That title sounds awfully selfish, doesn’t it? Did you squint your eyes and cock your head when you read it? Did you think that perhaps I’d gotten it wrong? This command to love your neighbor as yourself carries with it a huge assumption. Do you see it? The assumption that I do, in fact, first actually love myself?
I’m really good at loving my neighbors. Tell me what’cha need. I bet I’ve got it. And if I don’t, I’ll get it for you. And if I can’t get it for you, then I’ll find someone who can. Loving neighbors is a piece of cake. And very safe.
Loving myself? Much, much harder.
This realization descended upon me last week, as I spent another Monday cooking a week’s worth of food that fit into my narrow diet requirements. For several months I’ve spent one day a week cooking huge batches of soup, frittatas, grain-free muffins, baked chicken, roasted vegetables, and, if I have any oomph left after all of that, the occasional date balls and coconut truffles. The rest of the week I make meals for everyone else in the house. Last week, I wearily stared into yet another pot of soup and I asked myself, “Is this how you love yourself? Is this how you would love your neighbor?”
I can’t even begin to number all the ways in which this diet, not to mention this illness, is tiresome. But the chief one that has nagged at me more and more is the isolation. When mealtime comes around, my plate always looks different from everyone else’s. Even if I manage to get my food and the family’s food on the table at the same time (a rare occurance in itself) we are not, in fact, sharing the same food. In the past 8 months I’ve shared a meal with someone else exactly four times. Four. Out of 240 days, 720 meals, I have shared four of them. Two of them I cooked myself.
It really doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? Surely it’s all the same as long as we’re sitting down together, even if we’re not eating the same food? I can’t explain it, but I can assure you it’s not the same. There is a mysterious spiritual union that occurs when you dip your hand into the same pot for nourishment. The chief example that comes to mind being that Christ shared bread and wine with his disciples, from the same loaf and the same cup, and that we see fit to replicate this every week as a church body.
So I was staring into that pot of soup when I asked myself, “If this was my husband, or my child instead of me, how would I love them through chronic illness and diet restrictions?” I assure you, it would not be through serving a tableful of people pizza and birthday cake and handing my loved one a plate of overcooked chicken and zucchini. So if this isn’t how I would love my neighbor, why is it how I love myself? Why is it acceptable to love myself less than other people? And why have I spent so long telling myself that it is the sacrificial, the Christian, the “good” thing to do?
And–stay with me here–if I’m loving my neighbors as myself, but I don’t actually love myself to begin with, where does that leave my neighbors?
It seems like it might be in everyone’s best interest if I start showering a little grace and love on myself.
As I was teasing out the strands of these thoughts, I gave consideration to what this could actually look like. What are the nuts and bolts of loving myself? How do I learn to love myself, and thus my neighbor, in 10 easy steps? The other nine haven’t been revealed to me yet (pinky promise to share them if they ever are), but God gave me a place to start.
Step #1: Share my food.
The Sweetie Pie and I decided to transition to sharing food as a family. It means that I will eat more of the foods that cause me some minor pain and discomfort–a wider variety of veggies and some starch. The rest of the family will eat less of the things that cause me major pain and discomfort–grains, dairy, and sugar. It means compromise on both sides, and hopefully we will find ourselves sitting at a joyful, bountiful table that resides somewhere in the middle.
I trust that this process of learning to love myself will simultaneously lead me into a deeper understanding of loving my neighbors–and loving them well. Because I’ve been around the Holy Spirit’s block enough times to know that my refinement does not involve just me. So here I go. I’m off to show myself some of the love that I’ve been missing out on. And somehow I just know that more love for me, will result in more (not less) love for you. Because that’s just how God’s math works–where we would divide, He multiplies.