The Greatest Commandment

In Matthew 22:36-40 (New International Version) we are given the greatest commandment:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I love that Jesus immediately after stating that we are to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind has to clarify with a second commandment: Loving God = Loving neighbor= loving self. He knows our struggle to treat imperfect others and self with the love we strive to direct towards God.

Recently I spent the day at a retreat to address compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and the burnout common to helping and first responder professions. I was asked to reflect on what replenishes and restores balance for myself and others and spent hours discussing it with other helping professionals. Early in the day, a comment from a chaplain got me thinking about the divine imperative to love myself.

Afterwards, I began to apply what I learned and integrate it with my spiritual beliefs by color coding my to-do list and calendar into 1. Things I was doing for others (God and neighbors) and 2. Things I was doing for myself. As I began the exercise I anticipated that there might be some imbalance, but I was surprised to see the vast scale of the imbalance. I spend a lot more time on others versus the time I spend on self.  I began to wonder, what would it look like if I loved my neighbors (family, patients, co-workers, actual neighbors) in an investment of time equal to the measure of time I spend on self-care?

I started to review the good plans on my doing-for-others list and contemplate what I might cross out and replace with self-sustaining investment. This was incredibly difficult! I do not want to let go of any of the things I do for others. And I realized there is some unhealthy pride in my people pleasing ways. Saying no and backing out of commitments takes humility. It requires acknowledgment that I am human and limited. I do not have infinite resources of love, energy, or time. I am not the Savior. I am not perfect. I am not a limitless source of light and love with the capacity to atone, heal, or raise the dead. Obvious, right? But there is a self-righteous perfectionist within who relentlessly promotes the propaganda of imbalance and self-neglect. She thinks it is good and holy to sacrifice self for others with no sense of replenishing ratios or balance.

Finally, I reflected on the quality of care I provide in love for myself versus what it looks like when I am loving my neighbor. Most of the time I coded as self-care is basic care to sustain life; sleeping, eating, hygiene and then a bit of recreational mindless checking out time reading, on my phone, or watching TV. The time I spend on spiritually or emotionally nourishing and replenishing activities for myself is scarce. In reflecting on my love for others, the quality I deliver is much higher. More eye contact. More careful listening. More sitting with feelings in acceptance. I give much more than the basic blocks of life sustenance to others throughout my day. I am not the greatest at living the greatest commandment. My lived version is ” love your neighbor about ten times more than you love yourself.”

Looking around at my mostly Mormon community of friends and family I see that I am not the only one struggling to live up to this key element of the greatest commandment. Love yourself. Even the annoying and irritating bits. Love all of her. Unconditionally. Relentlessly.

What would it look like if I spent as much time and energy caring for myself as I do in caring for others? How would it feel?

I am going to try my best to find out.

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4 Responses

  1. Patricia I Johnson says:

    The best advice I ever got for helping those in need was to set boundaries. Choose what you can reasonably do for someone in need, let them know what you can do, and then follow through. “I can spend an hour a week reading scriptures with you to help you improve your reading.” ( I can’t do a complete literacy program with you.) “I can clean one of your bathrooms.” ( The rest of your house is chaos and too much to even consider.)
    I think you can expand that to many church responsibilities. I liked being told not to reach beyond the mark. Not all lessons are going to be original and striking, many of them will cover the assigned material in a straightforward way. And that’s okay. Did you show up and were you prepared? Good for you!! Was the lesson fabulously inspirational with great visual aids and a novel approach? Probably not, most of the time. Sometimes the stars align and it happens that the lesson topic, your interests, your background, and the time you have available all come together. More often than not they don’t. But you are still doing a solid job and should feel good about what you are doing.

  2. Nancy Ross says:

    I love this, April, and need to do my own accounting and balancing.

  3. Liz says:

    I really, really needed to read this today (and probably every day). Thanks, April. I might need to color code my own list.

  4. Ceci says:

    It’s seems so simple and sensible that, of course, we need to love ourselves. But in practice it never works out that way. Thank you for pointing out that I have permission….no, that I’m commanded to love myself. Years of church indoctrination of how my worth was measured removed my ability to love myself. I’m learning to love ME.

    “there is a self-righteous perfectionist within who relentlessly promotes the propaganda of imbalance and self-neglect.” What a perfect definition of the old me. Thanks for this badly needed message.

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