To Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself, Get Vulnerable with God

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

-Matthew 22:36–40 KJV

My follow-up question after Jesus explained the greatest commandment went something like this: “How do I love my neighbor when I don’t love myself?” What I felt for myself was shame about a past that haunted me—guilt and fear—not self-love. I loved others if they loved me first. If they loved me, I’d have reason to love myself.

Loving God with my “all”—with my whole self—meant going all in. I didn’t go all in for anything. I didn’t totally trust or show all my feelings to anyone. Sermons I heard in church talked about the things God gives to those God loves, so if I received what I wanted, then God loved me and I’d love God back. God and I were cool. But when life wasn’t going my way, that meant God had let me down, abandoned me, like everyone else who was supposed to love me unconditionally. God and I were distant. I was used to disappointment, so I could handle God not loving me. No sweat.

My love for God and my love for people was cautious love. I kept up a wall. I didn’t let down my guard. In every case in my life—from family, to friends, to marriage, to church, I had been somehow disappointed. I wasn’t willing to risk being let down or hurt again.

This book is about how I moved from my idea of being loved by God based on what God did for me, to experiencing God’s unconditional love for me, which helped me love myself and love others. I wanted to be a better person, experience peace of mind, and overcome my constant fear of never being enough for myself, God, or anyone else. Discovering the power of vulnerability opened the door for me to become the person I truly desired to be and live the life I have always wanted—a life free from anxiety, dread of the future, fear of failure, and loneliness. Learning that love starts inside me—with vulnerability to God—has given me a new sense of freedom. The route to that most profound relationship with God was vulnerability. Receiving God’s love meant being vulnerable with God. Loving God meant being vulnerable with God. In vulnerability with God, I discovered self-love. From self-love, my relationships have been transformed.

I’ve carried a lot of emotional baggage my whole life. My baggage was not the kind you can carry on a flight and place in an overhead bin. Mine was like the baggage you place on the scale at the check-in counter and you hear the clerk say: “Your baggage is over the weight limit and you’re going to have to pay for that.” Yes, my baggage has been heavy and I’ve paid dearly in inner pain, fractured relationships, and life drama. For a long time, I knew it was over the weight limit but I carried it anyway. I thought I needed it for my manhood, the person I wanted to show the world, and I paid a high price. The cost was my peace of mind, happiness, friendships, and loss of those I loved.

Throughout this book, I will shares stories from my past that I finally had to confront on my journey to embracing the love of God, the love of myself, and the ability to love others. This is about the oftentimes complicated road to redemption, forgiveness, and the need for grace. My hope is that as you read this book, you will be able to glean lessons and tools from my mistakes as well as my healing that will be useful to you on your own journey to become the best version of yourself that you can possibly become in your lifetime. Love is an inside job, and sometimes your secrets are the source of your sorrows. Doing the inner work allows you to confront your secrets and overcome the root source of your sadness. My prayer is for everyone who reads this book to embrace the love of God, the love of self, and the love of others in order to live your life free of guilt or shame. Live without internal turmoil. Live with peace of mind knowing that you are already amazing and you don’t have to prove it.

When I say, “Love is an inside job,” I’m saying love can be experienced only from the inside. Inner love never fades, and you never have to question it. That love isn’t emotional; it’s spiritual. God is the source of love, and when you embrace the love of God, you are able to love yourself and then love others. It flows from the inside out.

My inability to accept love or genuinely offer it to anyone else was due to challenging and sometimes traumatic life experiences. While parts of me kept up a front, running from my past, hiding my pain, and fearing shame, my soul yearned to be free from what haunted me and to experience the elusive love I’d been searching for. I had to unpack the baggage. I had to remember, re-examine, and finally resolve the stories that had been weighing me down. Dealing with the experiences that created my life-limiting beliefs was an inside job. My healing work was long overdue. In this book I am sharing my journey, my story, as an invitation to take a serious look at yours. I invite you to get to the source of your life-limiting beliefs, doubts, fears, and negative views you harbor about yourself. Unapologetically begin to love every aspect of the amazing person that you were created to be.

All thy heart, all thy soul, all thy mind meant going all-in with God; it meant being vulnerable with God, and only that vulnerability produced self-love. There is no way to truly love people without first loving self and no way to truly love self without God, Who is the source of love. The love of God leads to the love of self and results in the love of others:

Love of God > Self-Love > Love of Others

I tend to be a giving and generous person who is there for others when they are in need of support. My motives for generosity and empathy were not a genuine outflow of God’s love. I donated money to help kids go to college. I volunteered to help friends with work and personal projects, told my story of overcoming childhood challenges at gatherings for teens coming out of juvenile detention, spoke at prisons to inmates who were parents, and so on. I did good in order to be loved, rather than as a genuine expression of love without a hidden agenda. I was motivated by my desire for control. I was unwilling to let go and fully let God in. And for good reason. I needed to remain in control because if I did not take things into my own hands, I would not be okay because no one was going to help me, not even God.

But finally, I got tired.

Richard Rohr calls this feeling dehydration. He names the replenishing that prevents dehydration “the feeling of full flow, vulnerability, and trust in the infilling.” The willingness to let go of control and admit the desire to love and be loved can only be found through letting in the love of God first. This “inflow” of love prevents “dehydration.”

My inability to embrace the inflow has led to many broken relationships. Whenever I became dehydrated, I gave up. I was empty and had nothing more to give. So many mistakes and fractured relationships have been the result of my inability to let love in. My way was “love your neighbor, then yourself.” That’s like turning on a faucet and having the water shoot up into your face, creating a mess.

I had to learn that the love of God, which results in the love of self and then neighbor, begins with vulnerability. It was impossible to love my neighbor as myself when I didn’t know how to love myself first. I couldn’t love myself without experiencing God’s love, and I couldn’t experience God’s love for me without being vulnerable.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

Brené Brown

These words from Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead were the opening quote in one of Richard’s daily meditations. The thought of vulnerability frustrated me. I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I was afraid of it. I believed that vulnerability led to pain.

But I was wrong. That’s not always the case. When I began to explore the outcomes of my life as a result of my unwillingness to be vulnerable, I realized how much it was causing me to remain disconnected from people. Therapy helped me to start seeing the value of vulnerability and the opportunity for deeper relationships that it offers. Vulnerability is the only way to receive love and in turn extend love to others. I learned that vulnerability is the path to truly experiencing the love of God and finally love the person I am.

I had no examples of going all in with God, being vulnerable with God.

I had no examples of self-love.

I didn’t even know where to start in order to give vulnerability a try. Control was my way of dealing. When I got tired, I wanted to become vulnerable, but it was not easy.

This book shares my story and process of embracing vulnerability:

Vulnerability with God > Love of God > Self-Love > Love of Others