On Ash Wednesday, we remember how Jesus loved sacrificially. Jesus loved God, his neighbors, and even his enemies. His love for us has transformed the world.
As powerful as these forms of love are, though, there is another kind of love Jesus practiced that is even more powerful. And more rare. This love is the 5th quantum leap of faith Jesus invites us to make. All other attempts at love are diminished without this particular expression of love.
It’s tucked into Jesus’ most famous teaching on love: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.
Most of us—even the highly accomplished among us—can’t help but compare ourselves to others or put ourselves down. We make a national pastime of beating ourselves up. We can’t help it. It seems to be part of the human condition.
Each one of us has an internal voice that judges, assesses, and evaluates. It’s bad enough when we turn that voice on others: “Boy, they’re never going to make it; those poor souls, what’s wrong with them? Why does he always have to look so ridiculous? Why does she DO that? I’m glad I don’t look like that, act like that, talk like that, eat like that, or live like that.”
But the internal voice is downright abusive when we turn it on ourselves: “Geez, you really look fat in those jeans. Look how old you are getting. Rebekah, why did you say that out loud? Now everyone is going to think you are stupid. I’m not a very good friend. Why can’t you be more like him?” And on and on and on. We say the sort of thing to ourselves we would never allow others to say to us.
Can you imagine Jesus having that sort of internal dialogue?
Can you imagine Jesus saying to himself: “Geez, what a jerk I am. I know Peter would have stayed on top of the water, if I had just been more caring or instructive or given him more faith. What’s wrong with me? I know the disciples could’ve cast out the demons on the first try; I am a terrible teacher. If only I was a better lover of God they wouldn’t be marching me off to the cross right now.” Me neither.
“But Jesus was God,” you protest, “Of course he didn’t put himself down.” Yes, Jesus was fully divine. But he was also fully human. That means he must have had that internal voice too.
I wonder if that’s what the story of the temptation in the wilderness is all about. The voice of the tempter tries to lure Jesus into breaking his sacred connection with God. Jesus resists at every turn, instead, elevating God’s word and voice above the destructive one at hand.
Deep down inside, Jesus knew he was one with God, one with the Spirit, and one with all Creation. That knowledge allowed him to transcend the constant negativity that so many of us are saddled with.
Jesus wouldn’t be able to love God or us very well if he was constantly putting himself down. True love of others doesn’t flow well from self-denigration. True love of God is almost impossible from a foundation of self-hate. I believe Jesus was able to love us fully because he didn’t waste any time hating himself or putting himself down. Nor did he blame God for the way things were going in his life.
Do you want to love like Jesus? Then it’s time to take the last quantum leap of faith. To love like Jesus means to love ourselves, and our neighbors, and God. No one of the three kinds of love can be left out.
So how do we love ourselves? First, notice negative self-talk when it begins. Don’t let it go unchallenged. Second, surrender it to God. Only a spiritual connection can adequately counteract that voice. Third, laugh at it. Seriousness intensifies the voice. Taking it lightly is essential to disarming it.
Though we may never be able to turn off the judging, assessing and evaluating completely, with conscious practice, we can turn the volume of negativity way, way down. It’s all about practicing grace with ourselves, and others.
When we practice self-hate, self-neglect, self-abasement, or self-denigration, we harm and damage ourselves. When we practice self-love, we increase our ability to love others. On this Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day it’s clear that more love—not more negativity—is what’s needed.
Ready, set, leap!