“And love your neighbor as yourself.”
The first time I actually thought about that verse must have happened sometime in middle school, because I remember thinking, “Huh, I can do better than that. I don’t love myself, but I love others. I can love my neighbor better than I love myself.”
I’ve heard quite a few sermons and theories about this particular verse over the years. Everything from, “Well, it actually means to love yourself as you’d love your neighbor” to “You know, try to love yourself, try to love your neighbor” to “Love God, that’s what really matters”.
I wonder if loving ourselves is a uniquely Western culture problem (where very few people actually love themselves, actually are comfortable in their own skin – everyone just pretends) or if this is an age-old human problem. I think maybe, if it were a universal problem, perhaps the scriptures would have been worded differently. Maybe.
Because we pretend we love ourselves. And sure, we’re selfish, we still take care of Number One before we take care of everyone else. And if that’s what the scripture means – to take care of everyone else to the same extent that you take care of yourself – as some of my professors think – than it’s an easy scripture. I mean, no not easy. Taking care of someone else to the same extent that you take care of yourself, or protecting someone else as much as you protect your own well-being is never “easy”…but it’s rather surface-level if you ask me.
I have come to realize, over the years, that if I don’t “love myself”, than I can’t love others well. And this gets tricky. Because, yes, without fully being comfortable with whom I am, without liking my quirks, strengths and weaknesses, I can still be nice to people. I can still be kind. But…it is not the same as if I am fully embracing myself. If I’m not a fan of who I am, I can only be nice or kind or giving or date someone so long before things start blowing up. Whether I suddenly start showing my judgmental thoughts, or just stop showing up to hang out, or start getting super depressed (this is NOT the only reason for depression, mind you) or dependent on others or any number of super unhealthy things, something awful is going to show up. Guaranteed.
But even bigger than that is the simple thing that love is generally meant to be reciprocated. So, if you don’t love the person you are created to be, than how can you allow anyone else to love you (because yes, to some extent you have to allow and accept love from others)? If you don’t love yourself, you can’t allow someone else’s love for you to really penetrate the depths of you that love is meant to penetrate.
The tricky thing is – that you can’t. You just can’t love yourself, love the person you are, without God’s help. Sorry. It’s just not going to happen. Only through the knowledge that you are Christ’s kid, and dearly loved by Him, specially created to have the quirks, strengths, weaknesses and passions you do, can you begin to really, truly, embrace the person you are. And it is only by His strength in this world of brokenness that is trying to get you to believe the lie that you are never good enough and must be constantly doing something else; that you can even begin to accept the amazing being you have been created to be.
So, again, start praying. Pray that God opens your eyes to see yourself as He sees you – as much as He’ll let you. If we could see how deeply loved and precious we are in God’s eyes, than I’m pretty sure we’d be able to enjoy and hold close the person God is calling each of us to be.