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Emotional Health•Healing • 5 minutes to read
One of the hardest disciplines of the Christian walk is learning to love yourself. We think of verses like Philippians 2:3, where Paul writes:
Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.Philippians 2:3 HCSB
Then we read in Matthew 22:37-40, where Jesus says:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.Matthew 22:37-40 HCSB
How can we prioritize loving ourselves when we are called to think of other people as more important than ourselves? Great question! First, we need to discuss what “loving yourself” is not.
Loving yourself is not narcissism. A basic definition of narcissism includes an excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance. It is a combination of vanity, self-love, self-admiration, self-adulation, self-absorption, self-obsession, conceit, self-conceit, self-centeredness, self-regard, and egotism.
In the field of psychology, narcissism is shown through extreme selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.
In our humanity, we all have narcissistic tendencies. Focusing on getting our needs and desires met, often at the expense of others. These tendencies carry no traits of actual self-love. A narcissist, or someone with these tendencies, will compete with others to be sure his or her own needs are met. They carry a “me vs. the world” perspective which puts them in competition with others. They vie for attention and the perception of success. They want others to put them on the pedestal. They crave being valued and loved without regard for others.
It sounds ugly and familiar doesn’t it? In our brokenness, at one time or another, we have been there: being self-preoccupied, not always aware of how our attitudes and actions impact others.
Clearly this selfishness is not the love Jesus was talking about. What then is a healthy view of loving yourself?
The answer comes in the form of a larger truth. Life itself is precious. There is a place for valuing all life and especially human life because we were created in His image. Clinical researchers call it common humanity. Jesus spoke the same truth with “love your neighbor as yourself.” The reality is that life is valuable and needs to be cared for.
The word used by Jesus which we translate as love is “agape.” It is actually a complex word, but often it is translated as “sacrificial love” or “unconditional love.” Both carry elements of truth but neither carry the full meaning.
At the core of God’s love is grace—the receiving and giving of something good which is not deserved. But what true love and grace are is revealed through empathy. Empathy is the experience of feeling with someone rather than feeling for the person. We could write another blog on just the topic of empathy but we must come back to our quest to love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus didn’t say “treat people the way you treat yourself.” That would be horrible! No, He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Listen to the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.1 Corinthians 13:4-7 HCSB
This is a beautiful passage that is often quoted. But how about living it out? Now that is another question. If we combine 1 Corinthians 13 and Matthew 22, we can begin to see what Jesus is pointing to. He wants us to love ourselves and our neighbor in the same way. He understands.
Hebrews 4:15 says Jesus was tempted in all things. Some translations say, “in every way.” So Jesus has been tempted to be self-focused and even narcissistic. But He lived His life understanding the human condition experientially. Therefore, as Paul tells us in Romans 8:31-39 (as he waxes eloquently about the depth of God’s love for us ), “Nothing seen or unseen can separate us from the love of God.” This includes your sins and mine!
So, here’s the deal: to love your neighbor as yourself simply requires you to apply God’s love and grace equally to other people and yourself. That’s it.
Stop judging and condemning yourself when you fail. Instead, take it to the cross. Ask Jesus to forgive you, receive His forgiveness, then go on with your life. No wallowing in your sin. No emotionally or physically beating yourself up. Instead, embrace God’s grace that even in your brokenness you have received free will with all of it’s dangers. God allows you to be you.
He also wants you to love others in the same way. But it begins with you! Let me give you a simple expression of love. We all make mistakes, and we all sin. When scripture calls us to confess and repent to Christ, we also take our grievances to Christ. Here is simply one way of loving your neighbor as yourself: whether you have sinned or been sinned against, take it to the Cross. Quit taking either yourself or the other person to court! You are both on equal footing.
Moving forward is difficult for those of us who are part of common humanity. Here are two processes that may help you move forward:
1. Let Go Of Resentments
You may have heard that the number one cause of relapses or unhealthy coping behaviors is harboring resentments. Take a piece of paper and make a list of the people who have harmed you. Write out the answers to these questions: how did they harm you and how did it wound you? What do they owe you? How has holding this resentment helped you? Are you ready to show grace to this person (loving your neighbor as yourself)? If so, give your resentment and the debt they owe you to Christ. You may need to do this several times—70 times 70—but it will free you from harboring resentment.
2. Let Go Of Self-Judgments
Now, what judgments do you hold against yourself? Only the Holy Spirit can truly change you (2 Corinthians 16-18). Take your list of self-judgments to the Lord. He will forgive and help you. If you can’t seem to forgive yourself, ask your pastor or a counselor to help you.
I want to simply end with this verse, where Paul says we are to boast about (acknowledge) our weaknesses so that the grace of Christ can transform us.
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for (My) power is perfected in (your) weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.2 Corinthians 12:9 HCSB