This weekend, I treated myself to what has recently become a rare occurrence.
I went to church.
Instead of going to “my” church, I challenged myself – and my daughter – to try a new church. A new denomination. A new message. A new feel.
See, as a Catholic, it has proven difficult over the years to find a congregation and a mass that I can actually learn something from. Whether is was the disruption of crying children, or the struggle to understand the sermon presented by a priest who’s second language is English, it seemed like more often than not, over the years, I left church dissatisfied and still hungering for more.
Over the years, I have filled that void with bible study – a practice somewhat frowned upon by the Catholic church – both group and online, and volunteering.
But I still hunger, and I still thirst.
My daughter and I landed in a congregations close to us called the Austin Christian Fellowship. From the start, I expected smiles and warmth, little pomp and circumstance, no Eucharist, and much music. I hoped that in there would be a lesson or a sermon of some sort.
I was not disappointed, on any level, beginning with the music, and then the free Bibles.
The sermon – is that what it is called in a Christian fellowship congregation? – was centered on the Gospel of Mark. Chapter 12 to be exact.
“Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied: “This is the first: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! Therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your soul, will all your mind, and with all you strength.’
This is the second, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
As I listened to the sermon, I couldn’t stop myself from focusing on the Second Commandment. Jesus didn’t say that you shall love your neighbor. He said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Wow – illumination.
A rush of memories welled up and overtook me.
- Memories of the people in my life who I couldn’t understand and turned away from, questioning and blaming myself every step of the way. Sometimes I sauntered back to them on their terms, sacrificing a part of me; sometimes I didn’t.
- More memories of those who had turned away from me, claiming that I was not what I said I was or that it was them, not me. Still blamed myself, but I have learned to give people space when they ask for it.
- Memories of raising my children, especially during the rocky times when they didn’t understand my endless love for them, nor me their transitioning, growing, and deepening love for me.
Jesus said it. No reason to think about it. We can only love each other as much as we love ourselves. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love others. If you don’t love yourself at certain levels, you can’t love others at those levels. If you have grown up with discord, mistrust, and anger, and you haven’t reconciled those and don’t love who you are, you can’t love others and will only impart those same dysfunctional qualities.
For those of us who have achieved higher levels of love, embrace your ability to engage in love at those higher levels. But, when you engage with those who may be at a different level, love them at their level and don’t expect them to come to your level. They can’t, at least not now. Chances are very good that they are loving you the only way they know how. Make that good enough.
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