Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40).
Eight times the Bible tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves—and in Matthew 23 it is a command. We usually focus on the “love your neighbor” part and benefit from commentaries, essays and entire books offering encouragement and suggestions for how to develop and demonstrate God’s command to love others.
This verse also says to “love…yourself,” and it is this command that prompts our focus in this issue on self-care and mental health. Too often we feel uncomfortable with the idea of loving ourselves. Isn’t loving yourself the same as being narcissistic or egotistical? And what about Jesus’ words in Matt.16:24 that his disciples must deny themselves? How are we to understand this command to love our neighbor as our self?
I think Jesus is connecting the importance of caring for others with the value of caring for ourselves. The relationship we have with others and with ourselves is symbiotic, mutual, interdependent. The life of a disciple involves striking a balance between taking care of others and taking care of myself. When I’m too focused on others and forget about my own wellbeing and happiness, I am not in a healthy place. The reverse is also true. If I am consumed with my own struggles or forge ahead on my own, forgetting that I need God and others, my life will be wobbly. Loving others as myself is not a case of “me first” but “me too.”
For some of us, the coronavirus pandemic is challenging our emotional and mental well-being. The pandemic has also reminded us of the need to look out for others through social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings. Statistics show that even before COVID-19 we faced a global mental health epidemic. Last year the World Health Organization reported that one in four people in the world are affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, and while treatments are available, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help. The statistics for the U.S. are similar.
The articles in this issue address mental health, anxiety, fatigue and decision-making. Several authors speak to the importance of loving ourselves—self-care—so that we can support and care for others.
As you read these essays and contemplate your own balancing act, consider these words from the American poet Maya Angelou: “You have two hands—one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” How is your balance in terms of loving others and caring for yourself?