Reverend Anke Neuenfeldt
We all know the three commands for love. Is there something as three times love? Or is it more about us? And what does this have to do with the neighbor? I want to investigate this question by distancing ourselves from our love to God and the neighbor but look more closely at the love to yourself.
About the love for God
Lets look at the Bible. In the Jewish tradition one had to tie the command for the love for God on their hands and forehead to constantly remind themselves of it. However the word ‚love‘ or the declaration of love i.e. „God, I love you“ was never even mentioned. The Psalms e.g. describe the love to God in various ways. They praise, glorify and extol. The love to God happens in our hearts. It wants to be expressed and it shows in our actions. Therefor it is also more closely connected to the love for our neighbor.
About the love for our neighbor
Jesus explains very clearly that with the love for the neighbor he does not mean the people who are close to us e.g. family, friends, relatives. It is about everybody who i one way or another „has fallen among thieves“, like the parable of the Good Samaritan shows. The neighbor is the one far away, who needs our help. Sometimes even just for one moment or a very short period. Nevertheless, they should be included in our love for our neighbor. It is also about the love for those who hate us and those who hurt us. Also the ones who we have a hard time with and those who do not like us. Those who plan or do evil, and even if it is just saying a bad word. We can do nothing but love those neighbors if we see in them as a child of God. Wanted and loved by God. To do evil or hurt others is their responsibility. Here we differ between the guilt and the person. We can name the guilt and its bad consequences. But we should not judge the person. It is our responsibility and our mission how we meet them in our hearts. Jesus is clear when he says „Love your enemies.“ This is and always will be a challenge.
About the love for yourself
„Love your neighbor as yourself.“ The part with the „as yourself“ is often ignored and thus I want to highlight it more than usually today. In the interpretations and comments I know on this verse the neighbor is the main theme. The love for yourself is rarely addressed. It is seen as given that one loves oneself. Often one will be judged for loving yourself more than others. Is this true though? However reality shows this is not the case. Many people can not love themselves because they have experienced devaluation or coldness or even violence in their childhood. They have been made small and insignificant and they carry this behaviors with them their whole lives. Rarely they manage to reflect on this in their adulthood and stop this behavior. This is often a long lasting process for every individual. Loving yourself was often frowned upon, since it was seen as a sign of egoism. However to healthily love yourself one needs to be humble. Humbleness means one can put oneself on hold without making it seem that oneself is insignificant or feels less worthy.
One could also translate it to „You will love your neighbor as yourself.“ Which means, it is about a promise. To love yourself is the basis of being able to love your neighbor. To love yourself is made in the love God has for us. It can also heal any defects or or deficits from ones childhood or from other experiences. The translation „You will…“ does not automatically mean one is morally obligated to do so, but it can create a certain pressure. Maybe even positive pressure, by motivating oneself or others, but it can still be seen as pressure.
Can we even love our neighbor more than ourselves? Or less? Or is one with the other psychologically so very inseparable linked; just like the one word form the Tora Jesus quotes and connects to the highes commandment?
How much we can love our neighbor has a lot to do with how much we can love ourselves. If we can not accept and respect ourselves how can we expect to do this in an appropriate manner with our neighbor? If we can not treat ourselves mercifully and graciously how God treats us, how can we do this with our neighbor?
Loving yourself it is about a certain way how we can adopt it to ourselves. Siegfried Essen has defined it the following way: „One could say, it is a loving form of self-reflexiveness, a free and positiv manner to see, feel, describe and think about oneself.“1 For him it was also part of: – a positive self-awareness, which means to be excited about oneself. For me this means to know what one can do and also stand for it. Also to not hide one’s light under a bushel but to offer ones talents with humbleness. However it also means to know what one is not capable of and to know ones boundaries. – self-esteem, which means self-awareness without being ashamed or feeling guilty about it. We can reach this by feeling loved by God and to experience being ‚naked‘ in front of God. Which means to be before God with all my shame and guilt, my failure and my fear. Shame and guilt are then not more just a basic emotion. – absolute self-confidence. In the ideal case one gains self-confidence in one’s childhood through parents and other caregiver who believe in us. We can also gain self-confidence by seeing the things we have achieved in a positive way and put them so-to-speak on our „List of Achievements“. Whoever goes deliberate or involuntarily on difficult paths and sees how they manage to achieve them, gains self-confidence. Absolute self-confidence is for me part of self- awareness. And with that faith and trust in God. There is no place for pride here.
Whoever acts with themselves cautiously, peacefully and lovingly can do this with others. Whoever thinks badly about themselves, makes oneself less significant and does not trust in oneself can not enter a relationship on the same level. It is the same with inflated self-awareness. But this develops through a certain deficiency. It is always about either making oneself small and the others more important or making oneself unnecessarily bigger than all the others and thus making everyone smaller.
When it is about the love the Bible speaks about, it is more about a certain attitude and decision. The attitude would be e.g. respect, nonviolence, awareness, justice, acceptance. Loving yourself is, like many other kinds of love (to God and to our neighbor) just a matter of practice and needs a certain level of consciousness and will. Mostly we are stuck in a certain deficiency-thinking. We know what is wrong with us and others. We stop complain about our own deficiencies only to continue complaining about other peoples deficiencies. It is more and insult, the feeling that we did not get enough (approval, attention, salary, presents, etc.). How is it even possible that one can start loving oneself? Or even be able to appreciate other people?
Thankfulness is the key to a happy life. Thankfulness for everything we got and what God has given to us. Our talents are also a part of this. To stop looking at the deficiencies and start being thankful is a significant change. We recognize the fulfillment of life a lot more. It is about the recognition of what is good and where we (have) experience(d) love.
„You will love your neighbor as yourself“ is like the air of freedom for me. It is a promise that God gives us. If we can open ourselves to God’s unconditional love then we open ourselves to the healing of our soul. We will be free to experience the love how God has trusted it upon us. Maybe it takes bravery to take a close look at the deficiency of love in our life. This can be freeing and can lead to thankfulness and acceptance. Moral claims generate pressure, make one feel guilty and afraid and this can lead to violence. Even against oneself. This effects very often the psychological sate of mind.
We have been invited to the room of God’s love. If we can internalize the unconditional acceptance of ourself through God – even in our mental nakedness, our shame and guilt – then the path is free to love oneself and our neighbor. And the love to God as an answer of feeling loved commences itself. For me it is not a requirement but a promise and thus an encouragement. To love God with my mind, soul and body and our neighbor and ourself – this is a fulfilling life, even if it is not yet paradise like condition. Love is also always about willingness, reflection and development.
However nothing is more worthwhile than this very path. It is the path of life, because it is includes everything else as well.