Loving and hating ourselves
A couple years ago I led a group in a study of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Living Buddha, Living Christ. It was really a great study, and we generally didn’t have any hang ups in the group about deepening our Christian faith and practice through the writings and wisdom of a Buddhist monk. But one thing did keep creeping in that surprised me. Several of our members kept feeling that there was something too self-absorbed about his messages. (Which is a really a counter-intuitive critique of Buddhism.) So I had to dig a little at what the challenge was that we were hitting up against. It turns out that people in the group felt that when he talked about self-care, meditation, taking time to be a peace and reflect on the world that this was selfish behavior.
… I had to struggle with that some. How is that we in the Western tradition, who I generally think of as overly self-involved, were critiquing the east for selfishly articulating a need to care for myself?
This was the maybe not the first time, but the clearest time, that I ran into an awareness that we are all mixed up when it comes to self-love. We seem to be too hard on ourselves one moment and narcissists the next. We deny ourselves basic care, but indulge our whims and even feel put out if such frivolities are denied us.
What is the deal? How’d we get all tangled up? It’s like we are playing twister with our own hearts.
I’m not sure if it’s that we know we indulge our own luxuries to the neglect of others so then out of a sense of guilt we began to over compensate and play rugby with our psyche running ourselves ragged in the rat race of over-programed lives… I don’t know what it is exactly. What I feel confident enough to say is that we do not know how to love ourselves. We are caught up in the pendulum swing of too much and too little and can find no healthy sustainable ground between neglect and indulgence.
It’s at such moments that I am again reminded of these great words from scripture (Luke 10):
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Remove for a moment the various “with the…” statements and you get: “You shall love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself.”
Apply a bit of symbolic logic like work to that and you get: your love of God = love of neighbor = love of self.
That is a type of trinity I always try to keep in mind. We can love God to the exclusion of neighbors or in self-flagellating ways and Jesus doesn’t want that at all. We can love our neighbors in ways that actually begin to cause harm to ourselves and this also isn’t “good.” We can love ourselves to the detriment of God and neighbor. We already know to call that sin, even if we are challenged to figure out how to spot it and re-author it.
Balance. Love God. Love neighbor. Love self. You cannot run yourself ragged and name it good. Not in the eyes of Jesus anyway. You shall not love yourself at cost to your neighbors – not if you seek to follow in the way of Christ. And you cannot love God without enacting that in the relationships we have with ourselves and those around us. Somewhere in this command for balance is the call to untwist our hearts… to take a deep breath and love a bit more freely.
So where are you caught up the pendulum of a love/hate relationship with yourself? Where are you neglecting and indulging yourself, your neighbor, and God?
3 in 1. Love ‘em all! To the same degree. Thanks be to God.