by Cathryn Forester
There is a phrase in the Bible that people quote all the time, but rarely consider – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is written just like that in at least seven places, and suggested in a couple more. Mark 12:31 says there is no commandment greater, but do we really love our neighbor as ourselves? I’m pretty sure that all of us think we do. We read those verses and go down the checklist, “Love God with my heart, soul, mind and strength? Sure. Be nice to people? Yep. OK, yeah, I’m good.”
But I don’t think we are good. I don’t think we know how to love our neighbors. Here is what I want to focus on: how can we love our neighbors as ourselves if we DON’T love ourselves? And what does loving ourselves mean? What kind of love is THAT?
Most of us have heard sermons on the different types of love, so I am not going to focus on those familiar Greek words that describe them. Instead I am going to focus on our behavior related to love and how we can turn that behavior toward ourselves.
When we love our children, we guide them, comfort them, set boundaries for them, educate them, keep them healthy, and we would lay down our life for them. We don’t hold grudges against them, we see the best in them and we tenderly coax it out of them. Do we show love to ourselves in any of those ways?
When we love mankind, we try to be friendly and helpful to others, we do things for the good of all, we take care of common interests. This kind of love prompts us to get involved in community events, volunteer at the homeless shelter, and recycle. Do we look out for ourselves the way we do for mankind?
And the romantic kind of love is really something. When we love someone this way we try to notice all the things about them that make them unique, we try to please them in different ways, we devote time to them, and we tell them over and over how we feel about them. We build up the ones we love, trying to make them see all that we see in them. We cherish their attention and we take rest in their love for us. But do we ever show love to ourselves this way?
How DO we love ourselves? Most of my clients tell me that they are up early caring for loved ones, going to work to serve someone else, maybe after work they do more kid things or parent obligations, or church and community commitments. Then they go home and cook, clean, do chores, take care of kids and spouse and pets and home and eventually collapse into bed. In that scenario, I see a lot of love for others, but none for self. It’s true that you get a sense of accomplishment from work and meeting obligations. Taking care of loved ones is fulfilling, too. But it isn’t loving oneself.
So, how can we love ourselves? I don’t mean just treating ourselves to something special every now and then. I mean getting to know ourselves, accepting our flaws and celebrating our uniqueness. Loving is a verb. It must include making a decision to love, and then acting out that choice.
You can’t really love someone you don’t respect or trust, so we must be respectable and trustworthy so that we can love ourselves. We must encourage ourselves and care for ourselves the way we do for our children, making sure that we are safe, healthy, and educated. We must forgive ourselves and not hold grudges for our past mistakes and failures. Fear has no place in love; the fear has got to go. Wouldn’t you tell your child to be brave, let go of the past and move toward a brighter future? Of course, but we forget to give ourselves the advice to do the same. Do we get to know ourselves the way we do a potential mate? Do we play up our good qualities? Do we please ourselves with beautiful things, experiences, or food? Do we invest time in ourselves and engage in healthy, encouraging self-talk? We must make the choice to love ourselves and then follow through with action.
If we learn self-love, then we can refresh and restore ourselves. Have you seen the Facebook meme that says “you can’t pour from an empty vessel?” This self-love is part of the equation. I think lack of self-love not only wears us thin, but also prevents us from doing our jobs well. I am fond of saying that if we are not operating at 100% then we are not doing our jobs at 100%. If you are worn down and only operating at 70% capacity, how good of a job do you think you are doing as a spouse, an employee, a parent, or a child of God? In addition, not loving ourselves causes us to look to others for fulfillment of our needs. This creates an imbalance where each person looks to someone else, or many others, and can never fill their own vessel without help. It creates expectation and need that may not always be met. And I believe that unmet expectation is at the root of relationship problems, anger and frustration, health issues, financial stresses and even more far-reaching intolerance in our communities and in the world.
If we learn to care for ourselves the way we care for others, we are not dependent on others to fill our needs. Being a full vessel means that we are fully equipped to be the hands and face of God to everyone in our circle, even our neighbor or our enemy, as God commands us.
Cathryn Forester has been a licensed massage and bodywork practitioner with a hospital-based private clinic for 23 years. A native of Harlan County, Cathryn returned home seven years ago with a desire to improve the health and economy of her hometown. She is currently pursuing a degree in Public Health from Kent State University. To connect with Cathryn, visit Harlanmassage.com or her Facebook page.