On one of my infrequent ventures into an unplanned time of Bible reading, I felt myself drawn to a passage that I thought was dried out from years of Sunday School lessons.
Yet, as I read the all-too-familiar words, something new began to dawn on me. “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.” This is the most important commandment, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: “Love others as well as you love yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-40 MSG)
Love others as well as you love yourself.
I had grown up all my life with the emphasis of this statement being squarely fixed on the “love thy neighbour”. How had such a pivotal part of this command been missed? Was this something that we, as the Church, have missed altogether? If I‘m honest, growing up with the emphasis on the “loving thy neighbour” part of this command, my mindset soon became one of a people pleaser. After all, if time is the most precious gift we can give, as Rick Warren says, then giving all of my time to people is how I can show love to my neighbour. It’s what Jesus is asking me to do, right?
The problem with this attitude is simple. I lost the love in it. Spending time with people started to feel like a chore – a thankless task that drained me and brought me dysfunction. But still, wasn’t I doing everything right? Wasn’t I showing love to my neighbour?
It might seem a bit self-centred and arrogant to think that we should love ourselves. But God undeniably and unequivocally loves us. This is clear for all to see in the Bible. God calls us His masterpiece, His workmanship, His “poem” (poema). He has filled us with His Holy Spirit, His very presence, making us a temple akin to the majestic temple built by Solomon.
Like it or lump it, God is madly in love with you and that’s not going to change. So how can we turn around and say that we are not going to love someone who God is so madly in love with? If we are being transformed more and more into His likeness, we will start to love the things that He loves – including ourselves.
Our culture tells us who we should be, what we should look like and how we should behave. Our individuality is seeped out of us, to create conformity in an instant-gratification world. But how counter-cultural is it to plainly love who you are, to the very core?
This is what our society is crying out for. We can see it from how the “no makeup selfie” craze caught on – people want to be real. They want to love being who they are and not hate that they have the “wrong” body shape, or the “wrong” job or the “wrong” life.
So, truthfully: can we look at ourselves in the mirror and see ourselves as God sees us? Loving every weird and crazy part of us and being fully proud that He made it?
One of the ways you can learn to love yourself is by spending time alone with yourself. Take yourself out for a meal, go for a walk; do something you enjoy on your own or simply do what I do and binge on Tangled until you’ve finished your second pot of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked (other ice creams are available, but nowhere near as good).
It’s important to note that this is still the second command and not the first. God is always number one and He does call us to love our neighbour. But maybe the best way you can love your neighbour is putting your feet up for a night every now and then and enjoying your own company.
You never know, you might come to like yourself.