Do Unto Yourself As You Would Do Unto Others
I am hard on myself.
The thoughts and emotions that spin through my body have a way of dragging me down.
Do you experience this too?
I've been hyper aware of it over the past 6 months, and I've come to realize that I am a terrible friend to myself at times. I'm rude to myself, I expect too much from myself, and I speak things inwardly to myself that I would never say to a loved one.
"You're not good enough yet."
Somewhere along the lines, many of us have gotten the notion into our heads that its okay to be rude and mean to ourselves. But it's not.
"You're going to fail."
We would never want to treat our friends and family so poorly, but it's become normal to treat ourselves poorly.
"You aren't enjoyable to spend time with."
A well-known Jewish man from the first century once said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Perhaps you've heard this message before. It's a statement that has transcended religious boundaries. Growing up as a Christian, I learned this and many other valuable lessons about treating others with kindness, respect, and dignity.
I learned and put into the practice the idea of self-sacrifice. I gave of myself. I put others first. I denied my own wants and needs.
All these things can be really great actions at times, but they are nothing without love (I stole that line from another first century Jew).
Now, don't get me wrong. When I was pouring myself out and giving of myself, I was being loving. But it couldn't last for long because I wasn't seeing the whole picture of what *love* really encapsulates.
Love accounts for both the giver and the receiver.
As many others have noted before me, you can't love others very well if you don't first love your self. And, as I mentioned at this start of this blog, I have trouble loving myself at times.
The church taught me to love others, but the church didn't really teach me about loving myself. In fact, it made such an idea practically sinful sounding.
Within American evangelicalism, there is such a strong focus on self-sacrifice and giving of yourself that many (perhaps most) of American Christians have missed out on a fundamental prerequisite to the golden rule.
It goes something like this:
Do unto yourself as you would do unto others.
Does that resonate with you the way it resonates with me?
It's giving me permission to start treating myself like a fellow human being who is worthy of love, respect, and dignity.
I realize that it's quite popular these days for Christians to decry and bash the concept of self-love. I can't help but feel like all of this criticism though is coming from people who probably have devoted most of their lives to loving others while neglecting themselves. That, or its coming from people with personality types that have no trouble loving themselves, and thus find it foreign that anyone would have trouble in this area.
The truth is, loving yourself and loving others do not have to be mutually exclusive concepts.
You do not have to choose between loving yourself and loving others. You can do both. Really, you can. At least, this is what I'm learning. I'm not very good at it yet, but I'm taking the right steps.
This advice might not be for everyone. Unfortunately, there are people out in this world that are self-absorbed and don't follow the Golden Rule or this prerequisite to the Golden Rule.
But, I have a feeling that there are lots of other Christians (and non-Christians) that are more like me. There are lots of us who try to treat other people well but who don't return the favor to ourselves.
Perhaps we need go back to that first-century Jewish writer I cited earlier and pay closer attention:
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing."
If love applies to both the giver and the receiver (which I think it does), then the picture of love is incomplete when we are loving others but treat ourselves like crap.
We are like a noisy gong when we choose not to love ourselves.
Maybe we need to start asking ourselves, "does love apply to me too?"
I believe the answer is yes. If you'll allow yourself to embrace this too, I think you'll be able to love other people even better as well.
Here are some practical ways to get started:
1) Practice the prerequisite to the golden rule. Do unto yourself as you would do unto others. Go around asking yourself, "would I do this thing I'm about to do to myself if I were doing it to my best friend?"
2) Become aware. Sit quietly and start observing yourself. Notice your inner dialogue. Don't judge it; just notice it. Find the recurring ways in which you're being unloving towards yourself. Awareness is the starting place for living well.
3) Give to yourself. You know how you do nice things for people you love? Start doing nice things for yourself too. Cut yourself some slack. Give yourself a gift. Take some time off. Write yourself a note of encouragement. Notice the ways in which you are good.
Is all of this easy? If you're like me, then no. It takes effort.
If you're a Christian, self-love might seem hard to you if you were taught that you aren't worthy. Many evangelicals grew up being taught that we were born starting out as an awful human being. We were taught that we started out deserving hell. We weren't worthy.
We were taught that we had to be a certain way before we could be worthy.
No wonder so many Christians struggle with exacerbated mental health issues.
If this is you, know that there's another way of thinking about this subject. The Christian tradition is deep and wide, and not everyone thinks of humanity in such negative terms.
Here's a better starting place: you were made in the image of God. You have inherent value. You have worth. You are a part of this world just as much as everyone else. You are loved, and so is everyone else.
Do we deviate from our inherent value and do things that degrade it and degrade the value of others? Yes. Christians call that sin. Have you and I been degrading and devaluing ourselves? Yes. That's sinful too. You can sin against yourself.
When you start from a place of your inherent worth and value rather than some notion that you're an awful human being, it's much easier to love yourself and others.
So, I challenge you today: do unto yourself as you would do unto others.
Give yourself the same grace, respect, and care that you would give to a best friend or loved one.
Does this mean that you never challenge yourself or set aside your own wants and wishes? Of course not.
It just means that you start with love (a love that includes both the giver and the receiver) and do everything else from there.