love.
We all know this really, unless we have we cannot give. Unless we are filled up we have nothing to dish out. Our problem is that we often walk around and wait for other people, things and circumstances to fill us up, when it is in fact our own responsibility to make sure we have what we need first so that we then can give freely out of our abundance.
Abundance as spiritual warfare
When we act from a place of scarcity we walk around with an empty hole a vacuum inside and we look for love, and things and relationships to fill this perceived lack. And when we indiscriminately take in things, people, relationships, ideas etc. we get a lot of crap or wrong/broken thoughts (what the Aramaic word for demon means). However when we are full, filled up with love, loving ourselves because we know we are god’s beloved, there is no room for anything else to come in, we are full. Filled with god’s spirit, god’s love nothing else will stick it will simply run of our backs like water on a goose. Other peoples negativism, other peoples negativity, neediness and scarcity thinking will bounce of because we are filled up with love.
You are loved, you are wonderfully and beautifully crafted, a masterpiece created in the image of the most high, the source of love. Love is not a lesson to be learned it is who we are at the core, it is our origin and our destination. To become like Christ, like god, to truly reflect the nature of god we must become love and we do so by loving ourselves and we love ourselves by first accepting that we are worthy of love, allowing ourselves to deeply feel what we feel and realise that we do, in our hearts love ourselves and that this love is enough, When we can accept this we embody it by falling in love with ourselves and physically loving ourselves. And when we are walking around in this world fully charged with love it will spill over to our neighbour. When I know I am loved and that I have all the love I will ever need, then I do not need to hoard or pile up on love but can freely distribute the abundance to everyone around me. And by loving myself I now love my neighbour as deeply and scandalously as I love myself.
Only there will I then be able to see that in loving myself I am loving my neighbour, and when I love my neighbour I am actually loving myself and my god.