One of the greatest inspirational writers of the nineteenth century was a man named Henry Drummond who wrote a best-selling little book called The Greatest Thing in the World. In it, he said:
“The world is not a playground; it is a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday but an education. And the one eternal question for us all is how better can we love.”
Learning and teaching in that schoolroom is what inspires me in my personal life and my work. For me, and I’ve learned for many of us, learning to love better begins with the self. Loving ourselves is no small thing. We are each called upon to love ourselves in all our brokenness and beauty, when we stumble as well as when we soar. If we expect perfection from ourselves, we’re rigid, inflexible, and judgmental. Any mistake is unacceptable so we push it away and pretend it never happened. We don’t learn from our errors and therefore are condemned to repeat them. If, however, we treat ourselves in a tender, patient manner as a loving mother would treat her newborn child, it’s possible to acknowledge our mistakes and make wiser choices in the future.
As we cultivate true love for ourselves, we deserve our own mercy. Mercy is an old-fashioned word. You don’t hear it much these days. I love this word because among its meanings is this: compassionate treatment of those in distress. When we show ourselves mercy, we cradle our distress, our irritation and anger. We hold it close, allow it to touch and therefore transform it. Even if we haven’t lived up to our own standards, we love and care for ourselves anyway—in our wounded state, with our strength. And the more love and mercy we shower on ourselves, the more we will have to flow over to the rest of the imperfect people who populate this less than perfect world.
The desire to grow in love allows me to listen when I’d rather speak, serve when I’d rather sleep. It calls me to my best self, at least more often and to develop my love in many forms—as a friend, a spouse, a parent, a colleague, a guide.
If life is a schoolroom for love, what are you here to learn? To teach?