Two friends embracing one another for comfort.
Practice Justice

Heal Self, Love Others

Address your own need for healing first
by Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez | May 11, 2022

Join Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez and two other authors at the next Book Hub “Beyond Job’s Friends: Accompanying Those in Trauma’s Pits”. 

The need to heal

We all have the need to heal, every one of us. No one lives in adulthood without wounds, buried, forgotten, open, and mending—along with scars. Life has a way of hurting, in part because the unhealed pain of other people impacts our very existence. Yet if we all hurt, why does the ongoing pain of others go unnoticed? And when we do notice, why do we so often stand, literally and metaphorically at arm’s length if not more, from other people’s pain? Why do we comment on the other’s pain as if it is an abstraction? Why do we feel sorry for them in the moment while secretly being relieved it is not us? 

When we exhibit the distinct symptom of unhealed pain from traumatic experiences, we disconnect. This symptom reveals itself in disconnection from ourselves—our minds, our hearts, our bodies, and our souls. At the same time, we disconnect from others (friends, family, colleagues, and the neighbors God wants us to serve), the world God created, and God. 

Unhealed emotional pain from traumatic experiences can be experienced personally and when observing other people. It can manifest in many ways.  According to the CDC, the prevalence of unhealed traumatic experience pain before the pandemic was estimated to be at over 60% of the population. The immensity of our collective suffering demands that the act of ongoing healing be included in our thinking and subsequent action as a basic need

Healing as a basic need

Without nourishment, rest, and some safety, we risk demise. These survival needs set the foundation for our other basic needs. Together our needs include: 

  • Nourishment in food and water 
  • Safety 
  • Rest and sleep 
  • Shelter and clothing 
  • Relationships and community
  • Physical activity
  • Leisure and play
  • Spiritual exploration
  • Learning and work 
  • Health maintenance, medical assistance, and wellness

The above list of needs is of course not exhaustive, stagnant, or in order of importance. We can at any time add more categories, shift the wording, or rearrange the order as we continue to explore the depths of our humanity. What is not simple or initially obvious in any list of needs is that all our needs, both our survival and basic needs, whether met or unmet, interact with us and each other. Our needs support and inform each other often without our conscious realization. When all our needs are met, we may just experience a sense of overall well-being, that the world is indeed good, all is well, and hope is worth holding. 

When some of our needs or one need is not met, then our experience may be that of feeling off—agitated, restless, tired, spinning, bored, compressed, or tired. But we have all learned to ignore these cues in ourselves and others for the sake of work, family, cultural expectations, and the church. So, let’s be truthful here: We all know the difficulty in supplying these needs for ourselves. We do not live in a world supporting them. We also know we in turn do not fully support others in meeting their needs by taking apart systems suppressing people’s abilities to do so while building up new, supportive scaffolding conducive to meeting needs. We may profess to love, honor, care for, and cherish God but we sure struggle to show it through our love, honor, care for, and cherishment of others and ourselves. 

Healing as love’s foundation

As Christian people we think of love as an action, a verb, an act involving care and compassion for God, each other, and ourselves. Jesus, in his teaching, paired the first, great commandment found in Deuteronomy with a second commandment from Leviticus. Put together we hear: 

“The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;  you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Not only does Jesus combine these two commandments, but he also allows the second commandment to answer the first. Love God with every part of you. How? By loving other people like you do yourself. Loving God then is an act of co-caring for each other. We understand that we are ourselves, from our point of view. At the same time and through a different lens we are the neighbors of other people. I see you as a neighbor, yet you also see me as a neighbor. When we each look in the mirror, we see both ourselves and someone else’s neighbor needing God’s love shown to us in the actions of the other. 

Heal self 

So how do we love God, others, and ourselves? How do we do the work of what seems to be a great triple ask? The answer hinges on the word “yourself.” Not because we are more important than God. God is God, able to be and do in ways we cannot imagine. It is also not because we are more important than other people. We—our neighbors and ourselves—are human beings living in cultures unsupportive of meeting the basic needs of all. Simply put: 

  • How we love God depends on how we love ourselves. 
  • How we love our neighbors depends on how we love ourselves. 
  • How we love ourselves depends on how we attend to our needs, care for our hearts, bodies, souls, and minds, and in the healing of old, new, and ongoing wounds daily, long-term, and throughout our lives on earth.  

One of the miracles of creation is that God designed us in such a way that healing is always possible. Sometimes not in the way we desire. But often in ways we cannot imagine and, on the surface, seem counterintuitive. Identifying our unmet needs helps us name and attend to them. Meeting our ongoing needs through caring for our whole selves contributes to and supports our healing. Keeping our whole selves healthy in turn allows our internal systems to be more flexible and resilient. When claiming healing as a primary need met through acts of daily care, self-compassion, specific healing practices, and sometimes clinical healing work we do something for ourselves that in turn contributes to all our other needs. When actively healing: 

  • We may feel safer
  • We may feel more connected to our community
  • We may rest and sleep better
  • We may crave nutritious food
  • We may find recreation more enjoyable
  • We may rediscover or even deepen our relationship with God.

Loving God means both loving neighbor and loving self. Not only the neighbor. Not only God or God and neighbor. No, loving God means loving everyone on the list: God, neighbors, and us. When we love ourselves enough to do the work of healing, then we are better able to connect to God, ourselves, and other people. Connection or reconnection is the great hallmark of healing and the basis of love. How often in the Gospels does Jesus tell the newly healed person to return and reconnect with home and loved ones? 

Once again, we all need some level and form of healing. We are each the woman at the well not knowing what she truly needs. We are each the blind person on the side of an ancient road crying out for justice. We are each the bleeding woman willing to do what it takes to find some relief and acceptance. 

Healing hinges on our ability to truly meet our basic needs. Met needs, including healing, reveal our desire to love through connection with self, neighbors, and God. Yet healing means looking inward, assessing self—how we feel, how we act, and how we love—and doing some work. This work occurs over time. There is no quick fix, only incremental, consistent moments of healing leading us to a greater capacity to love. Living on the healing continuum helps us embrace the Greatest Commandment(s) as an ever-flowing circle of three connecting statements in relationship with each other. The relationship between each statement forms a connection imaging love as a multi-directional dance. 

Your Turn

Draw, paint, or even knit your own visual of God’s greatest asks of us. Hang your work on the inside of your outside door. Every day as you leave, remember to love yourself through healing. 

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