Signposts: Daily Devotions

Saturday, September 13

Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
—Matthew 22:39

Here’s one of the most quoted and probably most misunderstood things Jesus ever said. I have always thought the emphasis is on neighbor. But is it? Obviously, there are two parts to this equation: self and other.

Not too many years ago, I learned a startling thing: I am not needed by all that many people, and when I say no to something I am asked to do, it doesn’t devastate the person asking me. That knowledge has made a huge difference in my life; I wish I had known it sooner. If I had, I would have realized that I wasn’t doing anyone much good when I did things when I was over-committed, exhausted, and depleted.

Recently at a retreat center, I asked one of the spiritual directors how to say no without over-explaining myself.  “Oh,” she said,  “ just take a deep breath and say, ‘I am sorry, it’s just impossible.’”  I have taken her advice, used her words, and am amazed at how much better I am able to love my neighbor— and myself.

Sister Joan Chittister puts it this way:

Self-sacrifice is meant to be a discipline that requires us to become our best selves. It is not meant to be an exercise in masochism. To sacrifice the self is only holy when I become more for doing it. More of a fully developed human being, more of a committed professional, more of the kind of husband or wife I want to be. To “sacrifice” the self at the expense of those things is to live half-fulfilled and resentful.”

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor; Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection. Amen. [Collect for Proper 9, Book of Common Prayer]

The Signposts for September are written by Margaret Jones and originally appeared on explorefaith in 2005.