Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:31
Whenever I encountered this Scripture passage, I used to think, “Poor neighbors,” what a low bar. Shouldn’t I love my neighbors at least a bit more than I love myself?
I didn’t love myself very much in my young life. I saw myself as lacking in most every way, never quite measuring up, more often messing up.
I might have re-written the passage to read, Love your neighbors as you want to be loved—or possibly Love yourself as you love your neighbors, because I can be much more accepting, compassionate and forgiving of others.
My capacity for self-love was definitely deficient.
Growing up, I knew that God loved me, and it was always a mystery why or how God could love someone I saw as so broken. It was probably my biggest Yes, but, as in “I know God loves me, but…” followed by my litany of deficiencies—all the reasons God must be wrong to love me.
Recently, one of my neighbors ripped out his front lawn. I don’t know why he did it—maybe it was dying or too weedy; maybe he just got tired of it or just did not like it and wanted something new and different.
I walked past his grassless front yard for a few weeks and then one day there was a beautiful new lawn—lush, green and weed-free. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if I could rip out what is undesirable in me and instantaneously replace it with something new and beautiful, completely erase whatever was old, worn or ugly?But that is not how it has worked in my life. Years of therapy helped me to redefine myself more realistically. Years of prayer helped me to begin to see myself as God sees me.
I had to learn to set good boundaries and practice owning what is mine, figuring out what I believe and reinforcing that—and letting go of negative views. I wrote affirmations on little pieces of paper and taped them to my bathroom mirror, stuck them to my refrigerator with magnets and placed them in small picture frames. Reading these affirmations every day eventually began to push aside negative messages and replace them with God messages.I was restructuring the landscape of my inner self, but it was not as instantaneous as laying sod.
When I was in therapy in my thirties, I used to practice my boundary-setting out loud. When I recognized that I was regurgitating someone else’s negative belief (about myself or anything else), I would identify it. “So and so needs to say…” and then I would say, “But I want to say…” about whatever it was what I believed, or what belief I was growing into.Growing in self-compassion has strengthened my boundaries and improved my self-esteem. To love myself as God loves me is my desire. Only then am I able to truly love others as I love myself—and as God loves them.