In Episode 8 of Spike Lee’s remake of She’s Gotta Have it, main character, Nola Darling played by DeWanda Wise immerses herself on a journey of self-reflection and discovery. In the process, Nola learns to define herself for herself and creates an artistic piece that declares:
“If I didn’t define myself for myself I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
This statement from Nola’s journey resonates with my journey.
I have always struggled with self-acceptance. I have been held captive by the affirmations and needs of others. I have used other people’s fantasies of me to define me, my expectations, and my dreams.
In my current vocation as a pastor, my need for affirmation has been passively fed, when my parishioners would inform me, “good sermon pastor.” These words from my parishioners and colleagues offered me instant gratification that would satisfy me and fulfill my desperate need for definition and worth, but something changed.
After my second year of being the first young womyn of color as a lead pastor at the church, I was exhausted by always having to prove myself in an arena that wasn’t made for me. Because of who I was, how I looked and preached I was always considered an outlier, and I grew tired of having this need of affirmation in a space that wasn’t designed to value or care for me.
I came to a point in my life and ministry where I realized I wanted to be content with being me and only me, and with this new revelation, I began my journey of self-reflection and discovery.
This is a journey that I know I am not on alone, but many of us are walking this path.
I also believe that God through God’s son Jesus Christ addresses this part of the journey by teaching us the greatest commandments in Matthew 22:37-39.
Christ says to Pharisees “Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is nearly as important, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This commandment is an ancient Hebrew law known as the Shema, but in Christ’s ministry, Christ includes another piece to this sacred law saying
“Love your neighbor as yourself”.
I used to hear these words from Jesus as a call to action. This law is the very reason why I serve the poor and care for the marginalized, but as I entered into a season of self-reflection and discovery and began learning to accept and love myself, I realized that these words were for me. I realized that Christ’s words were less about welcoming others and were more about welcoming and accepting myself.
This statement was directed to the affirmation hungry Pharisees who depended on the opinions of people to justify their fulfillment of the law. As church leaders, we sometimes convince ourselves that if the people are doing good, then we must be alright with God, but that s not the case. The joy of the people does not equate to the joy found in self-love or the love of God. In this statement, Christ was awakening the Pharisees to understand that their love for God and self is not based on other people, instead of their love, and devotion begins within them.
The commandment to Love your neighbor as yourself, forces the Pharisees, and us, to ask, How do we love ourselves? Do we love ourselves well enough to know how to love our neighbors? Some of us may say of course I love me, but do you love yourself enough to take the time to breathe before jumping on to the next thing? Do you take the time to give yourself a break and not feel guilty after working an 8-12 hour workday? Do you love yourself?
In a session with my counselor, my counselor asked me, “Laura when was the last time you read scripture for you? Not for a sermon to address someone else’s need? But when was the last time you read the word of God for you?” Christ’s words and my counselor’s question resonate, and they both ask: Beloved when was the last time this law, this religion, your faith, that you claim to know so well when was the last time you embraced this for your own and not to order the life of the community?
Meditation Instructor Faith Hunter shares,
“Before we can step into the world to give and love others it is important for us to love ourselves.”
As Pastors, Seminarians, Poets, Women of Color, people of God, may we take the time to define ourselves for ourselves.True love isn’t found on Valentine’s day.
True Love begins with you.
This Valentine’s day and every day may we take the time to love ourselves, so that we may love our neighbors.
~Pastor Laura Kigweba James