Learning to Love Thyself

When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus replied it was to love God with all of one's heart, soul and mind.  But then He continued stating the second greatest commandment is “like” the first.  That being, to love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus said if someone were to master these commandments, they would not need to worry about any of the rest as every other commandment was covered by these two.  

There is a lot to unpack from these concise yet powerful words.  The first command, to love God seems pretty obvious and many a preacher has spend ample pulpit time orating on the importance of loving God.  The second, to love one’s neighbor, has also received a lot of preach time, probably not as much as the first, but we’ve heard it.  

But it's that last part, “as yourself”, that seems to have been conspicuously ignored by our church culture in the past few generations.  In fact, rather than being encouraged, learning to love ourselves has actually been warned against as self-centered and evil.  Could it be in a religious culture that has spent centuries rooted in self-loathing we may be undermining our own cause?  

After all, it becomes a little difficult to love myself if I go to church and learn that I am a wretched sinner, unworthy of God’s immense compassion and grace, that my intentions and heart are broken and evil.  And if I am to love my neighbor as myself, and I view myself as a piece of garbage, then won’t that have a profound effect on they way I love my neighbor?  By that logic, technically the active shooter who kills himself at the end of his rampage is “loving his neighbor as himself” in that he is projecting his self loathing on those around him and is literally doing to others as he does to himself.  

We’ve done quite the job of dancing around the idea of loving ourselves within the church dynamic, constantly sending mixed messages that we are wretches yet made in God’s image, that we are worthless yet God still paid a king’s ransom for our souls.  

Perhaps where we have dropped the ball has been deciphering the difference between “self centered” and “self love.”  To be self centered is the opposite of love--it is selfish.  And while it may appear as self love, it is actually to the contrary.  It is a prison of insecurity that constantly demands the world adhere to the wants and whims of one’s own desires to receive the illusion of worth.  

But self love?  That’s a whole different creature.  We currently live in a society that encourages us to “be ourselves” but then in the very next breath offers us countless ways in which we can change into something different.  That somehow if we change our hair color, our eye color, our clothing attire, how old we look, and in extreme cases even removing our sex organs one can come into alignment with “who I really am.”  But if we are honest in pursuing who we “really are” then shouldn’t our real goal be to learn to love what’s already there rather than enact changes?   

We deceive ourselves when we mistake accepting and pursuing who we wish we were with who we really are.  For if I can’t accept myself for who I really am....what hope do I ever have of accepting my neighbors for who they really are?  And when it comes to God, we seem to think loving God is the easiest of the three.  

But I fear we also love God for who we want Him to be rather than who He really is.  Why do I think that?  I think it because when He showed up 2,000 years ago, we were looking for a God of power, might, and prestige.  But when He didn’t fit our paradigm of what He should be...when we instead got a God of love who outwardly looked a lot like us, rough around the edges, not washing His hands the right way and dwelling, drinking, and partying among the lowly.  We didn’t recognize Him for who He actually was, and instead killed Him for not being who we wished He was.  

Perhaps the greatest deception we ever face is the idea that we actually do love God.  For if I can’t love myself or my neighbor, both of whom are made in His image........then how could I possibly think I love God?  

Is it possible that falling in love with who I wish I was rather than who I actually am could also be transposed to God, where we end up loving God for who we wished He was rather that who He is actually?  And likewise, perhaps when we to learn to love the Lord Thy God for who He really is, maybe we can also learn to love ourselves for who we really are.  And then......then we can genuinely love thy neighbor........as thyself.  


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