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This teaching of Jesus lies at the centre of how we live our lives as Christians.
It is apparent that loving God without loving our neighbour is inadequate, but also that loving our neighbour without bringing God into our lives is also imbalanced. As Christians we believe that it is through loving God and becoming close to him that we learn how to best respond to those around us, and it is from him that we receive our strength to go that little bit further in our service to others
Loving others as we love ourselves, is essential for our society; without it we become selfish and grasping. It’s why we teach our children to share, to take turns, not to hurt others. Here are some ideas in sharing these two great commandments at home:
· Make a space for God each day. Read a Bible story, light a candle, say a prayer.
· We can pray regularly for our neighbours. Our child could choose one neighbour in particular to pray for.
· We can also pray with our child for our neighbours in the wider world at home or abroad who are in need.
· We can take part in events such as the Operation Christmas Child shoebox appeal.
· We can support our local community by using local facilities like the post office and shops, and participating in fund-raising events for hospitals and schools.
· When our child shares well, we can relate it to Jesus’ teaching, giving them lots of praise.
· Other things we can do (beyond teaching the social skills of sharing, taking turns etc.) to help our child to understand what loving their neighbours means include sponsoring a child through a development agency; inviting a lonely neighbour in for tea or a meal, or helping a new mum with her baby; and donating unwanted items to a charity shop.
· Whatever we do, every so often we can remind our child why we love our neighbour: because God loves them, and we love God.
To get wisdom is to love oneself. Proverbs 19.8
It can often appear that as Christians we are not supposed to love ourselves. All too often we make much of our fallen-ness, of our failures and weaknesses. We say in church that we are ‘unworthy’ to receive God’s love, and our faith is burdened with shame. At the same time, wider society seems to have rejected any notion of guilt or self-denial; on the face of it, contemporary culture is big on self-love. ‘Be good to yourself’ has become a mantra; whatever we want, we have a right to have, whether this is chocolate, designer clothes or casual sex.
It’s true that being ‘dead to self’ is an aim of Christian life, but perhaps we misunderstand what this means. If we look at the teaching of both the New and Old Testament, we see God expects us to love ourselves. The reason for this is that we can’t fully love others until we love ourselves; inevitably not loving ourselves hurts and so we look inwards. Once we love ourselves, we are then free to forget ourselves (to be ‘dead to self’) and concentrate on loving others. The way to loving ourselves is through knowing that we are loved by others. Many of us will be lucky enough to have family and friends who love us and whom we love in return, but some of us will carry the scars from relationships that have made us feel unlovable, or even if we are loved and cherished we may find it impossible to believe we deserve such love.
The tragedy of our ‘be good to yourself’ society is that its roots lie in the fact that so many of us feel unloved. We mask our pain with materialism, or obsession with food or celebrity, or even seek quick thrills through alcohol, drugs or sex. Its ultimate end is seen in people who are totally unable to empathise with those around them, who feel no compassion and who are capable of cruelty both great and small, without the slightest notion of the pain they cause. Why this should be affecting our society now in particular is open to question but it is undeniable that for many of us our self-image is formed in childhood and adolescence, so perhaps the fact that families are spending less and less time together is a factor. We also look for unconditional love in a marriage partner, and too many marriages are abusive or end in acrimony.
Only God can see us as we truly are, and only by God can we be truly and unconditionally loved. Once we accept his love through Jesus, we can become the person we are intended to be. In Jesus, fully human as well as fully divine, we can see what we being human can mean, and as we are made in God’s image we too are called to be able to love and serve as Jesus did. It is through spending time with Jesus in prayer, in reading the Bible, in worship and receiving the sacraments, and in spending time with people who have the Holy Spirit with them that we come to recognise what this is and see it within ourselves. For many – perhaps most – of us, letting go of our preconceptions about ourselves may be a lifetime’s work, but it is also essential, for until we embrace the good within ourselves it is much harder to embrace it in others.
Who in your life has loved you? Has their love been unconditional or have you had to meet certain expectations? Do you love yourself? Do you know that you are loved by God? Bring your responses to him in prayer, and hand over to him any pain that you feel. Allow yourself to feel God’s love for you, and spend time in his arms.
There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less. – Philip Yancey.