There is an innate desire in everyone to prioritize his or her values. The things in which we attach most emotional worth to, it is in fact, what drives us. What we value is what our heart longs for in life. The flux of happiness is closely related to our values. People seem to be love’n life or hate’n life based on what they can achieve or experience.
For example, if someone values the ability to clean their house in under six minutes before their friends arrive (on short notice) and as they answer the door are able to shove the last of the living room junk into the closet, that person probably is happy. Self-image is preserved and values are achieved. So I’ve heard. My house is immaculate all the time (said no one ever).
Furthermore, if someone values winning a pizza eating contest in which they and two other friends set out on a quest to consume a ginormous pizza in under an hour, only then to fall short in doing so, (as a result of cramming so much into their intestines they end up throwing up pepperoni all over the restaurant bathroom) the opposite of happiness was experienced. The goal was not achieved. True story. My husband.
Do what makes you happy. Right?
The overall message of our culture is that there is a direct correlation between moving towards your values and the state of your happiness. In other words, many would define self-love or “loving yourself” as following their truest values. In our culture people are continually asking themselves, am I experiencing all my values have to offer? In this line of thinking, my self-image is thus my focus when I’m am truly “loving myself.”
– Carpe Diem
– Follow your bliss
– If you want to be happy, be.
– Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
– Happiness depends upon ourselves.
– Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.
– Always wear a cup
I see a growing trend in some church circles where 20, 30, and 40 something Christians offer and sell “coaching” to others in order to grow lacking self-love. This goal of self-love is believed to bring fulfillment in a Christian’s life. And by selling I mean they charge hundreds of dollars a session to tell you how to be popular in a constant state of self-accepted/loved bliss. These voices seem to argue that not loving yourself well, is indeed, your root problem. On a side note: let me just say if you go to school to become a doctor – then awesome sauce – you deserve your physician’s fee. If you have no training in the area in which you wish to give counsel, let alone “Godly” counsel, please don’t charge what a physician would charge. Perhaps begin by giving your advice away because it lacks discipline and experience. If you’re not willing to sit with the broken who can do nothing for your image , then this activity is not ministry and it’s surely not Jesus. Popularity is not an objective measure of Godliness. Ok, coming down off soapbox…
So, what did Jesus say about self-love?
When the Pharisees were attempting to trip Jesus up in Matthew 22:37:39 and probed Him with the question, “what is the greatest commandment?” he replied,
37 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus refers to two Old Testament verses in His answer here: Deut. 6:5 and then Lev. 19:18. Deut 6:5 basically means to love God first with all of your thoughts, feelings, breath, spirit, imagination, and understanding. The heart is the epicenter of all that is able to commune with God. Jesus is saying love God with all of your being. Secondly, Jesus quotes Lev 10:18 which explains how to love your neighbor. Your neighbor being the one next to you, in closest proximity regardless of race, religion, etc. The Israelites were to love their neighbors by providing for those who couldn’t provide for themselves and instructed them to steer clear of seeking revenge on those around them.
Loving yourself couples with loving your neighbor. Steward your life well and be concerned with the life of others. Jesus clearly says as you’ve established a strong and healthy outpouring of worship to your only creator, out of this place will flow identity. Out of this positioning you will naturally care for and love your neighbor. Jesus is saying care about the basic needs of others as much as you take care of your own. This is in contrast to the message of “self- actualize” enough to be confident in your self-image, then teach others how to be as awesome as you are.
Caring for others doesn’t begin once you’ve obtained self-esteem or self-worth, this is out of yourself now. This is not a “me” vacation first so that I can come back to the village and direct happiness into other’s lives because I’m the best me I can be. Nope. Love is not a leader over another. Love is not a position of greatness over another. Love your neighbor as yourself is an equal opportunity. We come to the table as both dependents on one provider.
If stewarding your life is Jesus’ definition of self-love then self-confidence, assurance in your abilities and gifting, roles in family life, and titles have nothing to do with self-love. And if the pursuit of values, which are tied to achieving and experiencing, are not involved with self-love defined by Jesus, then loving yourself as you love your neighbor takes on new meaning. It means to the measure I put energy into seeking my own self-love is the measure in which I am required to love others. Jesus ties the two together after saying, “First and foremost, give God the core of you”.
Some of the most Christ like people I know do not esteem themselves very highly. It’s not like they walk around hating themselves or carrying around some false humility. They simply concern themselves with the welfare of others as much as their own.
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
– C.S. Lewis
In ministering to those in the areas of hopelessness, depression, sexual brokenness, drug abuse, relational issues, etc, there are beliefs that greatly hinder individuals from experiencing freedom in Christ.
The notion that “I” must get better for myself is prevalent in our culture and cripples growth, let alone freedom. Freedom is a love relationship that cannot start with me.
As if breaking free of sin was ever possible by sheer willpower and that the prerequisite is solely based on loving yourself first. This leaves many people in the pattern of self-absorption that perpetuates these issues further.
We love because He first loved us.
Out of this love we see Him and His sacrificial love for us. We then love Him from becoming like Him, wanting to sacrificially love others.
The last time I watched pornography was about a year into my marriage. I’d gone through counseling and walking in a measure of freedom from pornography at that point, however, my marriage was falling apart for other reasons. This broken place left me with chaos and fear, and I’d returned to old coping mechanisms. Old methods of diseased self-care and self-love.
I remember going to the Lord and realizing that if I did not yield to God in that moment that I would be held accountable for allowing this sin to reign in my marriage and then ultimately in my children’s lives. I saw my children being bound by shame and addiction because I allowed it into our home. Honestly, it scared the crap out of me. So I let my love for God, my husband, and future children be the motivator of yielding my heart to Him. My desire to please God and to trust him won over my own distorted notion of self-love and self-preservation.
This leads to my final point, which is that many Christians are still bound because they are afraid of sacrificial love. They are afraid of pain and being without the familiar. They are afraid of losing the comfort and protection of self-centeredness. Who will take care of me if I stop focusing on my pain? I totally get that, especially when you truly have experienced a lot of trauma in your life. However, the way out of misery is not found in yourself. It will require you to lay down your life for another.
Why? Because it is the person of Jesus.
The greatest thing about Jesus’ definition of self-love is that it is given away – so no one loses. No one goes without. No one is abandoned. Self sacrificial love is embodied in a community that prefers each other over themselves and watches to see opportunities where we can support the Godly values each of us carry.
It’s messy and costly but this love is truly fulfilling and the target we all are called to aim for in life.
Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect, and honesty.