Loving Others When You Don't Love Yourself
A wise professor and mentor was teaching us on Jesus’s love one autumn afternoon, when he said a few words I would never forget:
“Jesus said ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ But I don’t want to be loved the way some of you love yourselves.”
We sat in stunned silence. What do you say when your beloved professor throws open the deepest part of your soul to everyone else in the class? We all sat awkwardly without making eye contact, as if we were all sitting naked in front of each other.
At first, I was a little angry at his words...how could he say I didn’t love myself? Of course I did! I tried to exercise, eat well and get plenty of sleep. What did he know anyway? He only saw us for an hour, a couple times a week!
As the semester went on, I realized our professor was right. It was as if the Holy Spirit used his words as permission to reveal to me the ways in which I did not love myself. It was strange...at this point in my life I had been following the Lord for approximately five years. I thought I knew that He loved me. But He was showing me all the little ways I still saw myself that didn’t line up with what He said about me in His Word. It came in ways I didn’t expect or see. I thought it would be more cerebral somehow, more scholarly, as if the love of God was something only intellectuals could understand. Instead the Lord showed me practical ways to love myself, and they have changed everything - including how I love others.
1. Stop saying you’re sorry.
As women especially, we tend to apologize for everything - from running a few minutes late to someone else feeling under the weather. This makes us subconsciously feel like we are responsible for everything that happens, even things not under our control.
The dictionary definition of the word sorry is “pitiful” or “being in a state of neglect.” We are neither. 1 Peter 2:9 tells us we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” I had my husband point out every time I used the term “I’m sorry” for an entire year. Eventually, I started to replace it with the Scripture above. It’s amazing what a difference it made in the way I see myself!
2. Do nothing out of guilt.
How many times have I said yes to an event or a volunteer opportunity simply because I felt bad saying no? More than I can count! And how many times did those types of engagements bring me joy and refreshment? Zero! The things we say yes to because we don’t want to offend or disappoint people are the things that suck us dry and leave us without energy to do the things we truly love and feel called to do with our time and efforts. What a disservice to a world that so desperately needs us to be the women the Lord made us to be!
Jesus died to set us free from guilt and shame, so why do we allow ourselves to get back under it? Paul writes in Romans 8:1 that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Condemnation is defined as “the expression of very strong disapproval” or “the act of condemning someone to a punishment.” Neither are to be found in a Christian’s thought life because “if the Son sets you free you are free indeed” (John 8:36) and “the punishment that brought us peace was on Him (Isaiah 53:5).” Let’s live as the free women we are! Let’s stop saying yes out of “feeling bad saying no” and let’s give our yes to the things that are truly important to us.
3. Make time to do the things that refresh you.
We are all different and we each have different ways to unwind and refuel. Find what does that for you and do it once in awhile! Even Jesus took time to get away from the crowds, both by himself and with His disciples.
I spend a lot of time indoors either writing on my computer or playing with and teaching my daughter. I have learned to balance that with long walks in nature and board game nights with a group of friends. You may find playing a sport, working out, or painting to be refreshing for you. Do that. We have a lot more energy for the things we have to do when we allow ourselves to do the things we love.
The more I talked to mentors and studied what the Bible said about the Lord’s love for me, the more I started to like myself. The more I liked myself, the better I treated myself. My fear was that liking myself and doing things for myself would make me a selfish person. But in fact, it’s been the opposite. My capacity to love others has increased! I see myself being less judgmental, giving more grace, and simply accepting people as they are. I see myself looking past glaring sin and into the heart of the person God has made. Why? Because I have seen the heart of the woman God has made (and continues to make) me, and it’s amazing!
May you also know the heart of the One who loves you. May you see yourself the way He sees you. And may you go out and change the world with that love!