34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
When I first started looking at this Gospel passage for our blog, I began to feel a bit daunted, as there is so much that Jesus is teaching us here; but this should not really be surprising as this passage really sums up Jesus’ whole ministry!
So let’s break it down: First Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind! This part should be easy, as we are people of faith…Christians, immersed in grace, given as a free gift of God’s love through Christ. However, loving God like this is often more easily said than done, as there are times when we may find ourselves disagreeing with how God is handling things, and becoming unhappy with the way our lives are going.
This can be especially true for us as single parents, as we can sometimes struggle with raising our children, from having to change some of our earlier hopes and dreams in exchange for the well-being of our children, to feeling as if we never have time for ourselves, and the stress we feel as we slowly discover that there is much in their lives that we have no control over. As we watch our children make the same mistakes we did, and ignore our advice (although we have earned our wisdom on ‘anvils of experience) we can become frustrated…but then this is normal, and so is becoming upset with God for not doing things ‘our’ way.
The good news is that God has a thick skin, and can take our resentments, just as we can take the resentment sometimes shown to us by our children, without our love for them faltering, and without doubting their love for us. In short, no matter what our complaint, we can never lose the love of God, as God knows that our love endures, and that it is very human for us to complain when things are not going our way. As followers of Christ, we are forgiven for our questions and doubts, and given the faith to trust that God is always watching over us.
Now, to the part about ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Sometimes loving our neighbors can be tough…especially when they complain about our noisy kids, or dogs, or when their pets and kids cause noise, or when they have loud parties, get upset over parking issues, property lines, snow or leaf removal, etc. There are times when the best I could do was to simply be civil with my neighbors, as a way of keeping the peace; and there were times when they had to simply tolerate my daughter and I, and the late night fights, visits from the police and the occasional ambulance!
However, loving our neighbors is more complicated than just treating those in our neighborhood decently, as by ‘neighbors’ Jesus means more like everyone else in the world. That can really be hard for us to do, especially when they cut us off in traffic, have 22 items in the 20 items or less check-out line, criticize our children or our parenting, etc.; and of course there are the more serious issues of those who have broken our trust!
Sometimes in order to love, we must first forgive…remembering that forgiveness does not mean that whatever wrong was done is now okay, but that we will move on, and do our best to show compassion and to make amends. Letting go of these resentments can only lighten our burdens, and help us to move forward in our lives, and it can be a powerful example of God’s love in action to our children.
Finally, we come to the really challenging part of the Gospel…not just loving our neighbors but loving them ‘as yourself’! As sometimes we do not always love ourselves all that much!
As single parents, we can often find ourselves being very hard on ourselves, as we do not always have someone to turn to for feedback, and can feel totally responsible for what happens with our children, even if it is beyond our control. For example, I can beat myself up for the troubles my daughter has had with addiction, when it is no more my fault than my own addiction issues were caused by my parents (who hardly ever drank); yet it feels like my fault.
Being hard on ourselves can make it difficult to love our neighbors as ourselves…and not too fair to our neighbors! Instead, to truly follow Jesus’ commandment, we are called to also be good to ourselves, so that we can be more loving (and forgiving) to our children, and to ALL of our neighbors.
In short, when we are feeling negative about ourselves we need to cut ourselves a break, just as we often give our children when they make a mistake, showing them forgiveness and love. Once we are able to lighten up on ourselves and truly treat ourselves with love, we can really follow the call to love our neighbors as ourselves, creating strong relationships of support and faith that can see us through any trial, and help us to not only become better parents, but to replace our fears and worries with hope!
Let us Pray:
God, please help us to put aside all of our resentments…towards you, others, our children, and ourselves! Let us show the same forgiveness that you have shown us through Christ: freely given, unconditional, and compassionate! Help us not to hold onto grudges or resentments, as they can only weigh us down and prevent us from being good parents and good Christians. Thank you Lord for immersing us in your grace, and for calling us together in a spirit of reconciliation to be your children! Together as one, let us spread the good news of your love by acting as the Body of Christ in the World…sharing the light of your grace, and teaching our children to do the same.