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Love Thyself

I spend a lot of time in the infusion center hooked up to some drug designed to kill this cancer and keep me on my feet. This week, I racked up over twelve hours here, and crazy as it sounds, when I get in my car, my phone tells me that I will be at the hospital in thirty minutes with typical traffic. I do believe that A.I. thinks I work here. I try to imagine it as my day at the spa, but I'm just kidding myself since they don't offer massages or pedicures. It does, however, give me a big block of time to write, to think about what's important enough to share. Here is the latest:

The Bible is filled with instructions, rules by which we are expected to live, and most make absolute sense. Certainly, in order to have a safe and orderly society in which to live, we can’t steal or kill or lie or covet. God covered all of those important bases in the “Big Ten.” But when Jesus was asked to reveal the Greatest Commandment, the one which was to become the foundation for Christianity, his reply was simple: “You are to love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind.” And He quickly followed with the second, “And love your neighbor as yourself.” These instructions appear in the Old Testament as well. In my mind, that makes them pretty important.

I’m no Biblical scholar, but I don’t think a person has to be one in order to walk with God. But for me, thinking about the deeper implications of a particular verse makes it more personal. And for some reason, I have been considering this one a lot lately.

The first part is the obvious foundation of faith. Placing God first in your life is the essential step toward conversion, and living it on a daily basis allows for spiritual growth and a personal relationship with the Father. But I think the second one is much deeper than most of us think. And often overlooked.

In order to be able to love your neighbor, you must first love yourself. One follows the other in a divine metaphor, the ultimate life instruction. And yet, so many of us are filled with self-loathing, always focusing on our shortcomings and failings as we allow negative thoughts about who we are to invade our minds. For many, human love is always conditional as we keep score with everyone, especially ourselves. It is a game that creates more losers than winners. Is it any wonder why we are so unhappy? Most often, we so readily show compassion for others but sadly are often our own worse critics. Self-deprecation isn’t necessarily a sign of humility. And there is a fine line between it and masochism.

Scripture gives us permission to appreciate who we are just as God has created us, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and, in fact, insists that love begins with God and continues with us as we strive to let it emanate to others. No, it certainly does not mean that we are to become narcissists, who only love ourselves, and sadly, in this entitled society that is often the case. Some folks think they must love themselves exclusively, could care less about their neighbor, and have no clue who God is. Their “Golden Rule” is to do unto others before they do something to you that they don’t like.

Instead, we are told to make a way for love as we are encouraged to live it. Love, which is generous, kind, and forgiving, can bind us when the world wants to tear us apart. It has always been the most powerful force on earth.

Unlike the Commandments which are filled with “shall nots,” the simple principle tells us what to do to please God and shine in the world as we share this most sublime virtue. And the common word is love, the greatest Divine gift of them all.

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