If only all the world in all of history could have followed that most important, simplest—yet clearly, most difficult—of commands: Love your neighbor. What sorrow and anguish could have been avoided!
While this sweeping thought is puzzling, taken on a small scale in our own lives, this little phrase can have a major influence on our spiritual paths and on those around us.
When asked what the most important commandment is, Jesus said that first we love God (“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind”). But then, Christ emphasizes as equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” To understand how best to love others, we must first understand fundamentally how to love well. God shows us that in countless ways throughout the life of Jesus, and in our lives every day, with mercy, joy, family, nature, and so much more. Our awareness of loving as God does enables our fulfillment of all of His commands.
Taking that a step further, we have to apply that love to ourselves. Self-love may have “me time” clichés in popular culture, but on our spiritual path it means honoring ourselves as temples of the Holy Spirit, as God’s own. It’s in our nature to tend to be more self-critical than to be self-loving. Real self-love is rooted not just in feeling good about who you are but also in taking every action possible to protect our well-being so that we can truly be well in body, mind, and spirit. We honor and protect human life first and foremost from within.
"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another."
(1 John 4:11)
The tall order to love others as ourselves can be made easier by breaking it down into the small but meaningful acts of love we can mindfully practice every day.
First, generosity—both of spirit and of material gifts. The best we can give of ourselves is free: time, talents, kindness, patience, compassion, listening, sharing. Generosity of spirit helps us love our neighbor also by keeping us from looking down on others, finding fault.
It seems obvious, but kindness, simple acts of hold-the-door-kindness, puts a loving spirit into the world. Even simpler, yet not always forthcoming, is a smile. Check our resting faces; are we projecting joy? That small moment where we think of loving others with a smile can alter hearts.
Compassion, prayers, good cheer, a listening ear, withholding criticism—these practices and more are a part of how we love our neighbor, the others in our lives who we know and don’t know but can affect so positively, in Christ, when we think of and act for them.