“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus taught (Mark 12:31), implying a direct link between one and the other. Loving our neighbor is clearly an essential to Christian faith; I think we all get that one. But the qualifier “as yourself” is lost upon most people; it confounded me for years. It almost sounds too pop psychology, something you’d see on the cover of the magazines at the checkout stand, right next to the articles on “brain superfoods” and “how to talk to your pet.” Yet Jesus is pretty matter-of-fact about the comparison: Treat people like you treat yourself. Which I think has one of his brilliant hidden exposés in it, because we quickly realize if we treated our neighbor the way we typically treat ourselves, we wouldn’t be great neighbors. Jesus thus drives home healthy self-care as tied to loving others. If that still sounds like something from Oprah, and not the New Testament, consider this: Love your neighbor as yourself is “a horrible command,” C. S. Lewis pointed out, “if the self were simply to be hated.”
The difficult truth we don’t want to admit is this: the way you treat your own heart is the way you’ll end up treating everyone else’s.
Most of the time we are completely unaware of how we treat our own heart. Our “way” with ourselves is simply our norm, and we’ve been at it so long we don’t notice, in the same way we don’t notice how much we bite our nails or finish our spouse’s sentences for them. The father who doesn’t allow himself his own emotions communicates so much to his children by that practice alone, and he further reinforces the lesson when he is visibly awkward and uncomfortable with the emotions of his child. He tries to hurry them through a “comforting” process: “I’m sorry sweetheart. You’ll feel better tomorrow.” Or, “How about we get some ice cream?” He is thereby trying to rush the child through their emotions to a place of resolution, teaching them to be as abrupt with their own heart as he is with his.
So the fact remains: the way you treat your heart is the way you’ll end up treating everyone else’s.
None of this is meant to be shaming—not one bit. It’s immensely hopeful! For one thing, you’ve picked up this book and progressed this far—that means you’re seeking more of God, and learning to care for your soul (the vessel he fills). This right here is self-kindness and it will spill over into kindness for those around you.