Learning to love ourselves

… love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:39

 

When Jesus said this to the Pharisees as part of his response to their question about the greatest commandment, Jesus assumed that the Pharisees, and us as readers of Matthew’s gospel, love ourselves.

The focus of Jesus’ command is to love our neighbor. This takes many forms. It’s not an option. It’s the second-most important command Jesus gave us, behind loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.

Loving myself

But how can we love our neighbor if we don’t love ourselves?

Am I the only person who asks this question?

I know my sins and shortcomings far better than anyone else does. And I’m sure God knows about sins I commit that I’m not even aware of.

I know God forgives me. I really do.

But can I forgive myself?

That’s hard.

As a result, over time, I’ve learned to bury my feelings deep in my heart. I can’t remember the last time I cried.

A friend asks me frequently who the Detroit Lions’ next opponent is, since he knows I lived most of my adult life in Michigan (I’m in Ohio now). I’m in a family-based NFL pool so I pick the winners and point spread of each game. Still, I often don’t remember who the Lions are playing.

Very little in life registers with me. Nothing penetrates my deep inner being. I feel like I’m just going through the motions.

How can I love my neighbor when I have no feelings for myself?

Several good friends recently attended a weekend men’s retreat based on a book by John Eldredge, “Wild at Heart.” I didn’t attend the retreat, but I’ve read the book.

When they told our Wednesday men’s group at church how the retreat went down, they emphasized two themes that I relate to very well, themes that Eldredge knows affect men deeply.

The father wound

All men have a wound in our hearts. For most of us, that wound comes from our father.

Mine did.

I never doubted my dad’s love for my sister and me. He was (and still is – he’s 84) the strong, silent type. He’s opening up more now, but as a child I didn’t receive hugs, praise, verbal encouragement or emotional support. There are reasons for this; his own childhood was not that way either.

I didn’t realize all this until I became an adult. Indeed, I’m still figuring this out.

I decided I wanted to break the cycle, to give our sons what I didn’t have.

All three of our sons are adults now, living on their own and doing well.

However, none of them are married. More than that, none of them have ever had a significant girlfriend, to my knowledge.

And that’s OK. There’s benefits to being single.

But I passed the father wound to my sons. I know I did.

Will the cycle ever end?

It can.

By the grace of God, and only by the grace of God, it can.

The poser

The second Eldredge theme proves why I bury my feelings. Like many men, I put my best face forward in public. If you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll say, “Fine” or “doing well” or something like that – even if I’m not.

I’m posing. I’m not being real with you.

Do you want a “real” answer when you ask me that question? I could give you an earful if I really wanted to.

I can talk superficially just fine. I’ll tell you about my job, a volunteer role or two I have, how our new house is coming along or the yardwork I’m doing – stuff like that.

Ask me how my soul is, and I most likely won’t give you a “real” answer. I have wounds in there, things I don’t like about myself. Things I’d rather hide.

Our Wednesday men’s group this fall is going through a video series on overcoming addictions, especially sexual addictions – because those in particular are so prevalent.

I’m not surprised that sexual harassment and worse is the issue of the day in the news. Pornography is huge. So are other sexual sins. The male species is exposed to it at a very early age – preteens for most boys. Did you know that?

It’s all over the internet, and boys have access to it (unless the parents have blocked it).

We men are posers, remember. We hide things. We’re very good at it.

But these sins have a way of showing up at very inopportune times.

I’m not saying every man is a sex addict. The temptation is there for every man (and boy), but we don’t have to give in to that temptation.

In fact, by the grace of God, and only by the grace of God, we can turn down that temptation – or overcome it if we’ve entered in to it.

We hide other things, too. Things we think. Money we spend. Things we do in private, when we’re sure no one is watching. (Do we ever want to get caught?)

The solution

I’d like to say I’ve figured out how to overcome the father wound and the poser mindset. I haven’t.

The speakers in the video series say there’s no quick fixes for this kind of stuff. It takes time, perhaps years. It takes accountability with other men who are willing to listen as we break down those poser walls and get real.

We know what we’re doing is wrong. We can’t stop by willpower. It just doesn’t work that way.

This is why it’s so hard to like ourselves. We hurt inside when we fail.

Sharing my feelings with someone else when I’ve literally never done that before doesn’t happen by chance. That too will take time.

In the meantime, don’t be so quick to judge me. Not all of us men are evil. Many of us want to get it right. We really do. Perhaps we just don’t know how.

Is that a sin?

Be patient with us, please. Encourage. Ask questions. Listen.

We probably won’t respond right away. Trust doesn’t come naturally.

Be patient.

We just might get there someday.

This is one way to love our neighbor. We listen to his story. We share ours.

Our real stories.

We become brothers.

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