Love is discovered in the most unexpected places. For me, it was on a marriage retreat. I can tell that’s going to take some explaining, after all why would discovering love be unexpected while away with my wife? Because the love I discovered on retreat wasn’t for my wife. Now I really have some explaining to do. I knew I loved my wife. The surprising love I discovered while on this marriage retreat was for me.
It was the next to last day of the weeklong retreat and as I’m prone to do, I rose early, poured a cup of coffee and was enjoying some quiet reading. The night before, the founder and facilitator of the retreat asked if it had been a good week. “It’s been great,” I told him. “Great teaching and time with God, as well as between my Julie and me; great opportunities for us to set some things in order. It’s been great.”
It was about to go from great to transformational.
While I didn’t hate me, up until that point in my life I never really loved me, either. There’s a difference between self-hatred and a lack of self-love. We can not love ourselves, even not like ourselves, and still not hate ourselves. As I read in solitude that morning, Matthew 22:39 jumped off the page and into my heart as never before: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
To understand the full impact of these five words we need to understand the context. In Matthew 22:34-36, the Pharisees test Jesus by asking Him which commandment is the greatest. Jesus’ reply to this final in a litany of questions confounds and silences the Pharisees.
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:37-40).
The greatest commandment isn’t just to love God but also to love others, but that edict to love others comes with a qualifier, “as yourself.” The limitation on our ability to keep God’s greatest command to love is how much we love ourselves. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” means the most I can love anyone is the degree to which I love myself. Sitting on that couch drinking coffee that morning I realized I did not love myself. Never had.
This was huge. I can’t love others if I don’t love me. As I pondered this truth, it got personal. This was more than not being able to love the folks next door or the stranger at the grocery store. It was deeper and more compelling than that. Not loving me meant I couldn’t love my wife. Not loving me meant I couldn’t love God.
I was wrecked and started to cry. Once I started, I couldn’t stop; I wanted to love me and I wanted to love others. I wanted to love my wife and I wanted to love God. I cried, “Please, God, help me to love me.” He answered.
From Abundant and Free; Seeing Life Through the Lens of Grace available on Amazon.