Love Your Neighbor

We live in a world where sacrifice is a dirty word, especially if it pertains to self-sacrifice. This modern era focuses on self-love and self-care, but seems to forget that we are also to love and care for others. 

If you haven’t been in a place in your life where you could no longer do it alone, where the pit you are in is so deep there is no way you can climb out alone, then you may not understand the importance of being willing to momentarily set aside personal needs or wants for someone else. I have been in that pit, in that place where I felt so alone and like no one cared about me or needed me. And I was lost, so very lost. That place of hurt and pain that is so deep, is where we sometimes need to be met. Where we need someone to reach down and pull us up or climb down and hold us until we’re strong enough to climb out on our own. This is love.  

“’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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 

We are to love God wholly and completely with every part of ourselves. It is THE most important thing we are to do. Without making this post too long and deep right now, let’s simplify why this is so important. If we don’t truly love God, we cannot love others in the way He wants us to. We won’t understand love as He designed it. I have two previous posts where I expand on this- What is Love and Free Love For All.

Loving God really should be the easiest love I can give. He loves me perfectly and unconditionally. He doesn’t hurt me, betray me, leave me, use me, or stop loving me. He will never walk away and He will always be there for me when I ask. Loving Him should be the simplest choice to make, yet it seems so hard sometimes. We are so focused on our worldly view of love, we miss what love really is.

As humans who are inherently selfish, we view love as emotional and a feeling. Something that makes us feel good and happy. God’s love is so much more than that. It is committed, purposeful, and sacrificial. It is not selfish and He doesn’t share it so He can feel good, He shares it so we will have joy and a full life. It is a love we can only understand and share with others if built on the knowledge of who God is, how great He is, and how much He loves us. He chooses us over and over again, even when we don’t choose Him.  

The next part of these verses, “Love your neighbor as yourself’ is the second most important commandment. It doesn’t say to love yourself more, nor does it say to love your neighbor more. It puts them on equal ground. We are to love both. We are to love ourselves and others. We are to love what God created. We are to take care of ourselves and take care of others.  

This is not an emotional, selfish love to make us feel good; it is a committed, generous love that those around you can feel. This is a love that steps up when those you care about need you. This is also a love that asks for help when you need others. We are not to selfishly ignore the needs of those we care about, nor are we to selfishly assume we can handle everything on our own.  

Years ago, when I was in that deep pit of hurt and pain, I didn’t ask for help. I thought at the time I could do it myself; I didn’t want to admit I needed help. I realize now that it was because I didn’t love myself as Christ loves me. I was not willing to sacrifice my pride and let those that cared about me know that I needed them. I selfishly wanted to do it alone because that seemed easier than allowing the possibility of anymore hurt in my life. I was not loving me as Christ does, nor was I allowing anyone else to love me as Christ does. Luckily, God’s love overcomes all and He sent people to love me and come down into my pit of shame and hurt and bring me out. Friends who sacrificed their own time and desires to sit with me in my pain. Friends who were God’s physical example of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

A couple weeks ago, my precious Grammy died. Earlier this year, my Grampy died and last January, I lost my beautiful Mama, my support and greatest cheerleader. I lost three of the people who mean the most to me. We are a close family, so it was so very hard. I felt myself falling back in that pit, back into that place where loss seems overwhelming. But this time I did something different- I asked for help. I knew I couldn’t do it alone and I knew I didn’t want to go back there, so I told a friend I needed them. Honestly, I didn’t do a very good job of it. Letting people know I am in need is not my strong suit, but I am proud of myself for doing something I never would have done a few years ago. 

It was in this asking, that I realized something. I really have changed. I am growing and I am doing better, not just because I feel better, but because I have gained a love for myself that I never had and in turn a love for others that is about so much more than what they do for me or how they make me feel. I was willing to ask for help because I wasn’t over-thinking about how I would feel if I was rejected or if I would be thought of as less than for seeming weak. I loved myself enough to recognize that in that moment I was overwhelmed and needed support, and rather than be fearful of being hurt, I chose to be brave and express my need.

I spent so many years living in fear of not being good enough, not being perfect, that I couldn’t love myself as God does. I couldn’t love my faults and I struggled with loving the faults of those around me. During the six or so years since beginning this journey of change and growth, I have found grace and compassion for those around me, but never found the courage to accept my own failures and shortcomings. I have been my biggest obstacle to peace and joy.  

So, this small, yet messy step that I took to admit that I couldn’t do something alone, and my willingness to be rejected and hurt, was huge for me. It was a step towards loving myself through my faults. It was a step towards accepting I can be loved though I’m imperfect. Most importantly, it was another example to me of how much God loves me. Even though the friend I asked to come couldn’t be there for me, God didn’t leave me alone. He sent me exactly the right person I needed to hold me and cry with me. He knew I needed to feel His presence physically and He gave me that. God’s love is so much more perfect than anything I can give.

I have so much appreciation for those who have exampled Christ’s love to me. Their sacrifices of time and energy, their compassion and empathy, and their words of wisdom they have shared with me have all helped me to understand how I should love others and myself. During the times I felt so alone and thought God had left me, He sent me their physical presence to remind me that I was never on my own. We are not meant to go through this world alone. We are meant to love and be loved. We are meant to accept love and give love. We are meant to show others what love looks like when given as God has commanded. We must love ourselves so we have the strength to genuinely love others. We must love others to fulfill His purpose. True joy and peace is found in His purpose and His love, not ours.

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