I have messed up the memorization of a Bible verse. This mistaken identity has drastically affected the way that I not only understood what Jesus was trying to teach. This misunderstanding has also drastically affected the way I deal with myself and with those around me, aka my neighbors.
I have quoted Jesus for years as saying, “Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as you love yourself.” When in actuality Jesus is quoted as saying, “Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)
Did you pick up the subtle, yet dramatic, difference between what Jesus was actually teaching and what I remembered? I’ll give you a hint, look at the loving your neighbor part. I had remembered “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Jesus actually taught us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Two very different concepts entirely.
Loving my neighbor as I love myself implies that I love myself. All of myself. Which, let’s be honest, none of us loves everything about ourselves. So, accepting that I am incapable of loving everything about myself, I subconsciously built an insurmountable wall between me and my neighbor. For, I have confessed, all-be-it subconsciously, that I don’t have the power to love my neighbor, because I can’t even love all of myself.
Thus, loving my neighbor as I love myself simply becomes a nice platitude that I frame and hang on my living room wall. This isn’t something that I can actually do, because I don’t love all of myself. Or, better yet, I do love my neighbor as I love myself. For I loathe aspects of who my neighbor is.
This realization doesn’t, in any way, have anything to do with my neighbor. It has everything to do with me. How I see myself and how I love myself. I can admit to myself, in those silent places where nobody else is listening, that there are aspects of me that I don’t love. Yet, at the same time, I realize that I am stuck with myself. I can’t escape who I am and so I have learned how to cope with those things about me that I don’t love. I call these my darkness.
If I can admit this about me, that I don’t love all aspects of me. And I am supposed to love my neighbor as I love myself, as I memorized Jesus’ teaching, I will never fully love my neighbor. Or it might be better said that I will always love my neighbor with a footnote that will reference all of the things that I don’t love about them. For I will render any compassion for my neighbor obsolete, because I am not practicing that very same compassion for myself.
Yet, if I love my neighbor as myself, then I will simply acknowledge and accept the unlovable parts of myself, as well as the unlovable parts of my neighbor. And there in lies the rub. I haven’t truly acknowledged and accepted all of the unlovable parts of me. Thus, I can’t even begin to think about accepting all of the unlovable parts of my neighbor.
So, what is a poor boy to do? First, and foremost, I must love God. I must acknowledge God as my creator, my redeemer, my counselor and my guide. Then I must love myself, all of myself. I must love my darkness as well as my light. Not that I am surrendering to my darkness. But that I embrace my darkness, get real about my darkness. So that my God, my creator, my redeemer, my counselor and my guide, can transform me from the inside out.
While I am in this process of loving my God and myself, I then can truly turn around and love my neighbor as myself. For the biggest obstacle to me loving my neighbor is the fact that I am struggling to love myself. When I finally embrace the reality of this struggle in me, I can finally embrace compassion for myself. If I can embrace compassion for myself, love myself in this way, I can then turn around and love my neighbor in this exact same way.
If I am loving my neighbor in this exact same way, I am truly living into Jesus’ teaching to love my neighbor as myself. For I will learn to love and embrace the darkness in me. While extending the grace and compassion to myself, that I have received from God.
Once I start loving my God and myself in this way, I then can turn around and extend this same self-love to my neighbor. For my neighbor is just like me. Someone who has darkness in their life that they don’t love. The only way that they are going to learn how to extend this grace and compassion of God to themselves, is to experience that same self-love and compassion from me.
Crap! Just when I think I have arrived, I realize that I’ve got a lot to work on!