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"Many times they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me" (Ps 129:2).
I didn't like John for two reasons. First, he was unethical. He had taken advantage of two people I like. (I could have said cheated because it involved money.) Second, he was what my dad called a blowhard: a lot of loud noise but no substance behind it.
A few months ago John and I were among two dozen teachers at a conference. Although I had no direct dealings with him, I was aware of his presence and realized how much I didn't like him. I began to pray daily for John. I reminded myself that it was the right thing to do.
Each morning I prayed to God to make him an honorable, ethical man. That continued for perhaps a month. One day I realized the obvious: What I disliked in John was what I disliked in myself. I want to be ethical, but I realized that sometimes my motives aren't pure. I do right things for wrong reasons, such as say something kind when I don't feel particularly sympathetic.
The other part of John probably bothered me even more: his loud, empty words. It's not that I'd call my words empty, but sometimes I'm boastful and arrogant. I call attention to myself or more often to my accomplishments.
Again, I prayed for John, but I also prayed for acceptance of the John-part inside of me. That went on for three or four months. And I want to be clear that John isn't the only person on my daily prayer list. I cried out to God for seven or eight people for different reasons, but all of them were spiritually deficient in some way.
Two mornings ago I realized something radically new--at least to me. I don't see myself as particularly insightful and it takes a while for me to grasp the obvious.
As I prayed for John and others, here's the message I grasped. John and all the others are creatures of God. They're loved by God because--okay, just because that's how God set it up. Again, obvious.
As long as I was critical of John, I was also critical of myself. It meant to me that there were still parts of myself that I hadn't accepted: parts of myself that I rejected or didn't like.
That insight led to the next bright light.: As long as I remained critical of others--that is, judgmental or accusing--I was being judgmental about myself. The more I accepted Jonh as lovable, the more I embraced myself.
This isn't to say I ignored his behavior, or that I won't stand up against evil, or that I shrug when anyone does anything wrong. It is to day that I realized this truth: my attitude toward others is an excellent measure of my own self-acceptance. The more self-loving, self-affirming I become, the more I'm able to affirm John and people like him. It also means the more I realize God's magnificent grace toward me.
I still pray for John. But now, instead of complaining because of his lack of ethics, I ask God to help John overcome his problems. Instead of criticizing him for his failures, I can honestly say I want him to be blessed and happy.
I had one further insight on how to look at this. Jesus' words in the New Testament tell us to love others (neighbors) as we love ourselves. The as means on the same level and it also implies loving ourselves first.
For me, that means when I criticize others, I see it as a symptom of my own lack of self-acceptance. The qualities and actions I criticize in others help me to see my own self-love level.
The more self-loving I become, the more I can extend that love to other individuals. "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Did Jesus have to give us the command to love others on the same level we love ourselves? Maybe not, because that's what we do.
For a list of books written by Cecil Murphy or to sign up for his news letter, visit: www.cecilmurphy.com
Published on Monday, October 12, 2009 @ 10:07 PM CDT