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?”

Jesus came to his own and his own did not receive him

Jesus and Jerusalem

I took a walk on the beach today and spent some time reflecting on the significance of this day. My thoughts turned to Jesus and how he spent this last “free” day on earth. He knew, after the last supper with his disciples, prophesy would be fulfilled at an astonishing pace and the journey he would have to take over the next 24 hours would be the most agonizing he would ever endure. How did he spend this day? What thoughts were running through his mind?

I imagined Jesus off by himself, looking over the city of Jerusalem and mourning the fact they were too blind to see exactly who he was. He had spent his lifetime among the Jews and especially the last three years of his life ministering to them, dealing with them in compassion, healing their sick and wounded, reaching into their souls and imparting his love and forgiveness as only he could do. Yet, they failed to turn their hearts to God and to recognize him as their promised Messiah.

Did Jesus think back over his life on this planet? To the times when he was a boy beloved by his parents and enveloped in their hearts. To the smells of the earth and air around him, the sounds of joyous birds and the rushing wind, the warmth of the sun on his face, the glorious beauty his father created. It was nothing compared to the magnificence he had left in heaven and yet he had spent 33 years walking along dusty pathways, interacting on a personal level with humankind and feeling every emotion they had.

Matthew 23:37 gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ heart for his people. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” What tragedy to love people so much, to want to give them all the blessings and joy, and yet they turn away with blinded eyes and hardened hearts.

Still, Jesus completed his destiny. He was arrested, tried without merit, and sentenced to a cruel, horrendous death. Because of love. Love for me in spite of the wickedness in my heart and my failure to honor God every day as I should. Love for all human beings in the depths of depravity and sin. There is nothing I could ever do in my lifetime to attempt to repay him for the immeasurable love he extended to me that day on the cross. Yet, all he asks is for us to love him in return and to try in our feeble way to bring glory to him by loving others and demonstrating the same compassion he had for us.

As we consider the last moments of Jesus’ life on earth–before his crucifixion and amazing resurrection–let us look inside our hearts and see if we truly appreciate the sacrifice he made on our behalf because he loved us so.