Love Notes: Read and Reflect/My Faith/New Testament/Scripture/Teen Faith The Secret to Loving Your Neighbor by Christina Mead Love your neighbor as yourself: Mark 12:31 Do you know who you are? via GIPHY Yes, you. Do you know who you are? Because what I’ve learned is that loving God and loving others, is only possible when I know who I am. Follow me here. According to Jesus, the whole law and the whole way of life for a Christian is summed up in these two commandments – love God, and love your neighbor. What has always struck me about this verse though, and what I’ve been praying about again this week, is that Jesus says love your neighbor “as yourself.” It’s a condition that must be in place before we can love our neighbor. We have to love ourselves because if we don’t, then 1) how will we know how to love another human, and 2) from where will we get the energy and fullness of life that we need to love others? In my own life, it’s taken me awhile to be okay with taking good care of myself because I always thought that “dying to self” and “setting myself aside” and “sacrifice” meant that I had to put other people before myself in every way, or whenever asked. So that’s what I did. And I was miserable. I had no boundaries because I always said yes to whomever needed me, whenever they needed me. I was exhausted. I wasn’t truly loving my neighbor because I didn’t have much of myself to give them. How could I give them love when I didn’t even know who I was or what I needed in order to be a whole, healthy, happy person? St. Teresa of Avila reiterates this idea when she says, “It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves.” When I gave myself permission to enter into myself and get to know who I am, I began to ask myself questions like “what do I need today in order to be fully present to God and others?” Sometimes that answer is daily Mass. Sometimes it’s 10 minutes to paint my nails. Sometimes it’s a walk with a friend. Sometimes it’s alone time to write in my journal about whatever emotion I’m experiencing. Whatever it is, the truth I’ve discovered is that in learning to take time to get to know myself, and to love myself in the ways that I need, I am so much more present and energized and simply more “me” when I go to love and serve my neighbor. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an excuse to be self-centered. There’s a certain balance you have to maintain in order to properly care for yourself and love others. It means constantly asking the question, “am I in a good place to serve someone else right now?” and if not, “how will I plan to take care of myself before or after I serve them?” The tough part I’ve learned is that sometimes I have to say no to things that are good in order to take care of myself. Like saying no to helping a friend move because I’ve been having back pain and need time to rest. Or saying no to volunteering that one night at church, because I had a rough week and need to care for myself by going to bed early. Those are the times that I used to shame myself for being a “bad Christian” and not offering up the inconvenience for the sake of someone else, even if it came at too high a cost personally. I’m done living in shame and I’m ready to love my neighbor in beautifully radical and authentic ways because I know who I am and what my own wants and needs are. The truth is that life is tough and if I’m not caring for my own needs, if I’m not empowering myself to take care of me, I’ll start looking in all the wrong places for fulfillment, and I’ll only be loving God and my neighbor with half the capacity that I could be. If you want to give your best to those around you, start by caring for yourself. It’s not selfish; it’s honoring the gift of life God has given you. I’m praying for you. Reflect/Journal/Talk About It: What do you believe about loving your neighbor and sacrificing your own needs? What examples have been set for you? Can you see any flaws in your belief about your needs vs. other people’s needs? If you were to give yourself permission to take care of yourself today, what would that look like? Can you schedule time to do something to nurture yourself at least once a day? How are you being called to love and to serve others? Why do you need to take care of yourself in order to serve them in these ways?