One of my memories is that of my nephew as a toddler clinging to his mother’s leg and saying, “I need some loving.” She responded by picking him and hugging him. All of us need loving. The primary human being we need love from is us. Loving ourselves is not a sin. In fact, Jesus implicitly expects us to do so when he states the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Why Love Yourself?
You are a magnificent creature, made in God’s image and likeness. You have talents and marvelous features like an opposable thumb, a heart that beats at least 86,000 times a day, and a mind that can solve a sudoku puzzle (maybe). You are unique and destined for immortality. God loves you as the apple of his eye (whatever that is). He even took on flesh and bones and died for you. If you are worthy of such divine love, surely you can love yourself!
What Is Love?
To love someone is to will the best for that person. When you love someone, you try to please them, care for them, think well of them, support them, and give them joy. These characteristics hold true for loving yourself.
How Do You Love Yourself?
Here are some practical ways to be your own best friend:
1. Take care of yourself. Make your well-being, body and soul, the top priority. The fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” has a corollary: “Thou shalt not harm oneself.” Self-care involves staying healthy by eating the right foods and in the right amounts, sleeping enough, exercising daily at least by walking, and avoiding too much alcohol and drugs. Self-care also means safeguarding mental health: letting go of grudges and anger, staying clear of stress, and seeking professional help when needed.
2. Be kind to yourself. Show compassion for your failings and forgive yourself. God does. Don’t judge or criticize yourself or harbor shame or guilt. No one is perfect except Jesus and Mary. Avoid negative thoughts about yourself. Tune out that voice in your head that says things like “How can you be so stupid?” or “No wonder no one likes you” or “You’re so lazy.”
3. Carve out “me time” without feeling guilty. Do something you enjoy: read a historical romance, listen to music, watch a Hallmark movie, crochet, bake chocolate chip cookies, call (don’t email) a friend, dance, look at old photos that bring up pleasant memories, work a crossword puzzle or put together a jigsaw puzzle. Play! Go outside to be rejuvenated so you breathe the fresh air and feel the sun on your skin. Walk in the woods alone or with someone. Watch a sunrise or sunset in silence.
4. Spend time with people who bring you joy. These are the ones who accept you for who you are and make you laugh.
5. Give self-affirmations. Be your own cheerleader and say things to yourself like “I’m proud of you,” “Good going!” “You’re making progress,” “Hey, your hair turned out good today.”
Celebrate and reward yourself for achieving a goal or at least making a valiant effort.
8. Surround yourself at home with things that bring you joy. Pictured is the needlepoint picture my sister made me for my twenty-fifth jubilee. It’s on my bedroom wall. Clearing up clutter will lift your spirits too.
6. Protect yourself. Don’t be afraid to say no. Be assertive. Don’t let others take advantage of you.
Stop comparing yourself to others or competing with them.
Don’t try to be perfect. You won’t be. And don’t be a people pleaser. You can’t please everyone anyway. As a friend remarked, “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.” It doesn’t really matter what others think of you. What matters is what you think of yourself.
7. Ask for help when you could use it. You are not wonder woman or superman. I used to tell my elderly mother, “Letting others do an act of charity for you is an act of charity.”
9. Focus on what you are grateful for. You might think your ears are too big, but, my, look at your beautiful eyes! Thank God.
At the end of each day think of one lovely thing that happened. You might be surprised. Yesterday one of our employees shared with me his excitement at finding a tiny book of Mass readings far back in a cabinet in his mother’s house. It had the last name of one of our Sisters in it. Another employee took me one evening to see how gorgeous our Christmas tree looked, doubled in its reflection in the window. On Sunday while I played the piano, a little girl whose front teeth were just emerging came over with a folded copy of “Silent Night.” She had been begging for someone to play it, and I happened to be there.
10. Pamper yourself. Soak in the tub, get a manicure, buy your favorite candy, use the fragrant hand lotion or soap you’ve been saving, get your hair done, buy flowers and set them where you can enjoy them, splurge on a new dress or suit.
11. Stay positive. If you walk over a board on the floor and think you will fall, chances are you will. Don’t assume that the worst will happen. If it does, examine it for some good effect. There may be more than one. For example, after a natural disaster, largehearted responders and charitable organizations appear. Victims help one another and, undaunted, pledge to rebuild.
Think about those people who loved and supported you in the past and those who do so now.
Don’t complain to others. Venting increases your distress.
Make a list of your positive traits to fall in love with yourself.
12. Learn something new, maybe a foreign language or how to play an instrument or pickleball or how to sew. Try a new recipe.
13. Accept what you can’t change. This will protect you from sadness, frustration, and stress.
While I was viewing something on YouTube, a different video popped up. It is a moving, inspiring story of the origin of the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” Hugh Bonneville (of Downton Abbey fame) narrates the story while actors perform it. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings the hymn. You will find the video here. I think you will like it.
• What do you think about yourself? What do you feel about yourself?
• What is one loving thing you can do for yourself today?
Maybe like me you are being bombarded with helps to turn your Advent into a grace-filled season. Books, pamphlets, as well as podcasts, videos, and reflections emailed or sent to your site promise to accompany you during these three weeks. (We are cheated this year because the fourth week is only one day long.)
My Cleveland Diocese has offered an excellent reflection taken from the Trappist Thomas Merton’s book Seasons of Celebration. It is entitled “Advent: Hope or Delusion.” In our world wracked with wars and violence, I find it particularly pertinent. I especially like the final two paragraphs. Here is the whole reflection:
“We must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy.”
“Advent should remind us that the ‘King Who Is to Come’ is more than a charming infant smiling (or if you prefer a dolorous spirituality, weeping) in the straw.
“But the Church in preparing us for the birth of a ‘great prophet,’ a Savior and a King of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The Advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, of history, of [humanity], of the world and of our own being. In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to His presence even in the midst of all its inscrutable problems and tragedies. Our Advent faith is not an escape from the world to a misty realm of slogans and comforts which declare our problems to be unreal, our tragedies nonexistent.
“So too, we may at times be able to show the world Christ in moments when all can clearly discern in history, some confirmation of the Christian message. But the fact remains that our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that His plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to His will. Our Advent is the celebration of this hope. What is uncertain is not the ‘coming’ of Christ but our own reception of Him, our own response to Him, our own readiness and capacity to ‘go forth to meet Him.'”
“Yet we believe that He who has come and will come is present here and now: that we are in His Kingdom. Not only that, but we are His Kingdom.
“Do [others] have a right to ask of us this question: ‘Are you the Kingdom of Christ Who is come, the Prince of Peace, the Just One, the Messiah who comes to bring unity and peace to the divided world of [humanity]’?” “Do [others] have a right to see in us some evidence of the presence and action of Christ, some visible manifestation of the Pneuma [the Spirit of Christ]?
“The Advent mystery in our own lives is the beginning of the end of all, in us, that is not yet Christ. …And that is surely a cause for joy!”
Recently I came across the song “Baker Woman,” which was popular decades ago. Besides the catchy melody, it has intriguing words centered on Mary as the baker. Now that we are observing years devoted to the Eucharist, this song is very apt. Here is one version with the lyrics printed below:
The Baker Woman
The baker woman in her humble lodge
received a grain of wheat from God.
For nine whole months the grain she stored.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
Make us the bread, Mary, Mary; we need to be fed.
The baker woman took the road
which led to Bethlehem, the house of bread.
To knead the bread she labored through the night,
and brought it forth about midnight.
Bake us the bread, Mary, Mary; we need to be fed.
She baked the bread for thirty years
by the fire of her love and the salt of her tears,
by the warmth of her heart so tender and bright,
and the bread was golden brown and white.
Bring us the bread, Mary, Mary; we need to be fed.
After thirty years the bread was done.
It was taken to the town by her only Son;
the soft white bread to be given free
to the hungry people of Galilee.
Give us the bread, Mary, Mary; we need to be fed.
For thirty coins the bread was sold,
and a thousand teeth so cold, so cold
to it to pieces on a Friday at noon
when the sun turned black and red the moon.
Break us the bread, Mary, Mary; we need to be fed.
And when she saw the bread so white,
the living bread she had made at night
devoured as wolves might devour a sheep,
the baker woman began to weep.
Weep for the bread, Mary, Mary;
Weep for the bread we need to be fed.
But the baker woman’s only Son
appeared to his friends when three days had run
on the road which to Emmaus led,
and there she knew him in the breaking of bread.
Lift up you head, Mary, Mary;
Lift up your head, for now we’ve been fed.
On November 27 my first Christmas card arrived. Time to unearth my Christmas card paraphernalia. Now the cards, stickers, and address labels are strewn across my dining room table. Before tackling the job of preparing my cards, I reread the cards that people sent me last Christmas. I save this lovely collection for a year and enjoy reviewing the good wishes and news from family and friends. Christmas is the only time I connect with some people.
The joy I experience opening a Christmas card makes me think that I make others happy by sending them a card. In other words, this task is a spiritual work of mercy!
A Bit of History
The first commercial Christmas card emerged in England in 1843 when people wrote holiday letters to their friends. Apparently, Sir Henry Cole had a zillion friends. He was overwhelmed by the task of responding to all of them. So he came up with idea of sending a simple card and persuaded a friend to design one. Cole’s card shows a family feasting, but caused an uproar because children were imbibing! If people back then were on social media, it would have been flooded with critical comments.
In those days people could send letters and cards for a penny! The custom of Christmas cards took off and persists today—despite that postage for a card is at least $.66.
Most modern Christmas cards are adorned with secular topics: Santa, elves, bells, candles, Christmas trees, wreaths, snow, animals, and nature scenes. Jesus looks to us Christians to spread the Good News. One way to do this is to proclaim his birth by sending Christmas cards with Mary, Jesus, shepherds, kings, and Bethlehem and a Scripture verse. This will nudge people to remember that Jesus is really the reason for the season. I make a point of sending such religious cards, except to my non-Christian friends, who receive generic holiday cards.
I also invest in postage stamps that depict the holy event that occurred on the first Christmas night. Most of these are old paintings of the madonna and child. A new traditional Christmas stamp featuring the pair will be issued in 2024. It is from the workshop of Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato (1609-1685). You see it on the left here.
It’s exciting to find a stack of Christmas cards in my mailbox instead of just ads, information about Medicare, requests to renew magazines, or “air mail.” I especially like to receive cards with a handwritten note inside and those that include photos. My young grandnephews draw their own unique cards. Some adults, especially artists, also make original cards.
I display my cards on the kitchen counter and insert horizontal ones in the slats of the doors hiding my washer and dryer. At home my mother attached our cards to our big living room mirror. It’s a good custom to focus on one card a day and pray for the person or family who sent it. You can do this after Christmas before putting the cards away for next year.
Writing Christmas cards is a meaningful Advent practice that keeps us mindful of Who we are waiting for. Some years I write a form letter to send to everyone, but I add a handwritten, personal message. Christmas letters can contain a word of encouragement to those who are ill, bring hope to the depressed, and convey love. They let the people who receive them know that they are worthwhile in your eyes and that you value your relationship with them.
I try to keep my Christmas card list up-to-date. This is a challenge because people move … and some die. It never fails—as soon as all my cards are in the mail, I receive one (or more) from people who weren’t on my list.
An act of charity is to send a card that will surprise someone and warm their heart. This could be a person you know or a stranger like an immigrant.
One friend spends Christmas day making out her Christmas cards. Another friend sent Christmas cards in July because then his cards would receive more attention.
Looking on writing Christmas cards as a ministry keeps it from being just another chore. While writing cards, listening to Christmas carols puts you in the mood. Here is one of my favorite Advent songs, “Long Is Our Winter.” I taught my religion class to sing it as a round.
• What is the most special Christmas card you ever received? Or ever sent?
Pessimists see their lives as a glass as half empty, while optimists see their lives as half full. Thoughtful people see their lives as a cup overflowing. Thanksgiving is a celebration of all the good things God has showered us with, a time to thank our divine Gift-Giver.
For a graduate school course, I wrote a paper on “thank you.” Did you know that the word “thank” is derived from the word “think”? To thank someone means we are thinking of them and their kind act for us. When a person has done something thoughtful for us, the least we can do is to “think of” or “thank” them in return (especially if we are no position to return the favor).
Nowadays we often thank our benefactors via an email or a phone call. A more convincing way to express gratitude is to take the time to hand write a thank-you note. This entails finding a card and pen, putting a stamp on the envelope, and maybe making a trip to the post office. Good mothers make sure their offspring thank Aunt Sally or grandma for gifts.
What do you think when a person neglects to thank you for a gift or favor? You might feel that they didn’t like your gift … or that their mother didn’t teach them to be polite. You might wonder if your gift was lost in the mail.
My paper included different ways to say thank you, like “thanks a million,” “thanks a bunch,” and “thanks a lot.” There is a website to help write thank-you notes. It suggests how to word your appreciation and gives the structure of a thank-you note: http://ideas.hallmark.com/articles/thank-you-ideas/thank-you-messages/
Of course, our greatest benefactor is our Creator. The best way to thank God for the marvels he has done for us is to celebrate the Eucharist. The word itself means “thanksgiving.” At Mass we “think of” the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a memorial. We also express our thanks for everything.
We thank God in other prayers too. Here is a thought-provoking passage from St. Basil:
“In taking bread, give thanks to him who bestowed it; in drinking wine, remember him who gave you this gift to rejoice your heart and solace your ills. Once the meal is finished, do not fail, come what may, in the remembrance of your benefactor.
“When you put on your tunic, thank him who gave it you; when you put on your cloak, bear witness to your regard for the God who provides us with clothing suitable for winter and summer and so as to protect our life.
“When day is done thank him who has given you sun for the day’s work and fire to give light at night and supply for our needs. Nighttime provides you with cause for thanksgiving: when looking at the sky and contemplating the beauty of the stars, pray to the Lord of the universe who has made all things with such wisdom. When you see all nature lying asleep, adore him again who relieves all our weariness with sleep and restores the vigor of our strength with a little rest.”
Wilfred A Peterson in The Treasure Chest offers ways to thank God beyond words:
The art of Thanksgiving is thanksliving. It is gratitude in action.
It is thanking God for the gift of life by living it triumphantly.
It is thanking God for your talents and abilities by accepting them as obligations to be invested in the common good.
It is thanking God for all that men and women have done for you by doing things for others.
It is thanking God for happiness by striving to make others happy.
It is thanking God for beauty by helping to make the world more beautiful.
It is thanking God for inspiration by trying to be an inspiration to others.
It is thanking God for health and strength by the care and reverence you show your body.
It is thanking God for the creative ideas that enrich life by adding your own creative contributions to human progress.
It is thanking God for each day by living it to the fullest.
It is thanking God by giving hands, arms, legs, and voice to your thankful spirit.
It is adding to your prayer of thanksgiving, acts of THANKSLIVING.
Happy Thanksgiving … every day!
It’s a good evening practice to look over your day and spot things for which you owe thanks. Recently I’ve given thanks that my sister’s broken leg and broken wrist healed without surgery, that the dentist said I had no cavities, that a friend gave me yarn to crochet baby blankets (the one here is really a bright, buttery, yellow), that supper was especially delicious, and that the Cleveland Browns were victorious over the Pittsburgh Steelers, their nemesis.
- What are you particularly thankful for today?
You might have heard the saying, “The past is history, the future is a mystery, the present is a gift; that’s why it’s called present.”
Often we are not aware of the present because we are thinking about what happened yesterday or ten years ago or what we will have for our next meal or what we’ll be doing next week or next year.
I find that when I don’t pay attention to NOW, I lose things, I don’t remember someone who was at the same event I was, and I can read a page or say a prayer without realizing the meaning of the words. I can’t recall what I ate for breakfast or whether I turned off the stove!
As I function on “autopilot,” I miss the wonder and grace of what is happening in real time. As for worrying about the future, Mark Twain noted, “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
On the other hand, anchoring our awareness in “right now” leads to happiness and wisdom (and may prevent accidents!). We savor what we are doing here and now. These moments will never come again. I will not be in this place, with these people, doing this activity, seeing this landscape exactly like this ever again. It’s a one-time-only experience. Like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “You can’t step into the same river twice.” The water flows on.
I think of the play Our Town. When Emily is on the other side of the grave, she learns, “Most people don’t understand that the power of life exists not only the moments of great passion and joy, but in the details of everyday existence as well.” Every single moment of your life is a gift. Don’t let it slip by.
So how do we ground ourselves in the present? In one tradition, temple bells reminded people to come back to the present moment. They stopped talking and thinking and simply breathed. You might cultivate the habit of pausing now and then to focus on being present to the present. Awaken to what is around you. Look with fresh eyes. Don’t let your mind wander. Live consciously.
You may find that God is in the present moment. It is holy. God is speaking to you, teaching you, or loving you. Be aware of that encounter.
Focus on yourself: God lets your blood course throughout your body and fills your lungs with air. Silently your last meal is being digested. Your hair and fingernails are growing.
Pay attention to the gifts God sends you in the now: the sunshine to warm you and chirping birds to cheer you, friends to comfort you and make you laugh, and good food to delight and satisfy you. Jim Croce knew we couldn’t put time in a bottle. Like a foreign language, “use it or lose it.”
I heard that it helps to say things to yourself like, “Now I’m brushing my hair. Now I’m walking downstairs” as you are performing acts.
Another trick is to change up your routine so your day is fresh and exciting: Stay in bed an extra fifteen minutes. Take a different route to school or work. Eat a food you never ate before (like swordfish or kale). Fix your hair a different way. Adopt a new exercise. Instead of watching another Hallmark movie, call and old friend. Get ready to retire earlier than usual.
• Right now, take a full minute to stop, relish the fact that you are alive, and take in the scenery or people around you. That slice of eternity that you experience will not come again. Take advantage of it.