One of my cherished childhood memories is of my older sister reading my favorite Bible story—the Good Samaritan1—to me from a picture Bible. I’ve never forgotten that “my neighbor” is not only the person who lives next door but also anyone whose path crosses mine.
Yet it was many years before I began to fully grasp what Jesus meant when He said to “love your neighbor as yourself.”2 I focused so much on the first part of the sentence that I sometimes forgot it had a second part at all.
One day, when I was going through a prolonged period of discouragement and self-doubt, a close friend who sensed something of my state of mind said: “If you loved your neighbor as you ‘love’ yourself, no one would want to be your neighbor.” Her words surprised me and made me ask myself an honest question: Do I love myself? My answer was a resounding no, which prompted another question: Why not? Well, it’s obvious! I immediately began reviewing my lengthy private list of failures and flaws. But in the midst of my negative barrage, an unexpected question came to mind: Does Jesus want me to love myself?
The longer I reflected, the more surely I knew that Jesus does want me to love myself. Why? Because I am His child whom He loves and gave His life for.3 Because I am His creation, formed uniquely and wonderfully in His image.4 He knows all my faults and flaws,5 but He also celebrates my life,6 values my qualities and personality, and sees unlimited potential in me.7 He loves me as I am. It dawned on me that He wants me to see myself as He does, to exchange my self-recrimination and self-criticism for self-acceptance and self-care, to—daunting as it sounded—love myself.
The more I have a healthy love and respect for myself, the more fully and freely I love others. The self-love of the Bible isn’t an inflated, narcissistic self-love that focuses on ourselves to the exclusion of others. It’s an honest, restorative self-love and self-respect for us as bearers of God’s image, redeemed sinners, and adopted children of God. Its results are inward contentment and peace, outward kindness and generosity, and upward gratitude and devotion.
Love for God, love for others, and love for ourselves, these three bring us wholeness and true joy.