I Love You Like I Love Myself

Turn to a neighbor, look them in the eye, and say “I love you like I love myself.”

That was my friend Tabatha Jones Jolivet’s instruction to us before she spoke on the second day of Why Christian (#wx2019) last weekend.

I had to force the words out in the direction of my neighbor, who had been awkwardly commenting to me throughout the previous presentation. I didn’t know her. But she had a socially-awkward vibe.

When I had to turn to her and say “I love you like I love myself,” everything in me wanted to hold my tongue. Why would I look this stranger in the eye and make such an audacious claim?!

Why did she have to be my neighbor?? And WHAT is with having us say this to a complete stranger?!

It wasn’t a moment that would have made my seminary professors proud…

**

I have a hard time telling half-truths and white lies. As in, if I don’t think that outfit or haircut looks good on you, and you ask me directly, things are going to get awkward. I’m not bragging about this; on the contrary I’m actually embarrassed about it.

Twenty years ago, a boyfriend-turned-fiancee lied and cheated on me, and in the wake of that trauma, the value I placed on honesty went through the roof. Things became very black and white, true or false. And I couldn’t bring myself to say something untrue, even if it meant the hearer’s feelings could get hurt. What a jerk, right?

I still struggle with this–whether and when to say the socially-appropriate thing out of kindness or respect instead of saying what I actually think.

**

Here’s the thing: saying “I love you like I love myself” to this woman sitting next to me – based on what I claim to believe and how I claim to live – it should have been easy. I’m all about loving our neighbor! That’s one of my favorite things to talk about! I know God wants that for us. There’s no doubt in my mind.

But there in that vast cathedral when I was given this horribly uncomfortable task, even after the words rolled effortlessly off her tongue, I didn’t get half of the words out, chuckling nervously and grateful for the cover of noise echoing throughout the chamber that seemed to disguise my shortcoming.

The painful truth is that I know why it was so hard: I didn’t believe it.

It wasn’t true for me. I didn’t feel love towards her and couldn’t lie about it. If I’m even more honest with myself, I felt mild contempt for her, irritated at how she kept talking when I was trying to participate in worship, and how she wasn’t making much sense anyway.

I didn’t believe it. It wasn’t true for me. I didn’t feel love towards her and couldn’t lie about it. If I’m even more honest with myself, I felt mild contempt for her, irritated at how she kept talking when I was trying listen to the first testimony, and how she wasn’t making much sense anyway.

And yet.

She’s a child of God. Just like I am. No better or worse in God’s eyes. No more or less loved by God.

And I’m called to love her.

I’m embarrassed to even admit this to you. It’s not like she had done something horrible to me or someone I love, or anything else that might qualify her for “enemy” status–you know, the ones that are supposed to be harder to love. She was just a fellow human being, attending the same conference – ironically about why we are still Christians despite everything around us and everything that’s happened in our lives.

And here I was, acting decidedly unChristian in my heart.

**

It’s so easy to talk, write, preach, and sing about loving our neighbors. But actually looking them in the eye and saying “I love you like I love myself” – and meaning it? That, my friend, is where ish gets real and our hearts are tested.

The more I reflect on this, the deeper the gut-check as I realize that this neighbor – this awkward loner – she’s the one Jesus would have been hanging out with. I mean, yeah, Jesus *did* hang out with seminarians and ministers…but mostly so he could keep setting them straight, pointing out the ways in which they were excluding and judging and othering, calling them to the world-changing hospitality and love and grace and mercy and reckless inclusion that God dreams of.

Things were easier with the “love your neighbor as yourself” instruction. The way Tabatha twisted it up into an affirmative “I” statement and told us to direct it at the person seated next to us, that got way too real. My head was yanked out of the theological and philosophical clouds and into confronting the flesh-and-bones-and-breath-and-spirit human person sharing the pew with me. Do I love her like I love myself?

I hope that next time I’m given such an uncomfortable exercise, I’ll be able to speak up without hesitation and pronounce the truth that I do, indeed, love you – my neighbor – as I love myself. The neighbor who talks too much, the one who’s guarded and defensive, the one who refuses to wear deodorant, the one who seems untrustworthy, the one lacking self-awareness, the one who’s completely self-centered, the one whose over-confidence is obviously hiding something, and the one who wears hatred and judgment and condemnation like a 3-piece suit. The more difficult to love, the greater the challenge and opportunity to grow.

This ish is not easy. Like you, I’m a work in progress. And the discipline of sharing (one might even say, confessing) like this – it’s how we grow. What if I asked you to turn to a stranger nearby and say “I love you like I love myself.” Would you do it? Could you say it honestly? Lmk in the comments.

May you walk in love this week, with eyes open to neighbors who need your love and kindness and a heart that is willing to reach out.

How Do You Move On?

Do you struggle with forgiveness? Is there some coldness in your heart, some negativity that rises to the surface whenever a certain person or situation comes to mind?

I’ve been struggling with this lately. I guess it’s been longer than lately, but “lately” is when I’ve admitted to myself that it needs to be addressed.

And I’ve been kicking myself because I should have known better. I do know better.I know that when you refuse to forgive, you’re really only hurting yourself. But knowing it and doing anything about it are two very different things.

There are some people who hurt me deeply, and I haven’t known how to move past that. No, that’s probably not quite true. I haven’t wanted to do the hard work that it would take to move past that.

The older I get, the harder it seems to be to forgive. It’s easier to just move in different circles and let the issue drift into the background. Until, of course, it comes to the foreground when you run into them or someone asks you about the situation.

I was recently talking with a pastor who asked how I had been processing and healing from these things, and I did not have a good answer. I knew there was more work that I needed to do. And that might have been the first time I was honest with myself that I didn’t want to forgive these people.

And then inspiration visited me.

For two months, I’ve been speaking affirmations aloud most mornings (part of my “Miracle Morning”—thanks, Hal Elrod), and there’s a line in there that reads “I refuse to judge others, because I recognize that in their shoes, I might talk and act the same way.” And on that day, it hit me right between the eyes that if I was in their position, I might have done the same things—made the same careless mistakes that resulted in others being deeply wounded.

So I spoke these same affirmations I had been speaking almost daily, and on this particular day, I had a particular person in mind and God’s Spirit dropped a truth bomb on me.

__________ is God’s beloved child.
__________
is just as valued, loved, and wanted by God.
__________ has gifts to bring to the world that only ___________ can bring.

Ouch.

It was truth I couldn’t un-hear.

And just like that, the frost started to thaw. Not all the way–let’s be real here. When the wounds are deep, it takes some time. But I said those things out loud with one person’s name, and it wrecked me. Here I was, othering these people, holding up their “crimes” and saying that’s all there was to them. But the truth is, they, too, are God’s beloved children—dearly loved and wanted and created for a reason.

Baby steps.

No, we haven’t hugged it out. All is not healed. But it’s a start. Even if the relationships are never friendships again, a crack has opened up through which reconciliation can begin to flow.

**

There’s tremendous power in seeing the divine in those around you. I used to think the Christian life had everything to do with being “the hands and feet of Jesus.” But the older I’ve gotten, the more I learn that it’s even more about seeing the face of Jesus in everyone we encounter. It’s about seeing everyone as a beloved child of God. That is way harder and way more character-shaping and revealing than just trying to serve others in Jesus’ name (which, of course, is important too).

So if there’s someone you’ve been thinking about as you’re reading this, I encourage you to speak those words aloud with their name—affirm that they are God’s beloved son or daughter, affirm that God loves them and has gifted them and created them to bring divine love to the world. It might just mess you up enough to start letting a little light in.

It Is What It Is

Did you know there’s a difference between emotions and feelings?

I was reading about it recently. I was also reading about the difference between pain and suffering. The distinction between emotions and feelings is from a secular book on leadership, and the difference between pain and suffering is from a Christian book on spiritual practices.

Interestingly, the two authors are saying similar things. In the first of each of these pairings—the emotions and the pain—these are a bodily experience, typically a reaction to some force acting upon us. They’re not in our control. But what we do with them—that’s in our control.

So when it comes to feeling and suffering—it’s up to us.

When we feel the emotion of sadness, we can own it, deal with it, and release it; or we can ruminate on it, spiraling downward in a vicious cycle.

When we feel pain—whether it’s physical or emotional, we can acknowledge it, learn what it wants to teach us, and move on. Or we can resist it, fight it, wallow and linger in it, turning it into suffering.

**

“It is what it is.”

I’ve despised this throw-away expression for years now. It’s so cliche. It’s just this meaningless thing that people say. Or so I thought…

I’ve also been reading a book on parenting, because: four kids. The author says that when you feel yourself getting angry, anxious, or otherwise upset, one strategy you can use is to repeat this mantra to yourself: “this moment is as it should be.” This is a hard one for me, because in lots of moments, I don’t believe things are as they should be.

But I get it. She’s saying that as long as we’re resisting how things are, our negative emotions will continue to rage. And we’ll be in no position to help make things better.

This is how it is. It is what it is.

That doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. But if we want to move forward, we need to stop resisting reality. Once we accept reality for what it is, then we can start changing things.

And that’s when things get really interesting…

**

So yes, it is what it is. But what will it be? You get to influence that. You get to decide how you will respond to everything the universe sends your way. Will you choose to wallow, ruminate, and suffer? Or will you accept, deal, and move on?

A Letter To Fear

Lately I’ve been dreaming. I’ve been creating and wondering and listening and planning. And I’ve been rumbling with fear.

I’ve been learning from the great Elizabeth Gilbert about personifying, respecting, and appreciating our fear (in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear).

Fear has a purpose: to keep us safe. And without it, we would have been extinct a long time ago. But sometimes—most times—we don’t need to let fear sit in the driver’s seat. Unless we are literally running for our lives, fear doesn’t need to call the shots.

And yet–so often, it does.

So I’ve been listening to fear, hearing its specific concerns so that I can test them and determine how to respond.

Here are some truths I’ve been speaking to my fear that perhaps your fear needs to hear too.


I hear that you’re afraid I will be insignificant.

>>I have a contribution of infinite value that only I can make in the world. No one else will, so it’s my responsibility, gift, and joy to bring it.

I hear that you’re afraid I will be unworthy.

>>I am just as worthy of love and belonging as every other person ever created.

I hear that you’re afraid I will not be good enough.

>>When I give my best, it will always be good enough. Full stop.

I hear that you’re afraid of financial instability.

>>I have never been in want, and I’m not starting today.

I hear that you’re afraid I might find myself without a job.

>>With or without a “job,” I have infinite value and a calling to bring my gifts to the world.


May we honor and respect our fear, but never let it drive the car. As Elizabeth says, we don’t even let it touch the stereo.

May we choose action over stagnancy, and courage over fear.

If you were to have a conversation with your fear, what would it say to you? How would you respond? Spoiler alert: we respond to fear on the daily. Like, a lot. Let’s do it more consciously.

I’d love to hear what your conversation sounds like! Lmk in the comments.

If this was helpful to you, I’d love it if you’d share it! A quick click below on a social channel and 15 seconds of your time will mean the world to me as together we learn to take small steps of courage.

Your Happiness: It’s On You

“You’re responsible for your own happiness.” This mantra, though not new to me, hit me anew when Adriene said it recently during the Dedicate: 30-Days of Yoga series. It struck me that although I knew better, I had been trying to push the responsibility for my happiness somewhere else.

But the thing is, we’re all responsible for our own happiness. No one else is.

Not a job. Not a person. Not a house. Not a location. Not a food or drink or possession. Nothing else can carry that weight because ultimately, it’s up to us to choose happiness.

Dave said something about “choosing to be happy” a couple of years ago when I was struggling through a season of depression, and it stung. On top of how low I felt, I now had to swallow that it was my fault?

NO.

That’s not what he meant, and after a brief exercise in missing the point, I finally got it. It’s not about fault or blame. It’s about accepting responsibility for how and who you will be in the world.

We can’t always choose our circumstances or the things that happen to us, but we can always choose how we will respond.

We say that to our kids all the time, but I had been failing to take my own advice. Sigh.

**

Side Note: Depression is real and some people benefit from therapy and medication. My intent is neither to diagnose nor dismiss. With or without therapy or medication, we can all benefit from taking responsibility for our own happiness in a healthy way. We can practice gratitude on the regular, recognize all that is within our control, and let go of what’s not.

**

Find joy and happiness by cultivating gratitude for where you are, when you are, who you are, and how you are. This doesn’t mean you don’t have hopes and dreams that extend beyond your current time and space—of course you do! Just don’t put your happiness (or contentment, sense of accomplishment, success, etc.) out there in the future and wait for it to arrive. Don’t fall into the deadly trap that begins with “I’ll be happy when…”

I once heard of a person who did this. She was unhappy. Depressed, before that label was so pervasive. She said to herself and her fiancee, “I’m tired of living at home. I’ll be happy when we’re married and living together…” Then once they were married, “I can’t wait for the day when we grow our family. I’ll be happy when we have children.” And then with children, “I’m sick of this little apartment. I’ll be happy when we have a house, a home to call our own.”

It starts out with innocent dreams but turns toxic when happiness gets tangled up in dreams and can’t find its way back to the present. When all we can think about is how happy we’ll be in the future, we’re robbed of the happiness of the present moment.

And all of a sudden, we can’t be happy now. We’re so focused on an imagined happy future that we’re dissatisfied with our present.

Don’t put your happiness in another time or space—you’ll never get there.

Practice gratitude. Daily. For all manner of things, big and small.

Dream big dreams and pursue them with tenacity.

Choose happiness now (and trust that you’ll choose it in the future too).

And if, like me, you seem magnetically drawn to the “I’ll be happy when” trap, catch yourself early and double-down on the gratitude practice. Be present. Don’t make yourself wait to be happy. Choose it today.