Living with Myself
Over the centuries much ink has been spent by spiritual writers on the question ‘what is my relationship with my self? The summary of the Law includes the command ‘love thy neighbour as you love yourself.’ Do we recognise our self in order to love it and therefore fulfil the commandment? It is quite usual for a person to describe their state of mind and heart in terms of relationship with the Self. ‘I hate myself’ one may say in penitence; ‘I forgot myself,’ says another describing a lack of self -control. Recently someone, under a great deal of strain in their family life said to me ‘I have lost myself.’ For her this was entirely negative. Her pattern of life, including her spiritual life, had been completely overridden by the needs of her family going through an extended crisis. Her own pattern of life with its attendance at church, her pattern of prayer, her reading and her rest and recreation had completely disappeared. In this sense her life was unrecognisable compared to its usual shape and rhythm. She had ‘lost herself.’ My question to her was ‘what have you found in losing yourself?’ This question took some time to receive and respond to. But there are certainly things that she had found. She had found a deeper understanding of God’s grace – the love of God actively seeking and supporting her in this time of trial. She had a new understanding of God as a God of hope and that the first description of His love is that it is ‘patient and kind.’ The power and energy of Holy Communion had become literally vital to her. She had found new things to be thankful for in her daily life. She also had a renewed love for her family. As our conversation drew to its close she came to see that she was not a lost self but she was a ‘self’ that found itself in a new relationship to Jesus, and in that relationship a new relationship with both creation and those she was given to love and serve.
In conclusion we spent some time reflecting on some other sayings of Jesus including: ‘ the one who seeks to save his life will lose but the one who loses his life my sake will find it.’
How different this view of the Self is to so much of contemporary understanding of relationship and the nature of love. ‘I owe it to my self’ or ‘you owe it your self’ are profoundly anti-Christian sentiments. The love of self is not about the nurture or self –image; it is a call for the Self to remade in the image of God, after the pattern of Jesus. The Greater Love is the laying down of life, it is spending our selves until we are spent and spending ourselves again. This is the way to true freedom of self that is found in the service of him who ‘emptied himself and took the form of a slave.’
Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House