Love Your Neighbor as Yourself… But What if You Don’t Love Yourself?

I just finished a book in which the author talked about how we should interpret the Bible. One of his main points was that we should interpret the Bible through the lens of the Greatest Commandment.

There is this passage in the Bible where a religious teacher asked Jesus which of the commandments was the most important.

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40)

I liked the idea of using this interpretive lens. However, I was talking about this idea to a friend of mine, and he asked: “What happens when you don’t love yourself?”

Good question.

I thought he brought up a great point. I sometimes talk to folks who are depressed and don’t like themselves very much. It is sometimes difficult for people to forgive themselves and give themselves grace. I know at times I have struggled to love myself well.

I believe implicit in the command to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ is the command to actually love yourself. I believe we are called to engage others with love, mercy, and compassion, and God wants us to experience those gifts as well.

I also believe it is difficult to give something to another person if we are unable to give that thing to ourselves.

I have experienced this in my own life. When I was younger, I was very judgmental toward myself and others, even about very picky details of the Christian faith. I thought I was doing pretty well and had it pretty much figured out, and I judged others who weren’t living up to the standard I set for myself. Also, as much as I tried, I wasn’t perfect, so during the times when I wasn’t living up to my own standards, I was judgmental toward myself, feeling angry and sad. I didn’t love myself well, and so I struggled to love others well.

I have also experienced this dynamic in my relationships with others. There are certain people in my life that love me well. They seem to ‘get’ grace, and are able to extend grace and love to me when I need it. I appreciate these people very much, and rely on them in my times of need and struggle. One thing I have noticed about these people is they are very much in tune with their own brokenness, and they are able to give themselves grace and love. And since they love themselves well, they are able to love me well.

I think it is tough (maybe impossible) to offer something to someone if you haven’t experienced it yourself. If you want to love others well and be a person who truly offers grace and compassion to the people in your life, check in with yourself about how you are doing in regard to loving yourself and offering grace to yourself.

Discussion: What do you think about the connection between loving others and loving yourself? In what ways do you struggle to love yourself and extend grace to yourself?

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