May 17, 2009

Love yourself

We have looked at what it means to Love God with all our Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength. Now we will look at our relationships with ourselves and others. How do you love yourself?

Our culture says loving yourself means self indulgence, chocolate, spas, spending, pampering, and in general doing things that may or may not be good for our health, wallet, or well being in the long run. We desperately try to find the answer to our dis-content and dis-ease through food or money or any of the myriad other things we try to cover our dis-comfort with. All we are really able to do is mask the problem and separate ourselves from each other.

There is One who can really bring about a change in our minds and hearts that leads us to love ourselves. Jesus, however, says, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” The abundant life promised by our Lord is true pampering of self. What does that life look like, though?

When we try to ‘do it myself,’ like a 2 year old, we end up struggling and unhappy. Only when we are willing to embrace one another, willing to give and accept help, willing to admit that we aren’t perfect, then we can begin to love ourselves and be blessed by an abundant life.

Abundant life in the Lord is life lived in unity (communion) with God and with one another. Recently I heard a sermon that reminded me that within community is one way we can live the abundant life. The Bishop said, our baptism makes us part of a family and God is always “within arms length.” God will never let us fall. No matter how distant we may think God is—in reality (and most often in hindsight) we see that God is right there, like a loving, caring Father.

God’s abundant life isn’t a smooth road, necessarily, but it is filled with untold blessings that often remain unknown until we are stumbling over the potholes in the road because that’s when we discover that our loving Father is right there to catch us when we fall. When we learn to love ourselves for being part of God’s family, we can stop hiding behind food and clothes and just be who we are made to be—a child of God. Then we understand what Jesus means when he promises, “I will be with you always.”

Has there been a difficult time in your life when you have felt the steadying hand of God?

Naomi, in the book of Ruth, is a perfect example of someone was not able to love herself. After her husband and sons die in Moab, she sobs, “…call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Mara means ‘bitter’ and Naomi has become angry and bitter because all she sees is the emptiness of her life.

In my book Naomi’s Joy, Naomi does eventually realize that God has not forsaken her and even in her darkest hour, God has been close.

“Yes,” I insisted, “Your faith is greater than mine. I turned away from the God of Israel in despair and anger.”
My own words convicted me. I stopped with a gasp. It felt like all my breath had been kicked from my lungs. Ruth drew back to look at me when I stopped speaking. I stared past my companion trying to draw air past the great lump that lodged in my throat.
“Mother Naomi?” I barely heard the question.
I lowered my head in despair. Tears welled in my eyes. Suddenly I was sobbing. Whimpers of animal anguish wrenched from my lips.
“God, God,” it was all I could say. I rocked back and forth holding my knees as the truth rolled over me.
“My mother,” Ruth tried to take me in her arms.
She had to be satisfied with patting my shoulder as I continued to rock and weep. A lifetime of pent up sorrow and grief flooded out in my tears.
“It is true. I rejected God.” I spoke more to myself than Ruth. “God did not abandon me. I turned away from the Holy One. I would not let I AM comfort me.”
The girl stroked my hair, “I did not know.”
“I needed to blame the Almighty for my grief. Ever since my father died, I felt guilty. All my life I have hated I AM. It was easier to say that God took those I loved because I did something wrong. I was sure that my father died because I wanted a house. I never dared trust that I would be cared for. If I failed in any way I was certain that I would be punished. When Elimelech died I knew I was right. I told myself that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob turned away when we left the Promised Land. Then my sons died and I was certain that God was angry. After Adah’s death I knew that the Holy One despised me because I allowed her to marry a foreigner.” I panted as the confession poured out through my sobs. “I hated my life enough to die.”
“Mother Naomi,” the young woman held me tight unable to comfort me.
“I was wrong. The Living Lord did not desert me.” I spoke low as comprehension burst into my heart. “You once said that the Holy One of Israel provides healing even for death and pain. Ever since my father died from the bite of the serpent I have been angry with God. Everything that went wrong was another reason to blame the Lord of Life. My rage only made me feel responsible for the bad things that happened. I was sure that I was judged guilty because I could not love God. I let my anger and the laws become a prison to my heart.”

Can you become a friend of yourself by reaching out your hand to another person or accepting someone else’s outstretched hand? You might just find that you are holding the hand of God.

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