Often we are so consumed with how to love our neighbor, we forget to love ourselves, so that we can love our neighbor. Loving ourselves enhances our ability to love others.
What do I mean by loving yourself? Loving ourselves well means taking care of ourselves, recognizing our needs and meeting them. Asking for help when necessary, working hard at distinguishing between wants and needs; being aware of ourselves and God as the primary well spring in life.
Only recently I have begun to love myself well, saying no to things that sap me of joy, like unfruitful relationships, and embracing that which fills me up, like spending more time cleaning my house. When I’m full I can love others well, when I’m empty I tend to be selfish. When I am kind to myself, I find I have more compassion towards others, when I am forgiving of myself, I am more patient and understanding and forgiving of others.
Filling up doesn’t mean taking all I want that feels good, but rather accommodating for my individual needs. There are times I need to go for a walk and move my body, no one else can know that or do it for me. I go for a walk because it’s good for me. I say no to drugs because they are bad for me. If I love myself why would I want to choose what would harm the only temple God gave me?
My Dad is a snowbird. He struggles with arthritis, warm weather eases the discomfort. As a diabetic he’s especially conscience of his eating habits, which is why I was surprised to hear him say: “Sometimes I go all day without eating.” He added that he knows it’s not good for him… “He just feels better when he’s not weighed down with a big meal.” I get this part.
As Americans we have learned the fine art of stuffing ourselves until the point of barely breathing. In fact my great, great, grandfather, I was told, died at the dinner table. Everyone thought he was sleeping. But he was dead. We have convinced ourselves, that we aren’t satisfied until we can’t get up from the table. When we feel good we want to work and help others, we want to live; when we feel bad we want to sleep or sulk.
And I get that my dad is done with feeling sluggish, sleepy, energy sapping full; there is too much going on in life these days to waste all our time digesting.
But I’m also concerned about Dad going entire days, without eating. Our bodies derive nourishment from the food we consume, it’s our fuel. Food is not just for stomach, eyes and taste buds, although we eat as if it is. Food is for our cellular functions, our brains, our thinking processes, it motivates our energy and it boosts our immune system. It helps flush our blood flow, inspires our repair systems and balances body chemistry. Vitamins, minerals and enzymes in the food help us digest food- breaking it up and delivering it to appropriate places for manufacturing. Food is the parts and pieces that allow us to live and operate right and well for optimum production. If dad is going whole days without this contribution to his system what will the outcome be?
And when we don’t take care of our bodies, minds and spirits, when we deprive them of necessary nutrients – what is the outcome?
We don’t deprive our children by withholding food for any reason? Feeding a child is the most basic way a parent cares for them. Isn’t it then, the most basic way we care for ourselves?
Jesus said: “The second most important commandment in the entire bible is to love your neighbor, as yourself.” it occurred to me, that its not wrong to love yourself its biblical, So,
o How are you loving yourself lately?
o How are you caring for yourself?
The way we treat our bodies and minds are evidence of how we are loving ourselves.
Your body, is your child, which needs tender care and love, not just from those outside of it, but from the one inside.
Loving ourselves, helps us love others. We are only capable of loving our neighbor, children, spouse, parent or friend as we love ourselves.
If you think being affectionate and considering yourself first is selfish, think again, it’s necessary. First we learn how to love ourselves, by meeting our needs, then we know how to love the people close to us, and love them well. Treat yourself with respect and you can treat others respectfully.
Notice how naturally caring, children are to themselves. They sleep when they are tired, they eat when they are hungry, and they stop when they are full. They cry when they need comfort, they run to mommy when they are hurting. Children still need guidance, they are not perfect, but we should take a few lessons from them. Jesus said: unless you become like a child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Children are naturally honest, adults are full of pride. The lesson here is humility and honesty which will prompt us to recognize our needs. As adults the power is not avoiding the need, but acknowledging it.
We also are made to help one another. If your need is comfort, it’s your responsibility to ask for that comfort, find someone you trust and be honest, “I need a hug because I’m feeling down.” YOU are recognizing and finding a way to meet that need, sometimes another is involved. Maybe your need is to quit smoking and you need to find an accountability partner. Maybe your need is for 1 hour of quiet time every day, its up to you to create time or arrange your own schedule ot provide yourself some quiet. Maybe your need is a more nutritious diet – how can you meet that need? As adults we stop asking for help because we think being an adult is either not needing anything, or taking everything we want. The best way you can love yourself is to label a need and seek the right help-is it a need I can meet alone, do I need a friend, or maybe it’s something only God can do.
We must not mistake greed and selfishness as caring for ourselves. It says in the bible that whom the Lord loves he disciplines, which means, love and discipline are brothers. Loving yourself is not giving yourself everything you want, but giving yourself permission and access to things you need and know are good for you. Loving yourself is being willing to say NO to things which are harmful, even if in the moment they seem good.
Here are some more practical ways we can love ourselves- in order to develop contentment and a loving nature
having compassion on yourself
keeping your word
God for a walk, breathe fresh air
guarding your eyes and ears
Spending time with God daily.
We must care for our inner self by meeting personal needs. When we deprive ourselves – physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, it becomes difficult to see past our unmet needs.
Needs and wants are entirely two different beings. When needs go unmet people want to take from others. To combat this viscous cycle, work to recognize the need and meet it- which will result in giving and contentment. Giving when we are empty results in resentment, burnout and eventually greed. Loving yourself well, is saying no to what does not bear good fruit in your life, while saying yes to those things which grow you in positive ways.
Recognizing the difference between a need and a want is hard work, but when we love ourselves we recognize and meet our needs then our best self emerges for us and those around us. When we can love ourselves, we are more available and able to love others well, as God intended and commanded us to do.