The Golden Rule – Love your neighbour as you love yourself – is one of Jesus’ most famous sayings. When coupled with one of his other, most counter-cultural directives to “Love your enemies”, we are given a seemingly impossible task – to love our enemies as we love ourselves. Many a preacher would claim this to be the case without God’s help in our lives - an impossible act without supernatural power.
Yet I have found that this has personally been the easiest of Jesus’ teachings to adhere to. I would suggest that most of you reading this have found it excruciatingly simple at times to love your enemies as much as you love yourself too. It actually takes no effort to do this at all, because at the deepest levels, we all truly struggle to love ourselves.
The external and internal conflict
In times of conflict - with those close to us, with acquaintances or even with strangers, whether in person or on social media - it often tends to highlight those places in us that we just don’t like. It has the ability to put us in conflict with ourselves. Those hidden places that we hate, that we push down, that we are generally able to hide in the dark and forget about when things are going well. Humanity doesn’t tend to handle conflict well nor are we often able to remain at peace within ourselves when it occurs.
Conflict draws out insecurities and fears, compelling us to justify ourselves and exalt some form of self-righteousness in a game of one-upmanship that may or may not actually exist. It damages our existing relationships and the chances of forming new ones. It leaves us in a self prescribed prison of isolation and self pity which seeks to draw others in as it looks for empathy towards our wronged positions. Ironically, waves of negativity are created whether the desired empathy is given by others or not.
"...it often tends to highlight those places in us that we just don’t like."
The result has often been a self loathing that leaves us uneasy with life. Particularly in a conflict with those in our close circles that we cannot escape or ignore. The walls go up. The loathing is covered over with more self-justification and the darkness grows, often to the degree that we attempt to suppress it. The more we try to hold on to our way of life and our rights to be right, the more we lose it. The self loathing will eventually grow until it cannot be denied any longer. This self-hatred will send us spiralling further down self destructive paths that affect everyone around us.
The darkness is always there - suppressed, hiding, hated - deep down inside the soul; a shadow that we often refuse to recognise, accept or deal with until conflict draws it out of its cave. It’s not that we have suddenly stumbled into a pit of self loathing, it’s that this part of us that has always been present has found a crack in the polished veneer through which it can force itself, storming into our blissfully created versions of reality and disrupting one’s egotistical existence.
The darkness within
We all have this darkness within us, where we hide all of those things we are ashamed of. Our weaknesses, our fears, our inadequacies, our shame. We often forget or even deny that they exist in the day to day, and yet these areas of our lives that we find so hard to love subconsciously affect us and our interactions with others all the time. If we can’t love this darkness within ourselves, what chance do any of us have of loving the darkness in another?
Jesus speaks of dealing with the shadow within, or the plank in our eye as he calls it. It is only through deep self examination that we can bring this darkness into the light. If you have the courage to do this, you might just find - as I am - that you can actually accept your shadow side and become a whole person. Learning to love the whole of ourselves, the light and the dark, the strengths and the weaknesses, the shame and the pride is the key to loving these same aspects in our friends, our neighbours and our enemies.
After all, even the darkness is as light to God. He sees everything we think we’ve hidden from him and from ourselves. The shame, the pain, the torment, all exist in his presence. There is no where we can run to hide these things from his love. He knows us intimately and completely, and loves us fully through all of our suffering, doubts and fears. He tenderly draws us into the light, carefully and gently, as he reveals to us piece by piece, that yes, even that worthless part of us is loved. Maybe one day we may even join with Paul in declaring that “my weakness is my greatest strength.”
Love and peace
When asked about bringing peace to the world, Mother Teresa famously replied, “Go home and love your family.” Could I encourage you today to go home and love yourself? If peace begins within, then we truly need to learn how to love all of ourselves, the light and the shadow, and recognise the ego that masquerades as both. If I am truly at peace then there is no longer any competition with my neighbour, and I am free to love and accept everyone, even the ‘enemy’. This is God revealed in Jesus. So at peace is he in who he is that he does not need to defend himself, does not need to hold grudges, does not need to do anything but love the shadow in everyone and forgive you for your blindness.
This is what sets the Christ apart. This is what being holy truly means. May you truly be holy as the Father is holy, completely at peace with yourself and the world.
Russell has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft