By Rev. Richard Kent Matthews
“For when I can love all of me, I can love all of you.” Debby Ford, author, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers
Growing up in a rather fundamentalist Christian environment, I was often told that I must love others. I was also told what a sinner and depraved person I was, which set up a contradiction: If I have no real love for myself, how can I share anything with anyone else? That question finally led me out of fundamentalism and into a new reality. I realized that only a complete acceptance of myself, flaws and all, would allow me to build and share love with the rest of the world. I chose that path and have never looked backward.
Self-love, then, is not the sin, but the savior.*
So, before you can really love anyone else, without hesitation or selfish motives, it’s imperative that you come into a fuller and more robust relationship with yourself. It sounds selfish, I know, but it’s essential. You cannot give what you do not possess. You will be challenged, though. Not everyone will be ready to accept the new you. So…
1. Continue to cultivate and nourish loving relationships with family and friends. At the same time, make sure everyone knows your boundaries. When you hear preaching, and you will, retreat without battle. Just not in fear or defeat. You count. Never forget it.
2. Spend time with people who are actively involved in something meaningful. Volunteering is a great place to find such folks. Choose your venues wisely, though. Some volunteer organizations just want you as a grunt. None of that, please. Unless you like grunt work, of course. Jimmy Carter and Habitat For Humanity, for instance, do all kinds of grunt work when building the houses.
3. Have more fun, smile, laugh genuinely, enjoy comedy, stay lighthearted. Did you know you can practice laughing in the mirror? At first it seems ludicrous. But as you get used to it, not so much. Plus, you find yourself smiling more after you’ve practiced laughing for a while. And when you smile more, your wrinkles will be in all the right places when you get older! No Botox necessary.
4. Release resentment and any sense of vengeance. Don’t take it all so seriously, including yourself—mostly. Resentment and vengeance, that is, unforgiveness may seem oh so essential to your sense of dignity and pride, but in reality, they damage such things as brain cells, blood vessels, heart muscle, and nerve cells—YOUR cells. And they wear on other relationships that mean much to you. Not to mention, such emotions often lead to violence, imprisonment, even death. Take heed.
5. As much as is possible, don’t do what you don’t want to do. It doesn’t mean that occasionally you won’t compromise. You’ll go to dinner at your spouse’s or date’s choice of eateries, you’ll play ball with your son when you want to watch the game on TV. But for the most part, avoid what makes you less than content. Don’t work too hard at it. Just be aware.
6. Create your own calling and be true to it. Take time to reflect on your life and your place in it. The ‘experts’ all say you have a purpose. Maybe, but not one imposed upon you by some outside source or force. Except one: To be of service to the world. (You’re included in ‘the world.’) How you do that is up to you. It depends on your dreams, inner urgings, desires, all of it. You can create your own purpose, your own mission, your own calling. No one knows you better than you. My suggestion is, just make it a good one. You will.
7. Your life is a gift, no matter how difficult it may seem at times. When you live in, and walk in, gratitude, appreciation, and acceptance of what is, you experience new levels of joy and abundance. It’s like, a law or something. You can then turn around and share again with others. Because you know that giving and receiving is one single principle. Oh, you didn’t know that? You do now!
Sometimes we think we don’t really have anything to offer to the world, that our particular ‘gifts’ or talents aren’t meaningful or useful. We soak in our own self-pity. Next time you start feeling sorry for yourself, think Stephen Hawking, successful physicist with ALS, who died at 76 on March 13, 2018. When first diagnosed, he was not expected to live very long. But he fooled everyone, including himself. His body was broken to the point that he could only move his eyes to help him communicate through high tech machinery. Yet he made some of the most incredible additions and discoveries in the field of physics that rival Newton, Einstein and a host of others.
Your body is probably not broken like Hawking’s. You stand without excuse.
Time to awaken and connect to your own lovable and valuable self.
*Please don’t confuse self-love here with narcissism. That’s a whole different ball game.