A couple days ago I was talking to a friend about a book she’s been reading that’s been really encouraging to her. The book deals with lies that women tend to believe about themselves, which is definitely a relevant topic to women, so I took a look at it. As I glanced over the Table of Contents and read the lies that the author identifies, there were a lot of lies that she had pin-pointed, and most of them hit the nail on the head in my life. However, there was one lie that stuck out to me, one I didn’t agree with: The lie that “We must learn to love ourselves.”
Now let me say up front that I haven’t read the chapter, so I cannot pass any kind of real judgment on the material contained inside of it, but my friend summarized it as follows: We do not need to learn to love ourselves, because we already do. God commanded us to love others “as we love ourselves,” and this command implies that we already love ourselves. That being said, the challenge is not loving ourselves, but loving others. If anything, we need to spend less time thinking about ourselves.
This argument is a common one. You will hear many a Christian argue against the self-centeredness of our culture. We love to think about ourselves and how to best serve ourselves. And for that reason, any teaching that encourages us to love ourselves *more* would surely feed our self-centeredness all the more.
While there is some truth to this claim, I must admit that I largely disagree. The kind of “love” to which these people are referring is not love at all–it’s vanity. And we must never confuse love with vanity, because the two are exact opposites. In reality, vanity comes from the same source as low self-esteem. Both the vain person and the person with low self-esteem are constantly thinking about themselves and how to make themselves feel better, worthier, greater. The only difference is that the vain person is succeeding.
That being said, self-centeredness must never be confused with love. If love and self-centeredness were the same thing, then to fulfill the command of “loving others as you love yourself” would mean placing an unhealthy emphasis on others. Rather than being in bondage to pleasing yourself, you’d be in bondage to pleasing others.
With this in mind, our standard for loving others must not assume that we are loving ourselves well. If we love ourselves poorly, then we will subsequently love others poorly as well. So how do we love ourselves rightly? By loving ourselves in a way that honors God. Our first priority should never be ourselves–it should always be God. Everything we do should center on God and our love for God. Once we get to the point where God is the center, everything else in our lives will fall into its right place. Instead of putting ourselves first, which will subsequently lead to a life centered around serving ourselves, we’ll learn to love ourselves in a way that keeps God first, and glorifies Him. The goal will be God’s glory, not our glory, so the way in which we love ourselves will fall in line with that priority.
Let me give you an example of this: One way to love yourself is by loving your body, not because it draws attention to you or makes other people jealous of you, but because God created you in His image, so your body is therefore beautiful. Or, you can love your personality, not because it makes you popular and everyone likes you, but because God shaped your personality in a certain way, and all of your gifts are echoes of God’s own identity. In this way, loving your body and loving your personality are simply ways of loving God, and worshipping God. This kind of love does not lead to vanity, but to blessed self-forgetfulness. We are no longer thinking, “me, me, me,” because we only have eyes for God.
So, I disagree with the author of my friend’s book–we do need to learn to love ourselves, because love ourselves is an integral part of loving God. And this is SO important for women, given the way culture teaches us to hate the bodies and minds we have been given, thereby stripping God of glory that is rightfully His.