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Lindsey Mitzel contemplates the idea of healthy self-love and how that leads us to loving our neighbor.

Looking in the mirror today, instead of seeing my own reflection, I see a bunch of traits which have been passed on to my kids. I know that probably sounds a little weird. See, for the longest time, seeing myself in the mirror was more of an experience of, "Okay, that's what I look like." Or, "Why won't my hair lay right?" Flash forward decades to times of chronic exhaustion and sleepless nights, combined with four young kids and the appearance of fine wrinkles, and most of the time, looking in the mirror just makes me see dark circles under my eyes.

With each of my pregnancies, I have wondered for months what my new baby will look like. What color eyes will they have? What will their toes look like? Will they favor my husband's looks or my own? Each of my children is uniquely crafted, and yet they all carry little glimmers of traits that remind me of others. This look? Totally my sister-in-law's. Those eyebrows? My husband's and his brother's. That hair? My own. Each original, unrepeatable little person mesmerizes me -- they are formed in God's image and likeness, and look like my husband and me squashed together (in the cutest of ways).

I'm of course completely biased, but I think each of my children are the sweetest unrepeatable people in the world. I am enamored by all of their little characteristics. Call it bonding. As the months go by after new birth, I fall more and more in love with each child -- their physical traits, personality, and ways they begin to interact with me and the world. I spend my entire day (and much of the night) caring intricately for all those toes, noses, eyelashes, and little tummies that I am so in love with. Maybe it shouldn't surprise me, but it does -- gazing up at my reflection while washing my hands, instead of my ears, I suddenly see my daughter's. My eyes and nose are like my son's. And it hits me how much more I am able to love myself, when I am seeing my littles, instead of just me. When I see my kids in my own traits, I can't help but love myself more.

When Jesus is asked what the first of all commandments is. He states,

"The first is this: 'Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, 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)


It's a little bit backwards actually, this idea of loving myself a little more because I see my loveable kids in my image. Yet Jesus commands us to love others as we love ourselves. As a Confessor once asked me, "How can you love well if you haven't yet learned to love yourself?" The second greatest commandment Jesus gives is to love our neighbor as [myself]. His words presume a healthy love of self. If we don't love our selves first, and in a healthy way, then His command would be to love our neighbors poorly.

woman with long brown hair and orange blouse smiling at herself in vintage mirror

Few of us likely understand how to love ourselves well. We may think that loving ourselves is an aspect of self-care, but that tends to focus on the idea of "deserving" or "needing" something, whether that be some time to oneself, a treat, or a shower. Self-care is great, but loving ourselves can go so much deeper.

Don't get me wrong. Taking care of ourselves is really important. Part of loving ourselves and appreciating the dignity we all have is learning how to care for ourselves. But the idea of self-care can also become a coping mechanism and can be raised to a height of priority that it is not meant to have. As my husband likes to say, "Everything in moderation."

With self-care alone as the model, the sacrifices we make as parents are not so much sacrifices, but acts that deplete us. As Christians, we are called to give out of the abundance of our hearts which does not (and can not) come from us, but rather comes from Christ alone. My walk of faith is a daily struggle against prioritizing my own desires for the sake of self-donation for another. If I try to offer myself from myself, I will necessarily become depleted (disclaimer: this is where I live most of the time). However, the beauty of it is the goal: As I dive deeper and allow Jesus to fill me daily, in each moment, then my donations of self to others, most especially to my spouse and children, do not deplete me, because I am also constantly being filled.


How I feel, and what my heart looks like when I'm self-reliant versus Christ-reliant, is vastly different. #catholicmom

It's like the story of the widow and Elijah (1 Kings 17:7-16). The widow's donation of everything she had did not deplete her and her son of everything, but rather, in her faith, God blessed her continually with exactly what she needed to survive.

Likewise, Jesus lauds giving all we have in His parable of the widow's offering.

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." (Mark 12:41-44)


We are called to bring to Jesus what we have, and to offer it to Him. In the parable of the feeding of the five thousand, a boy only had a 5 loaves of bread and two fish, and yet Jesus greatly multiplied all that he gave to Him to bless (John 6:9-13). A priest friend has pointed out my self-reliance many times and exhorted me to bring my trials to Jesus, instead of trying to figure them out on my own. Admittedly, this has been super hard for me practically. How exactly do I bring that puddle of pee on the floor, plus the crying baby who just won't nap, to Jesus and ask Him to help me with it? In my results-orientated framework, yeah, I'll probably still be the person cleaning up and struggling to help the baby to nap. But how I feel, and what my heart looks like when I'm self-reliant versus Christ-reliant, is vastly different.

So if you can relate to any of the above, I offer this challenge for both of us:

Offer your day--everything you will encounter, need to do, and every need you will have--to Jesus when you first wake up, in the middle of the day, and before going to bed.

When difficulties arise, try to say "Jesus" once (or over and over and over!) in your heart or out loud. Bring Him into your home and daily life, wherever and in whatever you are doing. Place an image of Jesus, maybe an image of Divine Mercy or Jesus' Sacred Heart in those places where difficulties commonly arise. Listen for His voice, especially when you are struggling. We are never alone. How the Lord must love us all so incredibly, as He gazes upon us. Seeing Himself in all of us -- images which are meant to reflect Him, must move His heart with such love for us, just as our little ones move us with such love for them.

Copyright 2021 Lindsey Mitzel
Image: Andrea Piacquadio (2018), Pexels