How to love your neighbour

"I'm just so tired," my client sobbed. "I do everything for everybody, my husband, my kids, my single-mom sister, and my aging parents. "When is it ever going to be my turn?"

When I suggested it would be her turn as soon as she chose to take her turn, she responded that she would feel selfish if she tried that. "After all," she sighed, "There are so many needs in my family. And didn't Jesus say to 'love thy neighbour?' He sacrificed everything for us, even His life. Surely I should be doing the same?"

"Well, let's look at that," I responded. "You may recall that what Jesus said was to "love thy neighbour as thyself." She nodded. So far, so good, I thought and continued, "What do you suppose is the most important word in that sentence?"

"Love," she responded, exactly as I expected, exactly as many clients with similar problems before her had done. I put on my most thoughtful face and suggested gently, "Perhaps the most important word in that perfect advice from our Lord is as."

I took her puzzled frown as permission to continue. Not wanting to turn the session into a grammar lesson, I went straight to the heart of the words. "As tells us how we can achieve this task, how this life-counsel that Jesus gave us actually becomes possible for us to follow."

That little word tells us that we are to care for the needs of others in the same way that we care for our own needs. As much as we want good things for ourselves, we are to want them for others. As much as we work to ensure that we have sufficient rest, adequate food, clothing, shelter, and recreation, we are to help ensure these for our neighbours. That is what empathy, a trait that Jesus embodied so well, is all about.

And Jesus also embodied respect for His own needs and healthy self-care when He withdrew, or even snuck away and hid, from the needy crowds in times when He grew weary and needed to replenish his strength.

Jesus took time to rest and commune with His Father, the source of His energy and the heart of His compassion for His neighbour. Like Mary, he occasionally left the work to someone else while He nourished Himself. We, too, have to be careful we don't become the Martha who is so weary and comes to resent the work of caring for others.

As we discussed this more thoroughly and speculated how my client could apply this new way of thinking to her own situation, I watched her gloom lift. She could even chuckle, imagining how certain people would respond initially to her new boundaries.

"The best part," she enthused, "is that now I'll be able to love people more than ever, because I'll always have enough energy for it.

"Perhaps," she decided, "being self-ish, isn't so bad after all, not if it empowers me to love others better."

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Josi Peters is a wife, mother, grandmother, and professional counsellor, working with clients in the Steinbach, Manitoba location of Recovery of Hope Counselling Services.