One (wo)man’s trash is another (wo)man’s treasure, and all that – you may have found that when you tidied a shelf or drawer last week. Or you may have found the one (wo)man’s trash is simply trash.
Well, the same thing applies to treats. Each one to their own. My idea of a treat may be just normal for you, or it may be incomprehensible; you may look forward to doing something that I would never in a million years want to try. Skydiving. Caving. Bungee jumping. I could go on. There are so many things that many people look forward to doing that I have no desire to do. And there will be many things that I get excited about that would leave others feeling ‘meh’ or worse.
So, today is about finding something that you want to do. Not something that you think you ought to want to do, or something that the world around you tells you is a treat. No, it’s something that you actually want to do. And if you live most of your life dashing round doing things you have to do, it can be tricky (a) finding time to do things you want to do, and (b) working out what those things would be if you did have time.
So is today just about being selfish? I suppose it is in a way. But selfishness has got something of a bad name, and in moderation it’s not always that bad. Think of the great commandments that were Jesus’ summary of the law:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul and mind and strength’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
If you’ve been following Love Life Live Advent, you’ll have done a bit of the first one by making time to reflect on the meaning of Advent, and you’ll have done some of the second one, too, if you donated to a food bank or started a jar of coins to donate to a charity. But the bit of this wonderful summary of the law that tends to get ignored is the last bit: ‘as yourself‘. If you do not love yourself, then loving your neighbour as yourself starts to sound like it might not mean so much.
The theology of it goes something like this:
The first command is to love God. And if I love God then I love what God loves (what makes God happy makes me happy). God made everything, including other people, so when I love God I learn to see others as God sees them, and I learn to love them as he does. So far, so good.
Then I realise that I am also loved by God. I am part of his creation, and I have to learn not only to see others through the loving eyes of God, but I also have to learn to see myself through those loving eyes. Which is trickier, because I can probably learn to love other people (even if they annoy me) either by avoiding spending too much time with them, or telling myself that they probably have good reasons for being irritating and I should give them the benefit of the doubt. But this doesn’t work so well when I try and apply it to myself: for a start I cannot avoid myself even if I am irritating myself, and then I cannot really give myself excuses. If I am to love myself as God loves me then it has to be the real thing.
And if I can master that, then I’m ready to go round again and revisit the nature of my love for others, and see whether or not it was for real.
So, where does treating myself come into play in this piece of needlessly over-complicating today’s action? For me, there are a few things that spring to mind:
1. Treating myself is not intrinsically a bad thing to do, but I want to know that I am doing it not as a displacement activity or distraction because I am depressed, or bored, or anxious about something unrelated, but because, as the advert always said, ‘I am worth it’. (Actually, my self-worth cannot me measured even in really nice hair shampoo, but that’s another separate blog post).
2. Treating myself to something I actually want to do, rather than to a ‘generic’ treat is a way for me to discern those things that make me happy, that give me life, and make me unique, rather than what people my age and gender are told they ought to want to do. I am unique in creation, God made me that way, and if I can embrace my own uniqueness, then I will be better at embracing the uniqueness of others. I will be less likely to see ‘other people’ as a homogeneous genre if I am enjoying my own idiosyncrasies.
3. Treating myself to something that is actually life-giving and affirming is a way of inhabiting, even just briefly, a world in which I am blessed, loved, and cherished, for who I am, not who I ought to be. If this brings me closer to the God who loves me despite everything, then I’ve accidentally also done a bit of the first commandment, too.*
*Actually, as you’ve probably spotted, there is only one commandment. It looks like two (love God, love others) then you spot the third one (love yourself) then you realise that they’re three sides of the same coin.
So, yes, for me, my treat is to abandon (until tomorrow) the book I’ve been slogging through for ages as part of my PhD reading, and instead pick up one that I’ve been wanting to read for ages. And I will make notes on it using my lovely fountain pen. And I will drink decent coffee while I read. I might even have hot chocolate later.
So, what’s your idea of a treat? And how will it help you to remember that you are loved more than you can possibly imagine by the God who loves everything he ever made?