As part of his teachings, Jesus reminded us of the second great commandment from the time of Moses, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
I am not even going to begin to speculate as to why, but many people get hung up on the idea of what it means to love yourself.
There seems to be a wave of thought in Christian circles that looks at self-love as inherently bad. The idea is that we should be dying to ourselves, and placing the needs of others above our own concerns.
The thought is that love for others should overshadow or replace love for ourselves.
I believe we need to find a healthy balance between taking care of ourselves and taking care of those around us.
To put it another way, we need to love ourselves. We need to put our own oxygen masks on first in order to be able to aid those around us in donning theirs.
One of my favourite ways to look at self love is the way it is described by CS Lewis. He says that our love for others should manifest in the same practical, everyday ways that we love ourselves.
We feed ourselves, we groom ourselves, we work to ensure that we have a place to live and a means to support ourselves for the foreseeable future.
In the same way, we should show our love for others in practical ways, such as feeding the hungry, and helping widows and orphans.
This makes a great deal of sense to me and lines up with the way that Jesus describes the ways in which we should show love to those around us. We should feed the poor, clothe the naked, and visit the lonely and imprisoned.
I was recently reading a book that seemed to confirm the idea that loving yourself is an important part of being a healthy person.
In his book, Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts, mathematician and psychologist Stanilas Dehaene describes how researchers have mapped the areas of the human brain that activate when we are thinking about other people.
Significantly, these social areas of the brain are the same areas that light up when we think about ourselves.
So from my brain’s point of view, when I think of myself, it’s not really much different than thinking about any other particular person.
We judge ourselves and use these underlying judgments as a basis for our actions toward others. We love or hate ourselves and this colors how we love or hate others.
If you hate yourself, you aren’t going to be very good at loving other people.
So self love, at least a certain kind of self love, is in fact a very practical and necessary concept. We must have a basic type of self-love in order to understand how to love others properly.
Selfishness and self-obsession… these have no place at all in our lives. We need to realize that we have concerns beyond ourselves. Caring for others also has a place.
There has to be a comfortable, healthy balance between taking care of our own needs and taking care of the needs of others.
I believe that when Jesus talked about denying ourselves, he wasn’t talking about self-flagellation, but about the price of caring for others.
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24, NASB).
If I am caring for my children, it might mean that I take the time to play with them, instead of watching television. That is denying myself, if only in a small way.
It might mean I do something to make my husband’s life easier, instead of just thinking about my own needs. That is also denying myself.
Denying myself has no similarity at all to self-loathing or self-deprecation. It is perfectly healthy to feel good about your accomplishments and abilities. It’s not so healthy to belittle yourself or put yourself down.
So here is the summary:
Love God, because God loves you.
Love yourself, because God loves you and created you to be unique and precious in his sight.
Love your neighbor as yourself, because God loves you and gives you the strength and resources to love others.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV)
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:11, NIV)
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