“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40
Tucked away and often neglected in these verses is the command to love yourself. For someone like me, who struggles to love himself, this commandment (echoed in Philippians 2:4) is startling and scary. Life has taught me that I am not lovable, not acceptable, not attractive. I believed that if people were to discover the real me that I would be rejected, so I constructed an external image that I thought people found acceptable.
“Love God? I can try. Love my neighbor? I’ll do my best. Love myself? — are you joking? I don’t even like who I am. I expend so much energy trying to just appear presentable to the world.”
And in that very thinking was my fatal problem. I looked to the world to determine whether or not I was valuable. A masochistic exercise because the world always led me to the same conclusion — I’m not successful enough, not handsome enough, not fit enough, not funny enough, not smart enough — never enough.
Only in Christ do I find another determination. God tells me that I need supernatural strength just to comprehend how much he loves me (Ephesians 3:14-20). That nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8:35-39). That his love is abundant, gracious, forgiving, and everlasting (Psalm 103). That his love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). And that his love is completely independent of anything about me or my performance (Ephesians 2:4-9).
Relating to an invisible God always seemed to me to be nebulous and difficult. How am I supposed to experience a God I can’t see, touch, or hear? I believe loving ourselves is the key to unlocking this door. If I was a pauper living in 10th century feudal Europe, and the lord of the land, adopted me into his family to be his only son and heir, my journey of experiencing relationship with that lord would begin by me leaving the squalor of my current place and assuming the new position established for me. Until I recognize that God finds me irresistibly lovable and take my place in his family (Romans 8:14-17), relationship with him remains impossible. If we want to know God, and experience genuine relationship with him, we begin by practicing his word in our hearts that we have been made alive with Christ because God loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20). The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
When I put away the ever fading opinions of the world, my peers, and myself, and I begin to love myself as and because God loves me, only then can I love him with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my mind, and love my neighbor as myself.