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Spilling the Tea

By Amy Leadabrand
In Formed
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I had a watershed moment this weekend. It is accidentally a pun, and for that I apologize, but sit with me in this, will you?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Red letter words in some editions of the Bible, meaning they are words of Jesus. They are recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. In each of these gospels, they are an answer to a question from a teacher of the law. He was a Jewish religious scholar, and he noted that Jesus had answered other questions wisely, so he asked him, “What is the most important of all the commandments?” He said:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

I’ve been playing with this:

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Love your neighbor while you love yourself. So, concurrently?

Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. So, in equal magnitudes?

Maybe some of all.

If your feet aren’t solidly planted, mountain-pose sure, in the truth of your identity… valued, cherished, worthy of taking up space, breathing air, thinking and saying things that matter, how loving can you be to another person? An insecure “love” is actually an attempt to control the other person into getting what you need because you don’t have it within you already. I guess a more positive take would be that love doesn’t require. I’m not trying to control you to get you to give me what I need. Here was that moment, a not-so-heavy moment, that showed me a huge thing about myself.

It happened when we went to try out a restaurant that always has crowds, so it looks like several people are into their vibe or their food. Whatever. Saturday, it was our turn. No crowd this time. A pseudo-patio walkup. Picnic tables, only made of industrial materials, so maybe less comfortable, but cooler, so just sit there and try not to think about how you’re getting older. The restaurant was fine, lots of tables, huge tv screens that emit a light that thrummed, even with the sound off. A wall of smaller screens with a dozen more sports broadcasts. Lots to see.

Our waitress was Katie, according to the traditional spiel. We’ll have two unsweet teas. All very banal. We settle into the space, order, and enjoy our food. Katie returns with tea refills. As she’s putting them on the table that has room enough for four more people, a little bit of the tea sloshes out of the glass and onto the table. It’s almost literally nothing. It touches nothing but the shiny lacquered pine tabletop. Katie is apologizing, offhandedly, “Oh, sorry,” and then my mouth just takes over and says the strangest thing. I hear myself saying with weird, vigorous enthusiasm, “Hey! That’s no problem! That’s why we order unsweet tea! It’s not sticky if you spill it!” Katie laughs the polite laugh of a customer service professional unsure of how to react and hastily leaves our table.

I do business in my head with what just transpired. I murmur within and without, “Who am I? What just happened?” I look up to see Paul amused and settling in for an existence-processing moment with his wife, who has them for a hobby. He’s a lucky man.

We riff about it unto the absurd point of me playacting picking up the tea and throwing it into my own face just to prove how utterly delightful… how not offensive at all… it is that she spilled the tea. All of this to prove that I’m not mad, I’m not bothered, in an effort to take care of her feelings when what the basic mutually agreed upon transaction really is is a noneventful delivery of the tea.

I was taking care of the waitress’s feelings to the absurd because I was desperate for her to like me… so I could feel liked. Loved… whatever.

Why is this a watershed moment? It made clear in a micro-example I’m not very good at loving myself. Or Katie. It is reasonable to expect a glass of tea. It’s not a big deal that she spilled some onto the table. It’s weird to come up with a sticky backstory like I did on the spot.

I’m fixing that. I cognitively know I’m loved. By God. By many people. I’m working on loving myself. Look, I have a feeling that if you know, you know. You know what this all means. You feel the flush of self-chiding after the fact. “Why would I say that? How stupid. How needy.”

Let’s find it inside of ourselves… I’m not going to say “together,” because your identity is not a function of my presence or approval, and mine is not, of yours. What is reasonable for you to expect from the world? I am going back to my list above: valued and cherished, worthy of taking up space and breathing air, thinking and saying things that matter to me.

I wonder what’s on your list. No one can take those away. Don’t give those away. I have a feeling that when your list of non-negotiables for yourself is grasped, love of others becomes pure as well, and Jesus said it was important.

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