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 neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40
“Am I allowed to love myself?” I am surprised that I asked myself that question. But I did. And it felt disappointing. I knew better. And yet, here I was giving in to the messaging of our society that puts so much effort into telling us that we are not enough. And if we are not enough, then we are not worthy of love.
Of course, I know that I am allowed to love myself. In fact, loving myself is an imperative if I am to have any hope of living out the two great commandments of my Teacher, Jesus Christ. It is the fulcrum that enables the lever of love to be lifted up. According to Jesus’ Way, I love God and others through the awareness of loving self.
Having realized this at a reasonably early age and putting it into practice for so long, I thought that I had built up an immunity to the messaging that tells me otherwise. But when I started witnessing that I was questioning whether I was allowed to love myself, I learned the difference between immunity and resistance. Immunity is permanent. But resistance is temporary.
Just like someone can build up resistance to the effects of a certain disease through good habits, healthy choices, etc., it is the same with the awareness of our worthiness of love. If we don’t keep up with those habits, our resistance diminishes. Because the messaging and judgments that might suggest that we’re less than lovable will not cease, we cannot stop our work of building up our resistance. But building up resistance is not enough. That’s simply the loving self part. Immunity will never be possible until it becomes common knowledge that we are all worthy of love and called to love in return.
As I child, I was taught that Jesus stood in the relational gap between God and humanity reconciling us to each other. But as an adult, I have come to believe that Jesus really stood in the gaps that humans create between one another. He came to teach us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and the rest will work itself out–even experiencing the love of God. I think that’s why 1 John 4:20 teaches that it is impossible to love God, who we cannot see, without loving the people that we can see. And the first person we need to see is ourselves.
When I retraced my steps to figure out why I started wondering whether I was allowed to love myself, I discovered that it was because I had become overly focused on what it might take to get people from different walks of life to learn to love each other. In a success driven world, I somehow started to think that unless I witnessed this hoped for harmony show some real signs of becoming a reality in my lifetime, everything I did and will do would be a failure. And as our society tries to teach us, failures are not worthy of love.
Unfortunately, this type of messaging has reached pandemic proportions. But by God’s grace, we have an antivirus. And it is Love–a Love that cannot fail. I just need to remember to keep taking my doses of awareness daily and encourage others to do the same.
God, who is Love,
Remind us often that your Love is not earned and that your realm of Grace has no gatekeepers. Teach us to see ourselves as you see us so that we might truly see others in return. For it is by this work that we are able to live out the Two Great Commandments–to love you with all of our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.