When my son was in second grade, I received a phone call from his teacher. She relayed to me that she had to repeatedly ask my child to stop talking to his neighboring student. A little perplexed that this behavior had seemed to arise suddenly and did not correlate with his usually quiet demeanor, I asked my son to explain his disruptive pattern. He detailed that the girl who sat next to him kept stealing his school box, and he had to negotiate to get it back to begin any of his work. I advised him that he needed to make his teacher aware of the situation, and he did so the following day.
I was eager to hear if the problem resolved itself the next afternoon. My son told me that his classmate was asked to refrain from touching his supplies. Shaking his head, he added that it did not deter his pencils and crayons from finding themselves into her desk once again. He proceeded to demean her by calling her a jerk and wishing she would just disappear.
I was a little taken back by his level of frustration as I had never heard him call anyone a name. I assured him that I would call his teacher and try to find a way to rectify the situation. I would take on this responsibility, but I conveyed to him that he had a task as well. He needed to be kind to this girl. I offered that we might know her full story and that her behavior could stem from trouble at home or feeling unprepared in class or some unknown. I added that he was to love this girl even if she wronged him. When I asked if he understood, he said. “Yes, I will love her. However, if she steals my stuff again, I cannot promise what this love will look like!”
In this statement, there is a profound lesson of love: even though we are created to love and called to love, we are not always perfect practitioners of love. Sometimes our love just falls short. Often this is because of hurt or insecurity. Sometimes it is because we are programmed to take care of others and place ourselves last. This is what I am currently witnessing when I speak to our alumni or capture a glimpse of clergy via social media or blogs. Love of self is taking a back burner during this season of anxiety. Angst is robust during this pandemic and political season. Disruption is now the new normal, and the world seems to be spiraling rather than spinning. Spiritual leaders are working overtime to tend to the increasing needs of others. But what does the love of self look like?
Spiritual leaders do not have the best records of self-care. They tend to take the letter to the Corinthians to heart about love not being self-seeking and extend all their patience and kindness to others. I will ask it again: What does love of yourself look like? Are you carving out space to love yourself? Are you extending care to your mind, body, and soul? Is your commitment to tend to your own person falling short?
So, I ask wherever you are, close your eyes. Take in some deep breaths. Now, honestly, ask yourself, what does love of myself look like? Be honest. Are you caring for yourself the way Jesus would care for you? If not, hear these words: you have permission to tend to your being. You have permission to take yourself to the garden of Gethsemane. You have permission to explore and define your needs. You have permission to let go of being in charge and find respite in prayer, exercise, reading, catching up with a friend, or being still.
I leave you with this prayer: Come Holy Spirit, wash fresh upon us as we focus attention on our mind, body, and soul. Let us still our need to serve others first for just a bit. Help us squash our need for busyness and let our being just be. Let our love of self look like it should – holy and mimicking the heart and hands of Jesus. Swirl, Holy Spirit, and renew us fully. Amen.