God is love (2)

Love yourself


15. December 2020In DevotionalBy Karsten Risseeuw13 Minutes

Can I ask you a straightforward question? Do you love yourself? You might be aware that many people do not love themselves. You might be one of them. It can be a heavy burden, leading to anxiety, a troubled mind, restlessness, and the inability to be like you are meant to be. You might even have developed strategies to avoid your anxiety and to survive your negativity. Much of this could be cured if you were truly loved by someone. This is where Christians can point to God as the only true source of reliable and unconditional love. Many Christians are saying that – but don’t apply it to themselves. That is a problem.

Love yourself

“Love yourself” is not a catchphrase, nor an advertising slogan. It is a necessity and the opposite of narcissism and egoism. We are the main actors in our lives. Every person should have the vision to love themselves. Just like Paul wrote: “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and sound mind” (2Tim 1:7). If Gods spirit of power, love and sound mind doesn’t start with us, how should it be of value? By loving ourselves, we are freed to love others. It might all start with Gods love for us. That is what this article is about.

Unfortunately, it is often not that easy. Lack of self-love can be the reason for unspeakable suffering in relationships. It might be one of the reasons people project things on other people and thus avoid reality – both in good and bad ways. If you do not love yourself, you cannot love other people unconditionally. You are not free to love. You are bound to your limitations, of which only unconditional love sets free.

It is about self-acceptance, about courage and joy to live. It also defines if our faith is truly freeing and life-confirming. Is it for you? Or have you grown up in an environment where “loving yourself” was considered a sin? Unfortunately, it still happens that Christians are told that self-sacrifice is the way to go, which is not seldom interpreted as “do not love yourself”.

Loving others? No problem!

Sure, God loves us. That’s easy to say, and we point to the people we love: We love our children, our partners, maybe good friends, we love parents, all in a unique and special way. To love others – no problem! Many do so. But there is one who fades out: Yourself.

To be able to love others but not love yourself is not possible. It looks like it works, that one can love, but it is like a game of hide-and-seek with one’s own pains. That’s why people love, but anticipate redemption by the other person. It’s a deal: I love you, so I expect you to love me. Such love will exhaust itself. It does not have a transforming effect, but causes dependency. This kind of passion is what creates suffering. The partner is instrumentalized to fight pain, used as a source of soothing one’s own pain. This is not a fulfilling kind of relationship and it cannot ever become one.

The central question is: Can I love myself as I am, with all my shortcomings and merits, with all my fears and joys, with my failures and the failures of others towards me? Can I leave all pious platitudes behind me and honestly look at my life, myself, as well as my fears and hopes. Do I have the courage to address them and transform them through a loving confrontation?

Deception

Those who do not love themselves suffer. Others cannot eradicate this perceived gap, the pain, the perceived inferiority, the non-sufficiency, the painful imperfection of one’s own existence. Those who do not love themselves cannot enter into equal and fulfilling relationships, always choose the wrong relationships, repeat the old patterns, speak of “wasted effort of love” or withdraw themselves by avoiding relationships at all.

If we project our fears or hopes onto another person, then we merely trigger a deceptive maneuver. Relationships are lived in the hope that the other person will heal me, meet me, touch me, free me, save me. However, this does not work. I have to take responsibility for my life and feelings. Only when I am truly free can I, in this freedom, also perceive and respond to the fulfilling other. Only when I am truly free can I live out both my humanity and my faith in this world.

Am I willing to perceive myself, to have my personal journey, just with myself and without any deception? Dare I to pause and to attend my needs? Do I allow myself to be transformed, to gain a new perspective? Can I air my fears and mistakes in front of my partner, in front of my friends, if that is necessary and helpful? Am I able to distance myself? Am I noticeable, for myself, for others?

The way back to oneself is not a luxury, but a necessity. One can either stay on the run or look at oneself, meet oneself anew, look one’s own fears anew in the eyes, let oneself be transformed, start anew.

Love your neighbor as yourself

What helpful thoughts can be found in the Bible? As early as in the books of Moses it says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). But I cannot love my neighbor, including my partner, my children, my friends and anyone else, if I cannot love myself.

In the New Testament this thought is taken up again. A Jew from the group of Pharisees once asked Jesus:

“Teacher, what is the great commandment in the Law?” But he answered him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. But the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself! On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Mt 22:36-40 cf. Deut 6:5 and Deut 19:18.

The Apostle Paul writes very similar:

“For the whole law is fulfilled in the one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself!”
Gal 5:14

You shall… love others as yourself! Voila! There we have it, unequivocal and clear. It takes a healthy love of self. This does not mean narcissism or unfruitful ego-centeredness, but an acceptance of one’s own humanity. “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else” (Margaret Mead).

Stay true to yourself

What can we think of? Perhaps things like this: Accepting yourself as you are. Becoming aware that you are not the only one on the road. Humility and a sense of reality will guide you. Being vulnerable is an asset and qualification for real-life. Taking responsibility for one’s own life, without distractions or games of hide-and-seek will give strength and focus. Can we be loving and gracious with ourselves? Living out truthfulness is the concern. To be fully human, but also to be able to stand in the grace of God. Not to be stuck in the past. Saying goodbye when something is not working. Work on something to solve it, if we can. Being true to oneself. To be able to differentiate things of importance (Phil 1:9), to be careful with oneself.

Loving oneself is not something that happens in a vacuum, but it means “loving your neighbor as yourself”. This is not only about yourself. There are two sides. It is you and me, but in connection to the world around us. Loving one’s neighbor is in line with loving oneself. There is an interaction as in “self-reflection”. Above all, it is not static, but alive. It is a choice. To love is an activity, an urging of the heart. Just as Paul may have written elsewhere “For the love of Christ urges us…” (2Cor 5:14). That’s where he acts and something happens. Everything is alive.

The wow-factor

In the letter to the Ephesians we can read several prayers of Paul. In chapter 3 he prays that God

“… grant you – according to the riches of His glory – to be made steadfast in the inner man through His Spirit in power, that Christ may dwell fully in your hearts through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strengthened to grasp with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height (to know also the love of the Christ that surpasses all knowledge), that you may be made complete for the entire perfection of God.”
Eph. 3:14-19

Paul is aiming at perfection. Not that we must be perfect, but he throws us back onto God: “that you may be made complete for the entire perfection of God”. That is quite an amazing saying.

We probably will lack perfection, always, but Paul prays (and we can pray) that we will be made complete for the entire perfection of God. It has to do with His perfection, not with mine. Instead of “perfection” it is closer to the original Greek by speaking of “complement”.

“That you may be completed for the entire complement of God.” (CNT*)
Eph 3:19

Completion is something else as perfection. Perfection doesn’t lead anywhere. Completion though is fulfillment. It is about our fulfillment just as much as it is about the entire complement of God. It is like coming to the source and goal of all. It is a place of rest where one is not only loved, but where love is possible and fulfilling. That is “wow!”.

The foundation has been laid. Now dare to do what God has been doing for a long time already: love yourself.

*Bible version: CNT is the Concordant New Testament.