Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself: What Does That Really Mean?

Today during General Conference, our new prophet, President Russell M. Nelson announced that Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching would be retired and replaced.  

The letter from the First Presidency states:  

"The separate programs of home teaching and visiting teaching are now a coordinated effort referred to as “ministering,” overseen by the elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies under the direction of the bishop. Ministering is Christlike caring for others and helping meet their spiritual and temporal needs."

The letter also indicates this is an attempt to focus on ministering the way the Savior taught.
In particular, the commandment that Christ gave to us when He said in Matthew 22:37:

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

For years I have heard this scripture to be interpreted to mean some version of, 

"Love thy neighbour the same way you love yourself."  

What follows are usually one of two sermons: either the need to be compassionate, charitable, kind, nonjudgmental or about the need for self-esteem, self-care, taking time to refill the well, basically learning to love yourself.  

While I do agree with both the need to be kind to others and the need to love ourselves, for the past year or so I have had a nagging question that won't leave my mind.  The question is this, "Is that really what Christ was talking about?"  

As I look through the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, I can't find any stories of when Christ didn't serve others because He said, "I just really needed to focus on myself right now."

Yet we do find several instances where He withdrew Himself to be alone. In Luke 5:16 we read: 

 "And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed."

 I find this to be a powerful example of the need to take time to ponder and meditate, but is it really about focusing on self-love?  

This question has led me on a journey of studying what loving our neighbor actually looks like and whether we need to love ourselves to do it. 

What if loving your neighbor as yourself actually meant this:  

"Love thy neighbour AS IF he were you."  

Take for example the story of the Good Samaritan.  Despite the fact that the man lying on the road bleeding and hurt was his political enemy, the Samaritan treated that man exactly the way he would want to be treated if he were in that same situation.  Could we do the same even if we don't have a full bucket or high self-esteem?  I think we can.

Imagine if you were a refugee. You have been forced from your home and placed in a foreign land. Now you are told that you are a danger to other people.  How would you want people to talk about you on social media?  

Imagine that you are driving on the freeway.  You are preoccupied thinking about the horrible meeting you just had with your boss.  You almost miss your exit.  You accidentally cut someone off to get to your off ramp.  How would you want the person behind you to react?  


Imagine you are recently widowed.  You and your husband used to spend every Friday night at the movies.  You miss this tradition but don't feel like going to the movies all by yourself.  What would you want your neighbor to do?  


These questions are pretty easy to answer aren't they?  They don't require hours of studying compassion or charity.  They don't even require loving ourselves or making sure our bucket is full.  What it does require is the ability to put ourselves in the place of our neighbor, trying to see the situation from his or her point of view and then ask, "How can I show the same love as if it were me?"  

And as I have thought about this question, this is what I have decided.  

When we try to love our neighbors as if they were us, we know exactly what to do.  We all want to be treated with compassion, charity, and without judgment.  We want to be treated the way Christ would treat us.  

It is when we truly love our neighbor, we are able to love ourselves.  It is when we love the way Christ would love, we fill our own bucket.

All photos are from lds.org unless otherwise indicated.  

To coincide with the Come Follow Me 2019 Lesson for May 20 - May 26 

This is not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.