In Mark 12:28-31, a scribe asks Jesus what he thought was the most important of God’s commandments. “Jesus answered, ‘The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’”
I consider this command the fundamental basis of my faith. Today, I want to look at a small aspect of this pronouncement, and that is how we are to love God. The commandment instructs us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. In today’s vernacular, I hear “Love God first, with all that makes us who we are: emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and physically.”
The second part is to love each other as ourselves. This means to love ourselves in those four ways before we love each other the same. On an airplane, they instruct that if the air masks fall from their compartments, we are to place it on ourselves first, before helping someone else. As a parent it seems a bit counterintuitive. We want to help our children; they are precious to us. But how can we help them if we are incapacitated? How can we love others as we love ourselves if the love we have for ourself is faint or absent?
Jesus understood that our nature is that of a hybrid. While here on earth we are spiritual beings and physical beings. He got that. He referred to himself as the Son of God, a spiritual being, and a Son of Man, a worldly being. We are both, and God asks that we love Him with all that we are, both from our original spiritual nature, and our worldly nature. First, we love and honor God. Then we give care, love, and respect to ourselves and finally to others. We must take our own selfcare seriously before we can seriously care for others. This is my primary focus today.
One means of tending to ourselves is by creating boundaries. Our time and energy are precious resources, and we must learn to manage them. Although many of us want to give it all away, that is not always helpful to either us or God. We are of no use to God if we are depressed, resentful, or depleted emotionally.
A valuable lesson is learning to honor our time and energy, making space for our emotions, and fulfilling our personal needs before tending to others. How can we help others if we are emotionally tired and beaten down?
At some point we realize that while we are children of God, we are not God. Because we indwell these bodies, we have limits. We need food, water, rest, and quiet times. We can’t do it all, and through accepting boundaries, we strengthen ourselves emotionally as we develop self-respect by maintaining our values and standards, and by setting and completing attainable tasks.
Learn to feel and give gratitude is part of our self-care. Jesus taught this in Matthew 6:25-27. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
A significant part of emotional self-care is connecting with others. Making time to visit, chat, and share is not only enjoyable and fulfilling, but necessary as human beings. It is part of our spiritual development and part of who we are.
As difficult as this can be, we can always connect with ourselves, affirm our existence, our being, and our worth. When we are done here, the opportunity will arise for us to drop the body. Until then, our love is what God needs us to share.
We are to love God, others, and ourselves also through our spiritual natures. Spiritual self-care is what provides meaning, purpose, and a sense of belonging. Prayer, contemplation, meditation, and solitude can be part of our selfcare. What is it that feeds us? Maybe it is walking or hiking or reading? These activities may be part of other natures, as well, and they still feed us spiritually. Being aware of and practicing non-judgment feeds our souls, as do serving and performing acts of compassion.
The majority of our self-care from a spiritual perspective come from making time for prayer – attuning our thoughts to Spirit through meditation and contemplation.
Our mind, or our psychological nature, enables us to think for ourselves, consider ourselves valuable and worthy, grow from our experiences, and learn new things. All of us can benefit from visits to a therapist as new ideas and perspectives are introduced into our thinking. To develop self-awareness is healthy. The more aware we are of who we are and what we think, the more we can handle feedback.
The more we can learn from varying perspectives and opinions, the less threatened we feel. Ignorance enslaves us to the loudest voice in the room, someone else’s opinion and thought patterns. We develop habits based upon someone else’s experience and understanding. What we don’t know definitely can hurt us, is subtle and nefarious ways. Through wisdom, knowledge, and understanding we can learn to release judgment of others, forgive their weaknesses, and accept their differences. These are critical skills in today’s times.
This aspect of self-care was not lost to Jesus. In Luke 2:46 we read, “…they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” He was seeking the wisdom of others.
The Bible refers to strength as our physical nature, but it is more than that. It is our entire body, inside and out. Our strength is derived from actively participating in life and using these bodies as the marvelous tools they were intended. It is developing enthusiasm and using that passion in all that we do.
And yes, it is taking good care of the body: drinking plenty of water, eating healthy foods in sensible portions, moving the body in whatever means works for us, and practicing self-hygiene routines. Yes, we still have to floss.
Life is filled with seasons. As the Bible puts it, “there is a time for” certain experiences and activities. There is a time to search and a time to give up. There is a time to work like crazy, fussing over loved ones, and a time to be still and be filled with God’s peace. There is a time to let your little self out of the cage to dance, play, laugh, and be silly, and a time to keep them under a cover. There is a time to pay attention to the body and a time to pay attention to our hearts, minds, and souls.
We move through seasons all our lives long. Psalm 1:3 reads,
That person is like tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.
One of our challenges as being this hybrid child of God is finding the balance in life. Not spending too much energy and time on something and ignoring something else. Even Christ would go away from his disciples to find solitude in prayer. In Luke 5:15-16 we read, “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of the sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
There will be times when seasons comes for us to bear fruit, yet this will not always be so. Many of us mistakenly expect things to always be the time for harvest. But we cannot take the time of abundance as a personal norm. Remember that life has seasons.
There will be times when life pushes us past our boundaries and beyond our limits. Mark 6:30-31 says, “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.”
It is my prayer that we are ready, all of who we are – our heart, soul, mind, and body - is ready when Christ whispers to “come away and rest.” It is in those times of stillness and silence that we establish healthy patterns of caring for ourselves, so when the season comes that stretches us beyond our limits, we’ll know our way back to God, and have reserves of strength and poise to carry us through the wilderness. It is in the Quiet that we differentiate between self-care and self-indulgence. Self-care is not an excuse to be selfish; it is an avenue to self-reflection.
I pray that we honor all of who we are – our emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical natures. When we can honor ourselves in those areas, then we can honor each other. After we can honor each other, then we can truly honor God. Our words of praise and love for God move from just words to a powerful spiritual light-filled declaration.