Love Our Neighbor…As Ourselves?
I think I finally decided yesterday, since it was Valentine’s Day, it might be time to put away my nativity set. Someone mentioned to me recently that Ash Wednesday is two weeks from today which kicks off the season of Lent. So yes, I suppose it’s time to put away the nativity set celebrating baby Jesus. BTW, I did not knock over the animals myself. One of the entertaining reasons for leaving the nativity on the table is that on a fairly regular basis, I come home, walk past the table on which it sits, and various parts will have been knocked over, pushed outside the barn, a time or two one of the lambs has been on the floor.
Bud isn’t really agile enough to leap onto a four-foot-high table, so I’m guessing Ringo and/or Oscar have been the creative culprits. Not to assign motivation, but there is no cat that came with the nativity set, nor have I experienced a cat at the nativity in nearly any depiction of the scene. Clearly that’s just wrong. Anyone who has ever been in a barn, most especially if there’s cattle, knows there are barn cats. They keep the mouse population at a realistic level, and if there’s a dairy component, the cats usually get a few sips here and there. So not having cats in a Nativity scene is a glaring omission for Ringo and Oscar.
It’s difficult to feel forgotten, or not seen, right? Maybe a big leap from cats not being in the nativity so they’re knocking around the camels, lambs, and cows, but maybe the point is still true. It’s difficult not to feel seen, to be recognized, to simply have our existence acknowledged. In fact, perhaps we expend no small amount of effort in our lives checking, searching, feeling a bit insecure about, and wondering whether or not we are important and seen by those we respect, admire, and with whom we want to feel and be important enough to be remembered.
Psychologists will tell us that if a child is not given regular attention as an infant, i.e., held, spoken to, along with being fed and cared for, they will not thrive and may not even survive. They also have discovered that if a toddler up to the age of two or a bit older is not acknowledged with their name and even a minimal amount of singular attention, they will not believe they actually exist. So for us to understand we exist, let alone are in any way important, simply for us to believe we exist from the beginning of our lives, we need to be acknowledged, recognized, given attention, be touched physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I’m thinking maybe that truth doesn’t have a shelf life, a max age, a finish line after which we don’t need it anymore. Our need to be seen and acknowledged doesn’t really stop by age two, right? Or maybe even by age 18, or 33, or 55 *snort*, or 62, or 80, or even 100. What does that mean for us as people claiming faith as the foundation of our human being-ness?
Maybe the bottom line for all we do as a faith community is about finding ways to love and acknowledge all God’s children around us. We only have the strength to do that if we first believe we are valuable and beloved children of God ourselves. Yes, it does start with us, as odd and paradoxical as that may sound. To love others, we first have to find healthy ways to love and accept ourselves. That whole love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor AS YOURSELF! How do we acknowledge the importance and significance of our own existence? How are we willing to “see” ourselves – as beautiful and beloved brothers and sisters and children of God? Not that we all don’t have places we need and are challenged to grow, but how much easier might that be if we encouraged ourselves from a place of acceptance rather than criticizing ourselves from a place of judgment? Does it really make reasonable or common sense to expect our particular mode of negative and internal “brow-beating” to motivate us to get better or change?
I always know I’m not in the best or most spiritually healthy place when I refer to myself internally or externally in the third person. I don’t know if you do this, but… I’ll forget something or make a wrong turn on my way someplace and hear/say, “Nanette, what are you thinking? Now you’re going to be late!” Or, “Nanette, get your head in the game!” Or, “Nanette, could you simply focus for one minute?!?” I’m guessing I might not be the only one who goes through those times. And you know what? While I’m so busy being frustrated with my imperfections, you know who I’m not seeing? What I’m not doing? I’m not acknowledging the value and presence and delightfulness of those around me and the dynamic of joy we have when we, for a few moments, enjoy being in connection with another without worrying about our own imperfections.
Ringo and Oscar don’t seem to have problems letting it be known how important they are – in a nativity set, in who needs to be fed first, when they prefer attention for themselves by spreading out on my keyboard, the paper, the dashboard of my car, or wherever else I might be trying to focus my attention. Maybe that’s okay some of the time – you know, to have the strength and assurance to say to someone for whom we care – “hey, pay attention to me for a little bit, I’m more entertaining than that screen!”
So the nativity set has been put away for another 9 months or so. I’ve set a few candles and holders in their place – I have a feeling they might get moved around a bit as well. For Ringo and Oscar, the only good shelf is a bare shelf. They might have a point; it’s certainly easier to dust that way…like I do that on a regular basis. *snort*
Maybe enjoy one more glimpse of baby Jesus time before moving toward walking with Jesus toward the cross time with the music video below. AND… I will SEE YOU as we enter Lent together!