When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." – Matthew 22:34-40
“In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.”
We’ve heard this so many times, we could probably take over for the flight attendant by memory. And we know you’re supposed to secure your mask on first and then assist the other person, but frankly, I don’t think any of us would actually do it. That’s why they have to say it in the first place! If your child is sitting next to you, my gut says you’re putting their mask on first. That’s what love does. But the logical people know that unless you take care of yourself first, you’re both dead.
Our Christian faith is no different. When we try to pour out from an empty cup, we hit rock bottom. A single drop plops out and the person stares at us in disbelief that we have nothing else to give. How many of us find ourselves in that situation? Caring for our elderly parents, trying to smile at our customers, mustering every ounce of patience we have for our students or family members… It happens. We’re pouring from an empty cup. We’re trying to put the oxygen mask on them without putting ours on first. We’re loving our neighbors, but not as we love ourselves.
Honestly, sometimes I get tired of hearing people say, “Remember God says to love your neighbor AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF,” as if they are telling me, “It’s okay! You can be selfish! Go shopping, spend some money on new clothes, sit on the couch and watch tv, you deserve it!” While I know their intention and hearts are in the right place, sometimes it’s easy for us to misconstrue the message. I don’t believe Jesus said this commandment to give us an excuse to be selfish, materialistic, or lazy.
So how do we find the correct balance of self-care and love of others? We model ourselves after Jesus and follow His way. Jesus did put his oxygen mask on first. But he didn’t do it in the ways we often try. He didn’t go on a shopping spree, but he did wake up early to spend time praying in the wilderness alone. He didn’t binge watch Netflix all night, but he did spend time with his friends, his community, his loved ones. He fed his soul so that he could pour from an overflowing cup. He learned to love God first, knowing that if that commandment was followed, the other one would follow easily.
Jesus asks us to love God with our heart, our soul, and our mind. When is the last time you let your heart fall in love with God while watching a sunset, sitting at the top of a mountain after a hike, or listening to worship songs on your car ride to work? Jesus may not have had worship songs to listen to on his donkey ride in Jerusalem, but he certainly spent ample time in prayer in nature. When is the last time you let your soul quietly love God by spending time in silence? Thomas Moore says it well, “If we do not tend the soul consciously and artfully, then its issues remain largely unconscious, uncultivated, and therefore often problematic.” Or allow Robert Sardello to say it in another way, “Without Silence, we are lost and cannot get still enough to find our way back.” When is the last time you’ve allowed your mind to fall in love with God? What book are you reading now? Could you spend five minutes before bed reading the Bible, a book on the Saints, or a Christian theological or “self-help” book? Our minds are itching to learn more about our faith. I can often trace my moments of optimal spiritual health to a good book I was reading at the time. They have the ability to jump-start a dead battery.
Jesus’ first commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. I believe that if we follow Jesus’ example of filling our cups first, placing our oxygen masks on first by spending time loving God, we are actually loving ourselves in the healthiest way possible. And only when we love ourselves in a healthy way, can we then love our neighbors. This week my challenge to you is to fill up your cup, reach for the oxygen mask. God is waiting to supply your every need. (Phil. 4:19) And then, pour. Pour generously. Pour every drip of that cup out to those around you. When you’re empty, head on back. God will fill you back up again.