I was fourteen and had my first regular job. My neighbor, expecting twins, paid me that summer to give her a hand with her three toddlers and help with the housework. As soon as I ran home clutching my first week’s cash, my mother reached for the Sears catalog. “See how pretty this is,” she said, opening to an earmarked page. “It would be nice for Gail in the winter.”
My stomach felt sick as I looked at the pretty black-and-white wool coat with matching leggings and hat, realizing what my mother was really saying. She expected me to buy the outfit for my three-year-old sister. Again I had to prove I was not selfish. That time, however, I put up a timid objection.
“You’re supposed to help the family,” my mother replied. Knowing that because of my father’s alcohol abuse, she could not depend on him, I handed her the money she needed and bought my first can of hair spray with the remainder.
As surely as night turns to day, I had been taught over and over I should put everyone before myself. It was drilled in me at church too: God first, others second, yourself last. They were all wrong! God first, yes. But the adults in my childhood had reversed the other two tenets.
When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself ” (Matthew 22:39 NIV), He repeated verbatim words from Leviticus 19:18. A few years ago I finally understood what both the Old and New Testaments were saying. I could not love the one next to me until I loved myself. I could not know how to love someone else until I knew how to love me. To become unselfish I must first be kind to myself and give to me.