“Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all you mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these”
Gospel of Mark 12:29-31, NRSV
This is possibly my favorite passage in the Bible. I love it because it sums the whole of the Christian mission into a few succinct lines that speak to the heart. The first passage is pretty straight forward: love God with every fiber of your physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual self. God is the one through whom all things happen. I don’t mean this in a dualistic sort of way, where God is responsible for only the “good” things, thus leaving the rest to whichever name for evil you want to conjure. I mean all things. Of course, “all things” means something different to a cynic than it does to an optimist. That’s not to sat that those are the only two kinds of people; those are just two examples.
I’m learning to be an optimist. Since I started walking deeper into faith a few years ago, I find it difficult for me to justify my cynicism. Each day I wake up, and notice that the sky is a different shade of blue or grey than it was the previous day, or that the leaves grow slightly more yellow as the season progresses. These things are beautiful, and the plight of the world cannot take away from me the natural beauty of it. That said, I’m still learning and I have hard days too.
For me, the meat of this passage rests in the simplicity of “love your neighbor as yourself.” I love this because it’s so simple, and often repeated, but one of the hardest things in the world to do: Love your neighbor as yourself. This command is two-fold. Love your neighbor and love yourself. Why? Because both you and your neighbor are worthy of the love of God. Period.
I’m learning to be an optimist by learning to love myself through the love of God. Tonight, I tapped into the deepest places in my muscle memory where I store some of my worst memories. As I sat holding my shoulders and crying the hardest I ever may have in my life, the things that ran through my head were the times in my life when I thought that God had abandoned me. I remembered “good friends” in high school telling me that I couldn’t be a Christian unless I turned my back on myself. Flashes of people telling me that they worried for my soul because I didn’t know the grace of God even though I was sure in my heart of hearts that God was rooting for me. In those days, I was depressed, suicidal, and lonely. These were themes that would repeat themselves up until I decided to medically transition (not to say that medical transition is for everyone who is trans* identified, just my experience).
These days, the muscles in my shoulders are tight from carrying all the weight of those years. Tonight, I imagined all of it melting away and coming out of me as I held my hands to my shoulder. It did in the form of tears. They were tears of hurt, yes, but past hurts that needed to be washed away in a sea of healing. I am trying to heal myself. I think it is working. Since I’ve relocated, I’ve been able to feel in my body where anxiety happens. I am cognizant of my triggers and actively working through them in all the manifestations of my spirit. I’m happy. Adjustment is hard. It always has been for me, but I know that the difficulty will make me stronger. So now, I grow into the happy person that I’ve always wanted to be. I can safely say that I love myself in that I am committed to keeping myself healthy so that I can be the best me possible. Loving God has helped me to love myself. Each day that I love myself a little more, I love God that much more. It’s a cyclical relationship in which I am happy to take part. Love is a journey. I’m in it, going through it, fighting for it, and, often fighting with it. Above all, I’m intentional about it. I can’t go in to it hoping that I will maybe change someday. I work for it so that I change every day.
Each day, I get a little stronger. Each day, I get a little more me. It’s–seriously–the best feeling in the world.