Two relatively simple commands: love God with everything you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself. Why do we have such trouble following them? Because of those two words at the end … as yourself.
On the narcissistic end of the spectrum, self-indulgence and self-absorption cause us to hold back areas of our life and never give ourselves fully to serving God. Self-importance and plain-old selfishness keep our focus off the needs of those around us. This view puts “me” first and only cares about God or others if it is convenient and doesn’t take too much effort.
At the other end of the spectrum one finds the self-sacrificing martyr. Many Christians – and busy mothers of young children – find themselves living here. Taught that true “J-O-Y” comes from putting Jesus and Others before You, we somehow think that taking care of ourselves at the most basic level is a sign of selfishness. This view puts others first … to the neglect of self.
Is there a balance between the two extremes? Absolutely. And it was modeled best by Jesus Himself. If anyone on earth is able to demonstrate what it means to live fully in the service of God and love others, He did. Crowds followed his public ministry to hear truth about the Kingdom of God and find healing for their diseases. Jesus confronted religious hypocrisy, welcomed children, and had compassion on the broken-hearted.ol
And Jesus often withdrew by Himself to pray. He instructed his disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31b NIV) In fact, he later modeled the importance of rest by taking a nap in the bottom of the boat … in the middle of a storm.
Was Jesus wrong to take care of basic needs like physical rest? Was He wrong to separate Himself from the chaotic crowds for times of quiet? I mean, can you imagine how many more sick could He have healed if He’d spent more time with the people instead of taking breaks?
No. Jesus knew that loving God with all our strength … means taking care of our bodies so that we have the energy with which to serve. That loving God with all our minds … means filling them with quality literature and teaching. That loving God with all our hearts and souls … means plugging into the source of life including time in nature and/or appreciating the artistic expression of music. That loving our neighbor as ourselves … means we must first love ourselves and then pass that same level of care on to others. That by neglecting our own basic needs, we soon have nothing left to give to either God or man.
This year I’m learning what it means to love myself and seeking a healthy balance so I can be a better wife and mother.
What about you? Which end of the “loving yourself” spectrum do you tend towards? Do you feel guilt for taking care of yourself? How do you find a balance?