We are complicated people. We all have dark, messy corners in our hearts that are sticky with cobwebs and grief. We all do. And this is what makes us perfect. Perfect to reach out to others, to empathize and to sympathize, to be compassionate while we serve one another in a way that reminds us of our humanity.
Yet we don’t.
Instead we become a collective librarian, censuring all who don’t comply with straighten up with the other book spines, remain quite while discussing only the classic canon, and return stray the novel by the time its due. We can all say the right things at the right times, but these “right” things and “right” times are empty and everyone really knows it.
Too often I see “right” things being framed in terms of scripture. Even today, I had a friend express a frustration she had with the assumption people take in forcefully sharing belief in their Jesus (I use “their” for a reason here) on her personal space — her Facebook wall. The assumption being that her Jesus will save my friend simply because 1). this stranger said so, 2). saving is as easy as clicking “share”, and 3). my friend needs saving. My friend is a remarkable human being — if she needs saving than we are all lost.
“…Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…” (Mark 12:31, KJV)
Using this scripture, people will remind others that we are to be accepting of everyone. For some reason, we don’t need to do anything else with everyone, we just need to be accepting of them. So almost every discussion I have been in regarding marriage equality, race relations, gender equality, foreign relations, and even liquor laws in my state, I have heard this scripture be used to somehow strengthen an argument — Just love our neighbors and everything will work out great.
I love the sentiment. I literally do love my neighbors on both sides of my property; they are some of the best people I have ever known and I am grateful to have them here beside me as I raise my children. However, there are two words people leave out that are perhaps the most important words: “as thyself”.
As an entire society and culture, we will not move forward by simply “loving our neighbor” if we do not love ourselves first. I don’t mean loving ourselves by buying our lattes before donating to a homeless shelter or getting a pedicure instead of going to parent/teacher conferences. I mean by accepting our own individual weaknesses and appreciating that all of our failures that we thought were points against us were only ever recorded by us and nobody us. By loving ourselves first, we become more compassionate to those who need us to be their advocates in important conversations where policy is potentially voted on or company protocol could possibly be changed.
Our media already teaches us to hide our imperfections. It teaches us that our photographs can be airbrushed and altered to reflect what we want ourselves to look like. It teaches us that there are miraculous pills and herbs that can be taken to give us our perfect bodies without work. We are able to have surgeries to change anything about us we don’t like and then ridicule anyone who does the same thing. Women have spent years trying to liberate themselves from whalebone corsets just so they can buy body shapers made out of spandex and lycra to fit around the push-up padded bras. Nobody wants to admit they’re taking medications for mental illnesses while everyone will gather around celebrity suicides insisting that depression is a disease.
We are perfectly imperfect, it is wonderful. And it needs to be celebrated.
We are not able to truly love our neighbors if we do not honestly know them at a level that is reached from sincerely understanding their joys and sorrows. Love for our neighbors come from sitting with them and throwing away the “right” words and simply holding their hands so we can say “I am so sorry this happened. How can I help?”
While I do believe in a savior, I also believe that in this small act — loving ourselves so we can love our neighbors — we can save each other. Which, in my opinion, is more important than spreading the Good Word on Facebook or by clicking “share”. I obviously can’t speak for Jesus, but I tend to think He would rather we love ourselves, too. I also know I can’t be hit by lightning through my comments, so I won’t worry about closing them down.