How Much Do You Love Yourself?

When asked the question, “How much do you love yourself?” What is your answer? Well, I love myself enough to make sure I have food to eat, clothes to wear and a warm place to sleep. I also love myself enough to want to have close relationships with my children and family, to bring happiness to others and to enjoy intimate friendships with other people. I also love myself enough to want to hear encouraging words, compliments and uplifting messages. I love myself enough to want to avoid painful situations, to run away from abusive relationships and to have people help me and forgive me when I fail. I love myself enough to want to survive.

I have been struggling with some deep issues in recent days involving an unforgiving heart, deep disappointment and anger. I know in my head I need to let go and trust God to work situations out but I have this roiling, churning uneasiness in my spirit. In my devotions this morning, I was reading Matthew 22. Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders who were trying to attack his teaching. One Pharisee asked him a ridiculous, simple question any Jew would have known. “According to the Law of God, what is the greatest commandment?” Instead of ignoring the trite attack, Jesus answered promptly, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” But, he didn’t stop there. He looked at the smug, self-righteous leaders and replied, “And the second greatest commandment, equal to the first, is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

You see, I have been stuck on the first part. I love God on all levels and I strive to know him more personally each day. I don’t consciously do it but I can be like the religious leaders on my high horse sitting high and mighty above the “dregs of society”. I can be judgmental, and have been, and can consider my life better than some people. I pat myself on the back and say I’m not in the mud with the drug addicts, the alcoholics, the child abusers, the failures. Truth is, though, even if I keep the first commandment but don’t keep the second, to love my neighbor as myself, I’m no better than any of them.

Jesus was constantly criticized for fraternizing with prostitutes and tax collectors. He faced down his critics by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Those were his neighbors and he was loving them as much as he loved himself. He met not only their physical needs but their emotional and spiritual needs as well. His love for God didn’t end with himself; it extended to the world around him to people entrapped by pain, hopelessness, suffering, addictions, and guilt.

I asked for God’s forgiveness for my unloving attitude, which was eating away at me, and I also asked for his help in seeing people with his eyes. In my own power, it is difficult to see the small grain of hope buried in the desperate, seeking heart of another human being but if I strive to see people as God sees them I can overcome my prejudice and judgment and love my neighbors as I love myself and as God loves me. There have been times in my life when I was no better (on many levels) and yet God’s loving eyes, his forgiveness, changed me.

How would my world change if I asked, when confronted with difficult people, “Do I love this person as much as I love myself?”

How Quickly We Forget

Luke 2:33 “The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.”

Has something utterly amazing happened in your life and at the moment it occurred you experienced overwhelming joy and happiness? How long did it take for the feeling to fade away? When a new challenge presented itself in your life and you forgot about the awesome event you experienced?

Mary and Joseph were no different than we are. Here were two individuals, each approached by the angel Gabriel, and told the most incredible news–they would be the parents and caretaker of the anticipated Messiah. In Luke 1:46-55, Mary proclaims her astonishment and wonder that God has chosen her, above all women, to be the mother of the Messiah. Joseph is struggling with the fact of Mary’s pregnancy but when Gabriel approaches him and tells him she is pregnant with the savior of the world he immediately embraces the responsibility of being the earthly father of our Lord. How much more amazing can that be? Yet, we see throughout the story of Jesus’ life with his parents they forgot who they were raising.

Just a month or so after Jesus’ birth, they went to Jerusalem for the rite of purification required of all Jewish women who have given birth. An elderly man, named Simeon, approaches them as they enter the temple courtyard. God had promised he wouldn’t die until he saw the redeemer of Israel. Simeon takes the infant Jesus into his arms and proclaims wondrous things about him–he will cause many to rise and fall in Israel, he will be the sign Jewish people will reject because he doesn’t fit their ideal of a Messiah, and because of her son Mary’s heart will be pierced as if with a sword.

The account in Luke does not tell us Mary and Joseph just accepted Simeon’s words with a knowing understanding. No, it says they were “amazed, or marveled, by all they heard”. Two people, visited by an angel, told specifically they would be the parents of the promised Messiah of Israel and they “marveled” at the things they heard. How quickly they forgot the divine and holy nature of the birth of their son. Just a few months old and, to them, he was just a baby boy born under fantastic circumstances. Throughout his life, we see how many times his mother in particular forgets her son is not like other young men: When he is “lost” in Jerusalem in a discourse with priests about his Father, God, and when she goes with his brothers and begs him to stop his ministry because she has heard rumors about plots against his life. The very miracle of the Virgin Birth is a shadow in her past–how quickly she has forgotten whose son he truly is.

During this Christmas season let’s reflect on the miracles God has performed in our lives and consider how quickly their impact has faded into the memories of our past. We can read the story of Mary and Joseph, from a distance, and see the full scope but we can also look at our own lives and contemplate the meaning. How often have we forgotten what God has done? How can we incorporate the blessings in our lives to make a positive change in the lives of others? Let us remember, during this season of joy, the true and divine gift given to us and let us not forget the One who sent him.