Christmas is fast approaching. The other night I was mulling over what I might do to focus my thoughts on Christ as the celebration of his birth approaches. I thought of advent calendars which got me thinking about doing something daily from December 1st to the 25th. That led me to thoughts of this blog and how I’ve practically abandoned it over the last month. I started this blog when we left Canada with the hope that it would become a cherished family record. It is my hope that my children will find these posts to be a source of strength far into the future. So while falling asleep the other night it occurred to me that I should spend each day leading up to Christmas writing about a teaching of the Saviour.
I enter into this enterprise with some hesitation. First, I am afraid that I will not follow through and write daily. It is a difficult thing to write everyday. Writing is both time consuming and mentally draining. I worry what kind of message it may send if I were to simply stop writing part way through this goal. Second, writing about religion in a public forum (though my readers are few) is difficult for me. As I have gotten older I’ve come to understand that I know far less than I generally think I do. Yet, at the same time my beliefs mean more to me than ever before. So I share these teachings of Christ (as interpreted by me) with the knowledge that some may not agree with my interpretation and that among them are people I admire and love. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to write and while these posts are, as always, intended for my children you are welcome to read along and to comment.
Christ was once asked: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” His response is well known.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
When I first read these versus I found myself focusing on the first commandment, to love God. Soon, however, I was struck by the comparison Christ makes between loving God and loving our “neighbours.” This is a teaching that is reiterated many times in the scriptures. Perhaps this principle is most poignantly illustrated by His warning, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:31-46.
I could write at length about these two commandments, to love God and to love our neighbours, but it is the third commandment in this verse that has my attention. Jesus teaches that we are to love God, others and ourselves. To these three we are to pour out all our love: heart, soul and mind. So, I ask, what does it mean to love ourselves? It is very popular to believe that we should accept everything about ourselves and be content with the “way God made us.” We are led to conclude “I was born this way” and thus absolve ourselves of any responsibility to change, to improve, to strive to be better. There may be times when, for a season, we must accept our shortcomings but that acceptance is only to allow us the time and energy to lay the foundation necessary to enable the changes we desire. I am reminded of that old prayer “God grant me the humility to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
If loving ourselves does not mean to simply accept everything about ourselves, spiritual and physical warts and all, what does it mean? Christ gave us an interesting clue when he commanded:
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Loving ones self, I would argue, is having the tenacity and self discipline to exercise self-restraint when necessary. That may simply be to not over eat, it could mean saying nothing if you have nothing nice to say or denying yourself anything that may harm you physically or spiritually. So this Christmas season and always I would encourage you to love yourself. Christmas is a time of charity; spare some of it for you. Indeed, love and charity are synonyms. Knowing this I share a final scripture, not directly from Christ but one of his finest disciples; Paul wrote:
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not [love], it profiteth me nothing. [Love] suffereth long, and is kind; [love] envieth not; [love] vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. [Love] never faileth…
1 Corinthians 13:3-8
Remember always that despite whatever you have done or failed to do or cannot currently do or seem incapable of refraining from, keep a little love aside for you. For “there is no fear in love.” Allow yourself this and you may find that you can bear to look yourself in the mirror, you can believe you will succeed in that next challenge and you can have hope when all seems lost.