One of the things I’m learning right now is how to more fully embody myself in my lived experience of the world, and especially in relationships.
There’s this weird thing that happened somewhere along the line for me, where instead of being fully present inside myself and having a very solid sense of self in my interactions with the world, I moved outside my body and existed in response to what I believed other people wanted.
It’s hard to describe, but it’s very much like feeling disembodied — of existing outside myself.
And it gets confusing because a lot of how that looks in relationship — of putting other people’s needs first, of letting other people go first — also looks a lot like love. Jesus spoke of serving one another, of washing each other’s feet (John 13:12-17). Paul spoke of esteeming other people better than ourselves and looking out for their interests more than our own (Philippians 2:3-4).
And yet Jesus also said we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). How can we love other people as ourselves if we don’t know how to love ourselves first? And how can we do as Paul said and esteem others better than ourselves or look out for their interests more than our own if we don’t know our own esteem or interests first?
I’ve long maintained that we need to experience and receive love before we can freely and beautifully love others. That’s what happened to me the first time I worked my way through the formation spiral: I spent several years learning my belovedness in God, getting rooted deep down inside it, and then one day I looked up and realized I had so much love for other people. I wanted to give and serve. It just flowed naturally.
We experience love, and then we give love, just like John says: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
In my current turn around the formation spiral, I’m re-learning this. The part of myself that has existed in a disembodied state is learning to move back into my body and exist there — and, what’s more, to receive love there. This is a lot of what that image of the animal creature has meant to me these days: being inside the reality of that body and sharing with Jesus what that experience is like.
Once I have greater practice living inside my actual self — of knowing my real self and sharing the truth that self with others — I suspect the love I offer others will be more true and pure than before.
Are there ways in which you are learning to receive love from God where you actually are right now?