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Lady Pastor: It's not self-centered — you need to love yourself

Loving ourselves isn't optional. It's commanded by God. But in order to realize it, we have to carefully read and digest Jesus' words.

The Ten Commandments are outlined in the 20th chapter of the book of Exodus. There's no doubt about it: God laid out some very good guidelines for life. From the Ten Commandments we learn how to live in relationship with God and others. But God's guidance isn't limited to the Ten Commandments. The Old Testament is full of laws that helped early people of faith in the building of a just, life-giving society.

Fast forward a couple thousand years, and Jesus is presented with a question from an expert in the law (the story is found in Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-34). The man asks Jesus, "Of all the laws, which is most important?" It was a great question, and Jesus responds with an excellent answer.

First Jesus describes the most important commandment of all: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Jesus, well-versed in all of the Old Testament, recalls this command from the book of Deuteronomy 6:4-5.

Then, it's time for the second most important commandment, which Jesus recalls from Leviticus 19:18: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

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Bingo! Love your neighbor as YOURSELF. In order for this whole operation to work, we all have to love ourselves. Because if we don't love ourselves, it's going to be nearly impossible to love our neighbors.

When God originally expressed the importance of loving our neighbors as ourselves, God was starting from the basic premise that human beings were going to love themselves. Our Creator was assuming that all of us were going to remember that we were created in the actual image of God. Astounding! Amazing!

Propelled by this reality, I can see why God didn't think we'd have trouble loving ourselves. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the actual author of the universe lives within us, and what's not to love about that? But sadly, we forget and disconnect from God at work within and among us. Over time, loving ourselves becomes harder and harder. We get buried under the weight of our mistakes, regrets, comparisons, and fears. We've all been there. In fact, most of us spend a little time there every day.

I wonder sometimes if the root of many of our local, national, and global concerns is the same. Lack of respect and love for self. Turn on the news. Read this very newspaper thoroughly. It takes only a moment to recognize that our world is full of people who don't even like themselves, let alone love themselves. And it's wreaking havoc on a world that God created to be a place of goodness, mercy, and compassion.

Yet there is hope. There is always hope. The tide can turn, and we can be part of that movement. We can be leaders in loving ourselves knowing that by doing so we are more able to love others.

Loving ourselves is more than a random theme for the library's self-help section. It's not mushy-gushy talk. It's the Gospel. To love ourselves is to take Jesus seriously in his invitation to help in the building a healthy, peaceful world.

Wake up each day and say, "I am a loved and claimed child of God, and nothing will separate me from this truth." Model this for others. Find ways every day to nurture this sacred seed of love, and be wary of anything that might squelch its growth.

Valuing ourselves is not about building inflated self-confidence. It's about following one of the central commands of Christ. If we want to be patient with others, we must be patient with ourselves. If we want to be forgiving of others, we must be forgiving of ourselves.

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Our Creator believes in our ability to love God, love ourselves, and love our neighbors. Let us go forth into the week ahead ready to love abundantly.

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