I hear many sermons regarding giving and caring for others. This is a huge part of our spiritual journey. But not too often do I hear that we should love ourselves. We can’t forgive if we don’t love ourselves. Even saying those words can make some of us extremely uncomfortable. After all, isn’t loving ourselves being boastful and being focused only on ourselves and not on Jesus?
Spiritually loving ourselves is far from that interpretation. Loving ourselves spiritually means knowing our true self, knowing we were created with love. I can imagine Jesus creating each part of us with care, knowing we are sacred. Each part of our being was loved into birth. Yes, many of us have disabilities, but somehow those disabilities also show the love of Jesus.
I have worked many years with people who have severe disabilities–severe retardation, older adults in nursing homes, developmentally disabled adults, and severely mentally ill adults. I have learned more from working with them and being with them than any book can teach me. One of my experiences was working at a summer camp.
I spent a summer in New Mexico doing volunteer work at various places. I assisted with religious education, worked at a food bank and helped severely disabled children. A religious order managed the volunteer program and, during those three months, I lived in their convent. We had many different experiences while serving with them. We also participated in the prayers of the sisters, which helped grow my faith.
I received an assignment offer to become a counselor in a camp for adults with developmental disabilities. I loved music and prayer and I had prior experience in working with developmentally disabled people. So, this opportunity excited me. Still, I felt a bit anxious, because I would be a stranger to them, and some find this unsettling. But, I went anyway.
When I arrived at the camp, I attended a meeting with all the campers and other counselors. I assumed I would be with one of the counselors and assist wherever I could. They assigned me the task of driving three campers to the site. I had no idea how to get there, I would be driving a car which I had never driven before, and I had never met the campers! But this was my duty.
I found out who my passengers were and which car I would be using. The head of the camp said I could follow him. I started the car without issue, but then the windshield wipers started swishing. I tried every button available but could not turn them off! I tried to drive and stay close to my leader, while still searching for the wiper button. Stress filled me. Could I really do this? What had I gotten myself into? And where in the world was that stupid wiper button?
As I continued to follow the camp leader, I heard soft giggles from the campers in my car. They did their best to stifle themselves, knowing I already felt stressed. In a soft, helpful voice, Julie finally said, “I think your windshield wipers are on.” Her sincerity was touching but hilarious. I laughed out loud. Soon, we were all laughing. There I sat, driving a van on a sunny day with windshield wipers swiping at full speed.
As it turned out, I had a wonderful time. The campers were enthusiastic and I slept in the same cabin with them. Their incredible faith proved simple and honest, with such reverence for Jesus and joy for the life and creation He has given us. I felt exhausted
by week’s end and slept for two days, afterward. However, the experience was something I’m glad I didn’t miss. By the way, eventually I turned off the wipers!
As I look back, I wonder how I accomplished as much as I did while attending the camp. Of course, I was much younger, but also anxious and fearful, yet I had a strong desire to follow Jesus'”no matter where He led me. I felt stressed and worried when I pulled out in that van. I certainly couldn’t see any humor in the situation. All I could think about was what else could go wrong. Yet, Julie had the wisdom and faith to tell me in such a gentle way that my wipers were going, which provided comic relief to my tension and allowed me to see the humor of the situation. Only when I laughed at myself could the campers and I could relax and enjoy the experience.
Most people would have tried to help find the right button, or at least remained quiet in fear that I’d snap at them in my frustration. Julie, however, knew just what to do. She brought humor to the situation when I could not. I learned a lot from Julie that day. Maybe we all can.
I guess you can see how they taught me much that day. The sacredness of Jesus was in them just as it is within us. To each of us he has given gifts. Knowing we are sacred is crucial to loving ourselves, but there is also a much harder part.
Looking at our weaknesses is also essential to loving ourselves and others. How can this be? Once we reflect on our “not so strong points,” we are able to be more understanding of others. We may notice that, at times, we want to feel important and take control of people. That is human and I think we all do this at various times. But, when we see it in others, we might be critical of them unless we have reflected on our own weakness and realize, oh yes, I do the same thing. How can we be judgmental of others when we have that same challenge?
Also, when we look honestly yet with love at ourselves, we realize how much we need to come to Jesus for forgiveness. We quickly realize we can’t follow him without prayer and his wisdom and care. It all comes down to being honest, forgiving ourselves, asking Jesus for forgiveness, and forgiving others.