More than a popular buzzword, loving ourselves is a profound acceptance of our God-given identities
Written by Stephanie Massicotte
In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus states that the first most important commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength and the second is to love our neighbours as ourselves. In that second commandment, God sneaks in the idea of loving ourselves alongside loving others.
In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says it this way:
“All your life long you are slowly turning … into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy, peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means … rage, impotence and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”
These two options revolve around the commandment to love God and to love others as well as ourselves.
For some of us, the hardest person to accept is the person staring back at us in the mirror. We see ourselves through the lens of all our flaws, mistakes, shortcomings, messy past, and brokenness. We believe the voices that attempt to convince us we don’t measure up. We can be our own worst enemies.
Not loving ourselves can masquerade as being humble or selfless, but at its worst, it is nothing less than a stronghold for our spiritual enemy to wage war against us and steal what should be ours. By coming into agreement with him, we make his job to destroy us so much easier. Peace and joy are robbed, relationships broken, and opportunities missed. Fear reigns.
From a psychological perspective, when we are unloving toward ourselves, our thoughts become critical and harsh. This is called having a “critical inner voice.” To many of us, it might feel so normal that we excuse it and say things to ourselves we would never dream of saying to others. Critical inner voices normalize belittling, nitpicking, and focusing on our flaws.
If someone were to follow us around all day looking over our shoulders, judging and condemning everything we did and said, we would feel pretty horrible. We would naturally start to resent the person mistreating us. And yet, we often treat ourselves this way and then wonder why we feel miserable and hate ourselves. This lack of love towards ourselves can lead to depression, eating disorders, and even suicidal thoughts.
But there is hope! In Matthew 5:44, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We often hear this applied to others, but it can be applied to ourselves as well.
Loving and praying for an enemy never come easily, but when we intentionally do it, we find freedom from anger, resentment, and bitterness.
In 1 Corinthians 13, love is defined as being patient, kind, and honouring, not keeping records of our own wrongs or being rude. We can practice this kind of love toward ourselves, accepting our God-given identity as beloved children. Through that acceptance, the Holy Spirit can bring an incredible amount of healing and restoration in our lives.
In the same way that being unloving toward ourselves makes our spiritual enemy’s job to destroy us easier, being intentionally loving towards ourselves opens the door to what God wants to do in our lives.
Of course, loving ourselves in a godly way does not mean being selfish, prideful, over-indulgent, or not taking responsibility for our actions. The Bible tells us that “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child” (Hebrews 12:6-7). According to the Bible, love goes hand in hand with discipline and cannot be separated.
Similarly, Romans 2:4 tells us that it is God’s loving-kindness that leads us to repentance. Yet this remorse for our wrongdoing is very different from the shame and critical self-talk many of us experience daily.
When God is at work in our lives, we start producing what the Bible calls fruits of the Spirit. The very first fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22). Nicky Gumbel, who is best known for his work and teachings with the Alpha courses, suggests that each of the following fruits of the Spirit are “love in action.” For example, joy is love rejoicing, peace is love at rest, patience is love waiting, kindness is loving interacting. In other words, love is the first and most important sign of God at work in you and in me.
Learning to receive love from both others and ourselves may require practice. But because we are meant to be conduits, the more we receive love from God, the more love we can give to ourselves as well as others. We are called to both receive and give love freely. Thus, loving ourselves helps us reflect God’s lavish love more clearly.