Sunday, March 28, 2010

Loving Ourselves and Our Neighbors

Just as soon as I begin to think that I finally understand something, I learn about another perspective on the same subject and I find myself off balance again. I think the problem is that I’m always looking for black and white answers, and there are just so few of those in life.

The thing that caused some disequilibrium is the second great commandment – to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This morning the thought occurred to me that our love for ourselves is not necessarily a measuring stick for how much we need to love others. If I don’t love myself very much, it doesn’t excuse me from loving my neighbors. I can’t say, “I’m keeping that commandment, because I love my neighbors as much as I love myself. I just don’t love myself or my neighbors all that much, but at least it’s the same.”
Instead, I think the second commandment is a commandment to love ourselves, because when we truly love ourselves, love for others is a natural extension of that love. I’m not talking about the selfish kind of pride that is sometimes mistaken for self-love but rather a pure love that happens when we start to see ourselves the way God sees us.

When we learn who we really are in God’s eyes, it helps us to also see others from the same perspective.

I thought this was pretty good thinking, and then I read some C.S. Lewis. He had a different way of looking at the same commandment.

He says that we still love ourselves even when we do something wrong and we are quick to overlook our own shortcomings. By the same token, we should be quick at overlooking others’ faults and still love them.

But is it true that we still love ourselves when we sin?

According to Sterling W. Sill in his book The Miracle of Personality, when we sin against our own personality (“the inner man, the spirit or the real person”), it is difficult to love ourselves. We begin to feel inferior or unworthy. These feelings keep us from becoming who we really are.

Who we really are is the person God knows. Satan doesn’t want us to be that person and so he feeds us on feelings of inferiority and unworthiness. He would have us believe that all the terrible things we do are the sum total of our personalities, but it’s not true. In reality we are not any of those things. Sins we commit are just that – things we have done – they are not who we are. We can repent and we can be rid of them. Once we are rid of them, we can more clearly see our true selves.
I remember a poster that hung in my friend’s bedroom many years ago. It said, “God doesn’t make junk.” That includes all of us.

So maybe there is more than one way of looking at this commandment, and they can all be right. We can live our lives in such a way that we love ourselves and therefore love our neighbors as ourselves, and we can forgive our neighbors as easily as we forgive ourselves – remembering that we do need to forgive ourselves also. The following poem kind of sums up our need to live our lives so that we can do this.

Edgar Guest

I have to live with myself, and so,
I want to be fit for myself to know;
I want to be able as days go by,
Always to look myself straight in the eye;
I don't want to stand with the setting sun
And hate myself for the things I've done.

I don't want to keep on a closet shelf
A lot of secrets about myself,
And fool myself as I come and go
Into thinking that nobody else will know
The kind of man I really am;
I don't want to dress myself up in sham.

I want to go out with my head erect,
I want to deserve all men's respect;
But here in this struggle for fame and pelf,
I want to be able to like myself.
I don't want to think as I come and go
That I'm bluster and bluff and empty show.

I never can hide myself from me,
I see what others may never see,
I know what others may never know,
I never can fool myself- and so,
Whatever happens, I want to be
Self-respecting and conscience free.