"Before you can love someone else, you must first love yourself."
I was taught this - by parents, therapists, pastors, teachers, counselors. I've probably even uttered this phrase (or something similar) to my own children and friends.
And, there perhaps is a truth to it. However....
How do you learn to love yourself? The roof of our condemned house is falling in... the upper floors are about to crash into the main floor... there are no support beams of love holding it all up. We can't truly love others and build these beams because we don't love ourselves. If love of self is the main supporting beam, we're in big trouble. How do we fix it!?!
Easy. We follow what we're told in Mark 12:28-31. Paraphrased: we're first to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and then we are to love others as ourselves.
If you notice - loving self is not first. Loving God is.
We need to make a conscious decision to love the God who first loved us.
See, in general, the reason we don't love ourselves... well, in my case anyway... I am not worthy of love. I'm a sinner. I've lied and cheated and hurt people. I've hated and lusted and envied. I've been angry at God, cursing His name. I've tried to deny His existence. Repeatedly, I have not been a good child of God.
But God? God doesn't care. Well, ok, He cares. But, no matter how unworthy I am... no matter how much crap I've done... He still loves me. He has always loved me. He will never stop loving me. I realize I touched on this a bit in the opening post on The Condemned House, but I find it so vitally important to repairing our hearts that it demands being repeated. God loves us! Despite all our sins and garbage, God still loves us! I think this is the hardest thing for many of us to believe and accept. But believe it!
We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
I can't speak for the rest of you, but for me, the fact that He loves me - the fact that He considers me one of His beloved children? This thought makes me eager to love Him in return. And, it makes me realize that maybe I'm not quite as unlovable as I thought. The more we recognize God loves us, the more we are able to love Him in return, and the more we recognize that we are worth loving. The more we recognize we are worth loving, the more we are able to also love ourselves.
Loving Others as Myself?
Sometimes I feel this verse is worded rather poorly. Consider the ways in which many of us "love" ourselves. We criticize ourselves, drink ourselves to oblivion, have sex with random people, eat unhealthily. We generally suck at loving ourselves. If we were to love others in that same way, the world would probably be even worse off than it already is. I think John 15:12 is worded a bit better: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
We need to love others. And, I don't think we need to wait until we love ourselves.
How do we love others?
What does it mean to love others? What does that look like? Many people see love as the mushy, emotional love we have for a significant other. Others see it as strictly an action-based love - service towards others. For me, I see it as a combination of the two. We are to genuinely care about other people (emotional). We should desire the best for them, and feel with them and for them. But, it is also a love of action. We should be praying for them. We should be helping them - if they need food, feed them; if they need clothes, clothe them; if they need to cry, offer them a shoulder.
This is where "you should love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31) actually works. Think about it - a medical emergency causes you to lose your job and your little baby is starving. Do you want someone with money and resources to just walk past you and your crying infant, or stop and offer you some food and milk? You can't afford to send your children off to school in anything better than tattered clothes... wouldn't you want someone to drop off a bag of secondhand, but better conditioned, clothes for them? Your downright depressed and hurt and angry, and feel your faith slipping because of what has happened. Do you want me to pass by you without a second glance? Or stop and offer a hug, a shoulder, and a prayer?
Then when you see someone like this, you should do the same. You should buy a gallon of milk for the infant; clothing for the children; a warm meal for the homeless man. You should offer a kind word, a listening ear, and a prayer.
You should love as you would want to be loved. And as I said before...
Don't wait until you love yourself to love others!
Maybe the phrase to first love yourself before others makes sense in a more intimate relationship (dating... marriage). In relationships like that, it is important to be able to love yourself - to know you're worthy of love. It helps in knowing how to return love, and in how to have a healthy relationship.
But to love your neighbor, stranger, enemy? Your children? Other family members? Coworkers? The homeless guy down the street?
I believe we can actually learn how to love ourselves, by first loving these people. And we learn how to love both ourselves and others by accepting God's love for us, and recognizing how He loves us. It's a selfless love. It's sacrificial. It's not contingent on any action from the other person.
And when we realize the depth of this love, we learn how to repeat it to others, and to ourselves. Through the giving of ourselves to others, we learn also to love ourselves.
We can't wait. We can't say "I must learn to love myself first."If we do that... if we wait for something that may never happen if we can't learn to open our hearts to others... that ceiling is going to cave in. We must build the support beams. We must start showing love and feeling love - to God, to Others, to Self.
The Condemned House series
Did you miss the other posts in this series? Catch up on them now!