Loving Yourself (As Much As Your Neighbor)

I have been struggling with a lot of self-doubt, mixed with an unhealthy dose of self-loathing. This is not a new struggle for me. I’ve been having these issues since I was a kid, and my time as a combat veteran has only multiplied the negativity.

“You’ll never be redeemed for the bad things you’ve done/thought/said.”

“You’re ineffective at everything that you do.”

“You’re a fraud.”

“People don’t love you. They tolerate you.”

And on, and on, and on.

This is pretty much a classic case of major depression, but there’s a spiritual component as well. It’s the spiritual component that I want to write about. Because this is a religion blog. And, because I take medication for the psychological part.

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No matter what else I have to say about my early years in church, one thing that I will always be thankful for is an early appreciation for Christian Scripture. From the time that I could read, I was encouraged to read kid’s versions of Bible stories. A few years later, when I could understand more of what I was reading, I was encouraged to read the Scriptures themselves – and to memorize those Scriptures, to recite them over and over. This has helped me immeasurably in my life as a lay minister. When asked by someone to pray – whether for them personally, or out loud at an event – I am consistently able to recall to mind a Scripture (or at least a Scriptural allusion) that is appropriate for the situation.

This is so important, because people who are immersed in Christian culture – regardless of how they feel about their “personal faith” – are almost always encouraged when something in the Bible relates to their own struggles or feelings. And, this is what has always impressed me about the Scripture – no matter its flaws, it is timeless. It has had something to say for millennia.

But, what about when it won’t speak to me? What happens when the Scripture that we use to encourage others can’t encourage us?

I think that we sometimes allow God to use us, even when we don’t feel worthy of being used. I know that’s true for me. When I was getting ready to leave the military – after almost 9 years and 2 combat tours – I determined that I was going to let God use me for peace and reconciliation, the way that I had let the Army use me for violence and oppression. It didn’t matter what my own opinion of myself was – I was ready to be used, ready to try and “balance the scales” of my life with positive action.

Most days, it works. Most days, I feel like I am doing some good. But, some days, the doubt takes over. I feel like the Psalmist, who goes from verses that sing praises to God for His presence and blessing to verses that ask God why he (the Psalmist) has been abandoned.

Some days, I love my neighbor far more than I love myself.

I’ve had flashes of insight into this. After a weekend at Walk to Emmaus, I realized that God’s love has to flow through us, not from us. While that’s a worthwhile revelation, it’s much harder to maintain in the day to day.

If God’s love is a river that flows through me, I feel like my self-loathing is constantly building up a dam. I know that it’s trying to get through, and I’m doing my best to use the trickle that I have to love others… but, I eventually run dry.

Even when I feel completely empty of God’s love, I try. I try to give what little love that I can manage to others. But, I can’t help but feel that the bitterness shines through. The anger, the grief, the things that I spend so much time trying to cover up and erase in myself are out there on full display.

Does anyone else feel this way? Does anyone else feel that, no matter how hard they try to do it right, they’re constantly doing it wrong?

Does anyone have a solution? Can we ever love ourselves as much as we (try to) love our neighbor?

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“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

That verse is Zephaniah 3:17. It was given to me by a friend at Emmaus, someone who also struggled with depression. He told me to remember, no matter how down I felt, that when I lay down to sleep at night, “God is singing over you.”

The idea that the Creator of the Universe can “take great delight” in me is almost too much to bear. In me? In me?

Take great delight in the man who felt hate in his heart towards an entire nation?

Quiet with love the man who rejoiced in the deaths of people he didn’t know?

Rejoice with singing over the man who refused to treat a sick man because of his nationality?

It’s tough, folks. Even as I read this verse, and meditate over it, I can’t help but feel that Zephaniah probably made a mistake in thinking that God actually said this.

Because, the chasm between my sin and His Grace seems too wide. The gap between who I know myself to be and who I want to be seems too far to be bridged by anything, even His love.

 

 

 

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