“Love your neighbor as yourself.” —Jesus (Mark 12.31)
In a piece a few weeks ago, I noted that loving ourselves is a prerequisite for us being able to love others. I didn’t say much, but I thought it was enough to get the point across so that I could move on. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that this topic deserves more than just a note buried in a blog post in my archive. Because it’s important, and I think it’s something we all struggle with from time to time. I know I have. So this week, I want to dedicate my entire article to this concept of self-love and its importance in our lives.
Growing up, we receive a lot of mixed messages about the way we’re supposed to approach our own self-image. We’re taught that we should love and admire ourselves just the way we are, but also that we shouldn’t be prideful or conceited. We need to value and appreciate ourselves, but we’re supposed to be sacrificial and put others first, too. “Love yourself, but not too much,” the world tells us. And while I think there’s some value to these well-meaning messages, they often leave us confused. Maybe even lost. And in the process, we can end up losing our entire sense of self-worth.
This is a true shame. When we aren’t able to love ourselves, we miss out on many of the great things of life. We can’t foster healthy, reciprocal relationships with others. We can’t excel in our careers and hobbies. And we can’t connect with God in realistic, enriching ways. We can’t do any of these things because we’re too caught up in ourselves, our insecurities, and our unfulfilled needs to live the abundant life God has for us.
Perhaps worst of all, when we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love others. The great commandment tells us to love others as we love ourselves. It doesn’t say “more than” ourselves. Or “instead of” ourselves. It says we should love others as we love ourselves, which means that self-love is necessary for loving others. The truth is that no matter what, we’re always going love ourselves better than we love anybody else. It’s human nature. So if we can’t love ourselves, how can we expect to be able to love anybody else?
Loving ourselves can be hard for a lot of different reasons. Maybe we don’t like the way we look. Maybe we’re dissatisfied with where we are in life. Maybe we’ve made decisions that we aren’t proud of, and they change the way we view ourselves. All of these things can harm our self-image and eventually interfere with our ability to like ourselves, even to love ourselves.
But the truth is that self-love, like any other kind of love, can’t be based on anything superficial. It can’t be based on something a person does, the way they look, or their position in life. Love is rooted in identity, who a person is. And self-love is no different. We’re supposed to love ourselves not because we’re perfect or successful or anything else. We’re supposed to love ourselves because we’re people created in the image of a God who loves us. That’s where our identity, our value, our self-worth, and ultimately our self-love come from.
By the way, that’s where love of others comes from, too. Right now, my big mantra is, “People are people.” And that’s why we love and value them. Because they’re people created in the image of God and loved by him. So if we can’t recognize that about ourselves and apply it in a way that allows us to love ourselves, we can’t possibly do that for others.
I’m not saying that it’s always easy. Even I struggle with self-worth and self-love from time to time. But that’s why we have to have a realistic view of ourselves in order to love ourselves well. Just like you truly can’t love someone you don’t know, you can’t love yourself until you strip away all of the extra stuff, look yourself right in the face, and choose to love what you see. You may be broken. You may have made some mistakes. You may not even like where you are in life. But you are created in God’s image; you are loved by him. And that’s more than enough reason to love yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with needing help from time to time, either. When we struggle to love ourselves, sometimes we need a reminder of who we are. And those who love us are more than happy to come alongside us and see us through the dark times until we’re able to love ourselves again. It may be scary to reach out and ask for help, but when we do, we often find that it’s been there waiting the entire time.
And once we love ourselves well, we’re free and able to love others. We can see their value and cherish them for who they are because we’ve already gone through that process ourselves. We can follow the command to love others as ourselves, and we can love others well because we’ve learned to love ourselves well. And that, friends, is a beautiful thing. It’s my hope for myself and for each of you that we get to a place where we can love ourselves for who we are and then extend that love to others as Jesus taught us. May it be so.