Last week was Valentine’s Day, and I couldn’t believe how many times I saw the phrase love yourself. The world of greeting cards, inspirational books, and social media posts is filled to overflowing with this idea that we must love ourselves better (or more) before we can love others. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what my Bible says . . .
What did Christ call the two greatest commandments?
- Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
Notice He didn’t say to love yourself first so that you can love others or God. He said to love others as you already love yourself.
Nobody needs to be told to love themselves!
We spend so many resources trying to protect our inner thoughts and feelings. We put up walls so that others can’t hurt us, either accidentally or purposely. We withdraw from pain or run headlong into it, hiding or fighting in whichever way makes us feel empowered or in control. We keep secrets so that others can’t use our vulnerabilities against us. We spend hundreds, if not thousands, each year on things that give feelings of comfort and security.
We love ourselves far too much to need to add more love to it. We don’t need any reminders to focus on “finding ourselves” and “having me time” and loving who we are on the inside.
Yes, it is important to steward our bodies and minds wisely. Yes, we may need to learn a correct view of our identity in Christ. Yes, it is helpful to understand what makes us tick or what gives us joy.
But we are all born with an innate sense of self-love. You don’t protect what you don’t care about — yet we spend our lives sheltering ourselves from hurt or vulnerability in some way or another.
Perhaps the most obvious form of self-love is seen in the realm of self-esteem. Most of us of probably fall somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum, but let’s look at the extremes of high and low self-esteem for a moment.
I think we’d all agree that high self-esteem is an obvious manifestation of loving yourself too much. I mean, narcissism — really? You are the center of the universe, your opinion matters most, and everyone must bow to your greatness.
But what about low self-esteem or even hating yourself? Such a depth of hatred is usually reflected in a marked level of neglect or self-inflicted pain. To the average observer, it looks like you don’t care a smidgen about your physical or mental well-being. It seems like you consider everyone else more important . . . like you are the most humble person around.
But true humility isn’t hating yourself or abusing your body. True humility is being a wise steward of your resources — physical or otherwise — because you know that you will someday give account to someone greater for how you used what you had. True humility opens itself up to pain, but not from our own lack of care or pointed neglect. It becomes vulnerable to pain by loving others and spending one’s self for their benefit.
Withdrawal, self-punishment, and neglect are simply symptoms of a desire for control . . . because we love ourselves, and we want to control what happens to us.
When it feels like things are beyond our control, or when we feel like we can’t live up to certain expectations (ours or otherwise), we pull in the sidewalks and try to protect ourselves at all costs.
Sometimes that protection looks like inflicting pain on ourselves so nobody else will do it. Sometimes it looks like neglecting to take care of our bodies or our mental health, because we’ve decided we’re not worth the time or effort. Sometimes it looks like withdrawing from everything lovely and comforting, and escaping to the world of entertainment or daydreams.
All of those things are just manifestations of caring too deeply for ourselves. We hurt, or we lose our grip of things, and so we decide . . . if we can’t control anything else, than at least we can control our bodies. If other people or events are going to cause us pain, then we’ll just prove that we can withstand even heavier loads of pain. If nobody else is going to care for our needs, then we’ll prove we don’t need those things anyway.
Low or high, either end of the self-esteem spectrum is an obvious form of self-love. Either way, it’s a picture of idolizing what we think we are or what we should be, and loving that dream more than the reality.
You don’t need a reminder to love yourself any more than you need reminders to feel pain when you’re injured or smile when you’re happy.
However, there are some other things we need to be reminded about instead — things a little more crucial and life-changing than learning to love yourself better:
- We need to remember the truth about who we really are. Our identity in Christ — or out of Him — is a firm fact that does not fluctuate with the ebb and flow of this world’s storms.
- We do need to learn how to manage our bodies wisely. Failing to take care of our physical resources with healthful eating, smart exercise, and adequate rest is either foolishness (thinking it doesn’t matter) or pride (thinking I know better than God what my body needs).
- We do need to understand why we react certain ways to certain situations. Knowing that particular events cause anger or irritation can help us be on guard against those responses, not preventing the circumstances but allowing us to brace our minds against the temptations to respond poorly.
- We do need to choose to trust God’s control, even when things seem completely out of hand. Remembering that nothing happens without the permission of a good, wise, and faithful God can calm our feelings of disorder and panic and ease the stress of worry and anxiety.
- We do need to surrender control of ourselves and our circumstances to that good and loving God. We were not made to carry those burdens. We don’t have the wisdom or the power to truly control anything . . . even ourselves.
We have been called to lay the burdens of expectations and control at His feet. We have been called to follow truth, rather than feelings. We have been called to wisely steward what He has bestowed upon us. We have been called to trust Him and obey Him wholeheartedly.
But we have no call to ‘love ourselves’ any more than we already do.