This past year I was introduced to a variation on the Ignatian examen. In reflecting on my day, I would ask these questions:
1. How was I able to give and receive love today?
2. How was I not?
3. What is the invitation? What am I being invited to do or to be?
What came to mind most quickly and with the most energy were the ways I was able or not able to give and receive love from myself. Spirit was inviting me to pay attention to how I was treating myself. I did not expect this. So much of my religious upbringing invited me to focus on (and improve) how I treat others. Practice kindness. Serve. “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” with the emphasis on the first part – love thy neighbor. Even today, it seems the assumption is we are already loving ourselves well. The assumption is we can separate how we treat others from how we treat ourselves. We can’t. We are able to love others exactly to the extent we are able to love ourselves.
I am able to accept, honor the needs and desires of, and respect you only to the extent I am able to accept, honor, and respect myself. I am able to serve you without needing you to respond in a certain way only to the extent that I am able to befriend my own imperfections. I am less interested in making comparison or trying to measure up as I discover myself as lovable. As I practice receiving love from myself, I am better able to receive love from God and neighbor. As I practice gracing the wounded places in myself, I am better able to offer grace when my neighbor acts out of their woundedness. How I am in relation to myself shapes how I am in relation to others. I am only ever able to love my neighbor as well as I love myself.