Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

"Love your neighbor as YOURSELF"

The longest human relationship we have is with the person we often know the least about. It is a person we often ignore, even though they speak to us over 60,000 times in a day. It is a person whose needs we often dismiss, even though we know them intimately. It is a person we often give the least amount of attention to, even though we are with them every day. It is a person we often treat without regard or respect, even though the person would demand it of others. It is a person we often struggle to fully love, even though it is what they need the most in order to love others in the way Christ asks of them.

Who is that person? Yourself. It is YOU.

One of Christ's greatest commandments is "love your neighbor as yourself." Although it is good and right that we focus on loving our neighbor, we often dismiss the deepest truth that we cannot fully love our neighbor or any other person until we love ourselves.

Physicians, psychologists, and pastors alike can attest to the stark reality of the harm done by people who painfully struggle with an ability to forgive, care for, or love themselves. There is a sad truth behind the adage that "hurt people" hurt people. Honestly, I see it all the time in churches that are embroiled in conflict, division, and despair. I see it in pastors and church leaders who have gone astray from the path of servant leadership. I see it in those who are seeking the love from others when they cannot give it to themselves. I see it in those who cannot love others because they do not love themselves. The truth we are unwilling to accept and believe is we cannot give to others what we cannot give to ourselves.

Many people dismiss the wisdom of self-care. Yet, there is no better investment than in investing in one's self. There is nothing more life giving and essential than understanding what gives one's life meaning and purpose. I realize self-care is an overused term. I also realize the concept has been distilled down to shallow plateaus of superficial actions of caring for one's self. Therefore, the importance of self-care is often shrugged off. The kind of self-care I am referring to is actually hard work. It is intentional work.

It is life-changing work because it is rooted in learning how to love one's self the way God loves us.

It is an unconditional love.

It is a steadfast love.

It is a love that is slow to anger and abounding in grace and mercy.

It is a love, which has plans for you, which seeks not to harm you, but to give you a hope and a future.

It is a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

This the love God has for us. This is the kind of love you must show to yourself in order to love your neighbor as yourself.

During this Lenten season, I want to offer you an invitation to join me in the spiritual discipline of spending time with yourself, getting to know yourself, and accepting yourself so you might come to love yourself in the way God loves you. A love of self is vital in order to fulfill Christ's greatest command, "Love your neighbor has yourself."

If you choose to do this spiritual discipline, may God richly bless you in your journey of self-care, self-discovery, and self-love.

Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister