Saturday, November 3, 2012

Establishing Self Love

Below is a reflection I gave at the monastery on the Gospel reading for November 4th (Mark 12:28b-34).  The reading is about loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  I hope you enjoy the reflection.

When I was in first grade, the priest came to our classroom and asked us, “How many Gods are there?”  Well, I knew this answer.  I had been listening to my parents and my teacher, so I raised my hand, and when the priest called on me, I confidently answered, “Millions and millions and millions and millions.”  I think my teacher, Sr. Marietta, just about fell over.  The priest was shocked too.  After all, how could the brightest kid in the whole school and also the most humble miss such an important question about a fundamental belief of our faith? 

The priest then called on my twin brother who answered, “One.”  Well, I just about fell over when I heard that answer.  How could there be only one God?  I really had been listening, and I really had been taught well.  I knew that God was everywhere.  I also knew that God was inside me and God was in each person in the world.  Therefore, since there are millions and millions of places and millions and millions of people, my first grade mind logically concluded that there were millions and millions and millions and millions of Gods. 

In today’s Gospel, we hear that God “is One and there is no other . . . . You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second [commandment] is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:31, NAB). 

I have no doubt that we all love God, and I believe that we do our best to love our neighbor, but I don’t know if loving my neighbor as myself is always such a good idea.  It’s my experience that most of us, or at least some of us, don’t love ourselves the way we should.  In fact, some of our self talk can be downright brutal.  At least this is true in my life. 

Overtime, we can lose sight of the God who dwells within us.  Instead of loving ourselves and appreciating the creation God has made, we focus on our flaws.  I confess to doing this.  I really need to go to a P.A. meeting.  My introduction would be, “Hi.  My name is Catherine, and I’m a perfectionist.”  Perfectionism, as those who suffer from it know, is a terrible disease with terrible side effects.  Since there are no P.A. or Perfectionist Anonymous meetings, I believe the best cure is to apply lots of acceptance and self love. 

Many of us, meaning society in general, have a tendency to put ourselves down and thus do not honor and respect the God who dwells within us.  We may think that God’s timing is all wrong, that we should be better at our ministry, already over a difficult situation, or further along in our education, our relationships with others, or our spiritual journey.  We doubt the fact that God has us right where we are supposed to be at this time and this place.  Unfortunately, society tells us that we’re not quite right unless we look a certain way, dress a certain way, and act a certain way.  This teaching has terrible effects on a person’s self esteem and self love.

Just ask the 24 million Americans of every age and gender who suffer from an eating disorder.  Where are 81% of 10 year olds getting the message that they are too fat?  Why do 42% of 1st – 3rd graders want to be thinner?  What about the 47% of 5th – 12th graders who report they want to lose weight because of magazine pictures (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders).  Do we really want them to love their neighbor as themselves when they have negative self images and abuse their bodies to meet an unrealistic ideal?             

What about our own behaviors?  St. Benedict tells us in Chapter 53, The Reception of Guests, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, who said:  ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25:35).”  We offer hospitality to our guests, but how do treat ourselves?  When we look in the mirror, what do we think?  When we make a mistake, like all humans do, how do we treat ourselves?  With love and mercy as God does?  Or with frustration and negativity?  Can we let ourselves be free?  Free to make mistakes.  Free to not be perfect.  Ever.  Free to fall down and get back up, only to fall down again and get back up again.  Free to accept ourselves and others exactly as we are. 

Great opportunities await us as we get more involved with the Family Scholar House.  This program offers opportunities for single parents to get an education, but it also offers them an opportunity for a foundation of self love.  Some of the women in the program are coming from abusive relationships.  Some gave themselves to the first person who would show them love and acceptance, unaware that the love would not last.  As we get more involved in the program, we can show the participants through our words and actions that they are worth more than the relationship from which they are coming.  They are worthy not only of an education, but they are worthy of unconditional love from God.  They are worthy of love from their neighbors, and they are also worthy of self love. 

We can only give what we ourselves have.  We too have to have a foundation of self love; to love ourselves as God loves us.  We build this foundation by accepting who we are, faults and all, and honoring and respecting the one God who dwells within us.  The one God we love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  The one God who loves us more than we can dare imagine.  God loves us just the way we are.  Let us follow and do the same.

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