Have you ever heard “love your neighbor as yourself”, and thought yeah right! I have. When I first heard this as a child I thought oh yes, I love my neighbors, all of them. Of course they were mostly my playmates so that was pretty easy to do. As I grew older and moved around, my neighbors became a great deal more varied, and admittedly harder to love. It wasn’t so much that the neighbors had changed, but the way that I saw them through the eyes of the various stages of becoming an adult was much different from that of a child. No longer were they merely my playmates, they were my classmates, church friends, first crushes, high school sweethearts, best friends, college roommates, families with children, elderly couples, widows, family, co-workers, and some were even strangers.
Through the years I have heard various speakers describe who the “neighbors” are in this passage. Some have said, it is your literal and physical neighbor as well as your global neighbor. Some have said it refers to everyone around us, that we are all “neighbors” in a sense. There are lots of arguments about who the intended “neighbor” is in this passage.
For now, I would like to leave the neighbor out of this and focus on something that is rarely discussed, and that is the portion that says “love your neighbor [as you love] yourself”. The reason that this is so important to discuss is that so many of us grew up not loving ourselves, in fact we have filled that space of self-love with a great deal of self loathing, insecurity, jealousy, etc. Many believe that loving ourselves is an act of selfishness, arrogance, being self-absorbed, or even narcissistic. I would argue that the biggest misconception is that we don’t really have a clear picture of what love is intended to be, therefore we don’t really know it when we see it. Google web dictionary says that love is the following:
an intense feeling of deep affection
It also defines affection as the following:
a gentle feeling of fondness or liking
Notice that if we combine the two, and apply this to ourselves, it would mean that each of us is to have an intense and deep feeling of liking ourselves. Webster’s dictionary adds that love is “constant affection”. I like that the words constant and gentle are part of these definitions, because it encourages us to also be constantly gentle with ourselves. On my worst days I cringe at the thought of this kind of self-love. It is so much easier for me to love my neighbor than myself. This is a journey to self acceptance and self tolerance which then in turn allows us to truly offer love to others.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I have rarely heard anyone teach on this, or even explain how it is done. I didn’t even know that it was okay to love myself until I began graduate school to become a counselor. This was a radical concept for me. I grew up learning things quite differently. In fact loving yourself was literally last on the list. If any of you are like me, and this is something that you are working on, I invite you to look at some new ways that we can truly love ourselves. (I needed a more doable way of looking at love, a more detailed explanation to help me live it out, so I decided to add to the traditional list.)
1. Love is patient, calm and careful even when things or people are difficult.
2. Love is kind, showing a gentle nature, careful not to hurt.
3. Love does not envy. It is content and tolerant of others, even wanting the best for them.
4. Love does not boast, it is not excessively proud, offensive or insulting to others.
5. Love is not proud, it is humble, not believing that it is better than others or that people lack value based on appearance, ethnicity, social status, etc.
6. Love is not rude. It shows concern and respect for the rights and feeling of all people.
7. Love always trust. Love is reliable, dependable and constant. You can believe in and place confidence in love.
8. Love always hopes and leaves you with a feeling that something good can happen.
10. Love never fails. It is strong, it does not leave things unsaid or undone, and it will not fade away or die.
When I refer back to this list, it really helps me to recognize things that are not loving to myself or others. I hope that it will be helpful for you as well. Looking at the world through a lens of love for ourselves and those around us is a powerful tool that can create a paradigm shift. It takes us back to basics so that we can focus on what really matters. If we are working on self-love, it can only change the way we treat those around us for the better. That will naturally create a ripple effect to spread love further than we can ever know or understand. So in essence, when we are truly being loving to ourselves, we can’t help but to be loving to our neighbors.