Being in a grad school program that focuses a lot of time and attention on understanding the self (or un-rooting the false self so that the true self can be known and loved), left me at times wondering if all I was doing was sanctified navel gazing. And there certainly is that possibility. It can go too far. However, as I studied Scripture, I found something curious about an oft heard passage of the words of Jesus, from Matthew 22:34-40:
When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”
Those six little words. They make such a difference. In my experience of the Christian church we're pretty good at feeling guilty about not loving others "more" than ourselves (perhaps we've loved Paul more than Jesus?) and working hard to rid our guilt, but we've become pretty clueless on what it means to really love ourselves. I know I can really blow it on Jesus' second commandment.
When I first heard a sermon on the Sabbath - which took nearly 30-years before I did - I was in shock. The pastor was telling me I needed to take care of myself: 1) because I was the beloved of God and was worthy of being taken care of, and 2) because it rightly ordered my heart in reliance on God. It was easy for me at first to brush off his initial point (like, "Yeah, yeah - you have to say that because you're my spouse/parent/friend, etc."), but the second one really got me. I was stumped for excuses.
Did Jesus really want me to love others as I love myself? Man, if that's true I'd be a real task master and pretty judgmental. But what if I were to respect myself as much as I want others to respect me? Then out of my feeling valued and rested I was able to be more respectful as a by-product, rather than as an effort to be the good girl - what could that do for myself and others?
As I've begun attempting to live this way - I won't lie - it hasn't been easy. I've been tempted a lot to sacrifice what I need to do for others (so that I get the love I'm really in need of, which isn't the selfless servitude I can fool myself into thinking it is), namely: time alone to think, create, and journal; time to enjoy movement and dance; space to wander and enjoy beauty; meaningful conversations; and about 9-hours of sleep each night. But when I neglect my needs I'm not as patient, kind, loving, or respectful of others. And when I do honor myself? I seem to have an abundance of those traits, and more. Not only that, but my motives feel freer to be others-focused because my basic needs are met. It reminds me of a beautiful quote by St. Bernard of Clairvaux:
"The man who is wise, therefore, will see his life more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself...Today there are many in the Church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare. So urgent is the charity of those through whom the streams of heavenly doctrine flow to us, that they want to pour it forth before they have been filled;...[they are] full of presumption to govern others while they know not how to govern themselves."
How can you take care of yourself today?
When are you more like a canal than a reservoir?
What would it look like to give yourself 5-minutes of doing something life giving?
Experiment: if you're unsure of where to begin, try coloring for 15-minutes, or you blow bubbles outside with Jesus for 5-minutes. Then journal about your experience.
Let me know how it goes!