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I have never had any single message pushed upon me more than self-love has been preached to me throughout my time at college. It seems I cannot go a full day without someone or something telling me to love myself or to value self-care. We see it constantly in popular culture. Whether it stems from Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself,” Emma Watson proudly declaring herself “self-partnered” or anything out of Lizzo’s mouth, many influential people in our culture today are obsessed with loving themselves, and believe strongly that everyone else should as well.
Biola University is no different. I cannot count the times a resident adviser told me to “take time for self-care,” while I was busy rushing around on some task or another. Chapel speakers constantly emphasize the importance of self-care and self-love. I have even had a few professors lecture me about the importance of taking care of myself.
Taking care of yourself and meeting your own needs is essential. If you burn yourself out, you are not being a good steward of the resources God has given you. There is a vast difference between taking care of yourself and engaging in what our culture calls self-love. This is because no matter what you do, you will always love yourself. Loving yourself is not a choice, it is a fact of your existence. You may not always like yourself, but you will always love yourself.
WHAT IS LOVING ONESELF?
But what does loving oneself look like? This is easiest to understand by thinking of loving another person. To love someone is to always desire what you sincerely believe is best for them, and always chose to do everything in your power to do that for them. But what about when we are forced to do things we do not want to do? Let me ask you this, was there ever a time when you did something you did not choose to do? Even if that choice was under duress? Of course not.
If a man is threatening you with death or serious harm if you do not give him your wallet, you make the choice to give him your wallet. You could have not done so, but you concluded that it would be better for you to hand over your money. Whenever you choose to do something, you do so because you have determined that it is best for you, even if it is not what you desire.
CORRUPT SELF LOVE
It is clear to anyone who has spent any time at all with humans that our version of love is often corrupted. Our love for ourselves is tainted, corrupted, often destructive and it is always present. So now that we know that we already love ourselves, albeit often in an unhealthy way, how do we love ourselves well?
S. Lewis puts it brilliantly in “Mere Christianity.” “However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it, in fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.”
Paul says in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you not to think of yourselves my highly than you ought, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith God has assigned.” Lewis and Paul are not calling us to hate ourselves, they are calling us to be honest.
Hating yourself is both selfish and arrogant in the extreme because in doing so you are not only focused on yourself, but you are calling a reborn creation made in the image of God worthy of hatred, which is the height of pretense and disrespect. They are calling us to hate the evil within us, and love the new self that God has placed in us. If we do this, then we are truly loving ourselves.
SELFLESS DEVOTION TO GOD
Healthy self-love, in the same way as healthy other-love, is only possible if we can love in the same way that God does. That, in turn, is only possible if we have Christ living in us, and choose to let him overcome our sinful self. Loving ourselves in a healthy way looks nothing like self-focus or self-obsession, and everything like choosing to live with selfless devotion to God. If this choice is sincere, it will result in a deep care for others, as well as a real respect for self.