Matthew 19:19 tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Yet this can be a difficult thing to do. God's Word puts great emphasis on us loving, supporting and demonstrating care to others. This is complicated at best when we have been raised in an individualistic society.
â€œThe commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the lawâ€ (Romans 13:9 & 10).
In this passage, Paul is talking about how our love for our neighbor should be the foundation for all our other social responsibilities. It is also talking about how our neighbor is anyone who may be in need, not necessarily the person who lives next door to us. When Paul discusses the fact that we are to love as we love ourselves, he is not commanding us to love ourselves â€” he is simply stating that humans naturally do this.
Unfortunately, the United States is recognized by other countries as being individualistic. And we are extremely fast-paced on a whole. The other day I was sitting on my front porch eating a homemade dessert. My friend sat with me commenting about how it felt reminiscent of the calmness of Alabama. Neighbors used to stop by and talk to one another. Why must we move so rapidly here in Los Angeles that we miss out on simple pleasures and simple needs?
I remember one day when I was feeling particularly low. I received a text message from a longtime friend â€” a friend I had supported extensively through a difficult time in her life. She text messaged me pleasantries, and I was vulnerable, and told her I was not doing well. She texted me back a short, â€œSorry you are not good, I can't talk now, maybe tonight.â€
Now I did not even want to talk, as I was focusing on my children at the time. However, this shortness could have hurt me if I focused on it. I work in a profession where I give out to others: as a pastor, a psychotherapist and even as a mother and a friend. Still, there are times when I myself could use some love and support. There have also been times when I have been so busy with too much on my own plate that I am too depleted to give outside of my family and work. In both cases, this is where something needs to give.
Now I know I am loved by many friends, but I can feel the effects of our self-centered society. There are definitely times when we do need to pull into our families and not help outsiders â€” like when we are going through a crisis or our family needs extra attention â€” this is ethical. But when we are able, we should extend a hand to those in need, physically and emotionally.
I think we have been raised to be autonomous and egocentric in America in many ways. As Christians, we can live differently and teach our children that others have value, just not to the detriment of our family. But if our families are always busy, our schedules constantly so full that we have no energy for others, can this honestly be God's will?
I am finishing an extremely demanding season in my own life. With the close of it, I have taken great pains to change the way my family lives, to spend good, quality time together, make eye contact, and love, embrace and listen. I am planning on changing my lifestyle even more after I complete a goal I have been working on. With this, I say people matter. Their pains matter, their successes matter. They have value and should be celebrated. Let us remember to embrace and love those who have need â€” our neighbors.
?THE REV. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN can be reached by e-mail at holyhouse9@ gmail.com or by mail at Holy House Ministries c/o the Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian, La Vie Counseling Center, 650 Sierra Madre Villa, Suite 110, Pasadena, CA 91107.