For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14
It’s a time-worn image for those of us who travel by air: the flight attendant droning on about what to do in case of emergency. Exits are pointed out, flotation devices are identified, and then there’s the explanation about placing the oxygen mask on yourself before you assist those next to you who may need help. The instructions seem backwards; we want to come to the aid of those we love, placing them first in all we do. Many—maybe even most—of us think it is selfish to go about making sure we ourselves are “okay” before we tend to the needs of our children, spouses, aging parents, and others less fortunate.
The Oxygen Mask Principle applies in everyday life, and in fact is quite biblical. Jesus asks us to “Love your neighbors as you love yourselves” (Matthew 22:39). He lists this commandment as second in importance only to the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (v. 37). So how can we do both: keep ourselves well-oxygenated, spiritually speaking, and yet serve others with a heart turned toward our Lord?
The sticking point for many of us is in learning to love ourselves enough to keep our own machinery running smoothly in spite of the chaos around us. When we give in to the boss who demands we answer office email well into the night, or the recovering spouse who has a “slip” and insists we are “overreacting,” or the child who says she’ll surely die without the latest expensive electronic device, we are really telling ourselves our health and well-being doesn’t matter. It is when we realize our value in the eyes of God that we “work our own program,” take care of our own “stuff,” and stand firm in our own convictions. Then, and only then—with God by our side—can we truly begin to interact with God’s other beloved children without sinking into despair ourselves. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means first realizing the priceless gift we have in God’s grace, and carrying our own “lovability” forward to love those around us.
Gracious Lord, teach us that we can only love because You first loved us. Amen