A guest post from Teri Murphy: On loving ourselves as much as we love our neighbor

Friday, October 10, 2014

Fung Leo, Flickr Creative Commons
Love your neighbor as you love yourself. - Jesus

It’s spread throughout Scripture, this idea of love. What it is, who it is, why it matters so much. I was raised in a conservative Christian household to believe that love means throwing yourself away in order to serve others. To never put yourself first - to do so would be the epitome of selfishness and un-Christianness.

And yet...Jesus so clearly assumes that we love ourselves. How can this be? 

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  As I love MYSELF? I must’ve glossed over this bit for all my life. I know the golden rule: Treat others as you want to be treated. I don’t actually treat myself that well. I reserve the good treatment ONLY for my friends and neighbors.

But this is a command, isn’t it? Jesus is literally telling me ALL THAT MATTERS about the entire Bible so far.

The Saducees and Pharisses (the awesome Old T dudes that were brilliant and thought the law would be the answer to all the things in life) had asked Jesus lots of tough questions. The Pharisees were up and this is what happened:

34-36 When the Pharisees heard how he [Jesus] had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”
37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”  Matthew 22:34-40 (MSG)

This is a big deal, no?

How in the WORLD do we know how to love ourselves when we are stuck in a culture that says either that loving ourselves is the ONLY way and that means being individualistic, independent, licentious maybe, and on our own OR to be Christian and kind and only serving others to the detriment of searching and knowing ourselves, caring for ourselves, loving ourselves.

How do we balance this command from Jesus with the culture we live in? I’m struggling here. And I’ve struggled here for quite some time.

The clients I see in my office struggle with similar things. I have young women who have a hard time saying what needs they have because it seems selfish and they may not be able to love another if they also love themselves.

I have moms who feel guilty for wanting to spend an hour reading when they could be serving the others in their family.

I see wives who don’t know how to tell the truth about how they are feeling in an open, honest, and kind way because they’ve not been able to practice owning and expressing their true feelings without feeling shame and guilt.

Our culture can be one of extremes and I have both experienced it for myself and seen it on my therapy couch.

So when I get overwhelmed and scared and stuck, I return to the lap of Jesus. And he tells me that the MOST IMPORTANT things he’s ever said, both as Father and Son is to love the Lord God (yes!) and to love our neighbor (yes!) as I love myself (uh oh!). This must be true. 
What I’m hearing is that we are innately made to connect. To God, to others, and to ourselves. My creator and sweet Savior is saving me by pointing me to the truth. I can connect to God and to my neighbor, but if I leave out loving myself, the picture is incomplete. 

But how do I do this? How do I love myself? What does it mean? I’m not really a massages and pedicures kind of girl, though those things are AMAZING. I just don’t get it.
So I asked God what love is. Remind me about love! And he pointed me to his description of love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-8 “The Way of Love”
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. 

Wow. So what if I apply this to loving myself?
Am I patient with myself?
Am I kind?
Do I envy my past? My possible future?
Do I boast?
Do I have pride?
Do I put others down to make myself feel better? 
Do I make myself seem better than I am? Less than I am? Carve out a different picture of me?
Do I get angry with myself? (This can be ok...why am I angry? At who I am or something I did?)
Do I keep a record of my wrongs?
Do I delight in evil or rejoice in the truth about myself?
Do I protect myself? (Ask for what I need, good boundaries, say yes or no and mean it?)
Do I trust myself?
Do I have hope for myself? In myself?
Do I persevere? 

This is quite a list. And again, in the heart of Jesus, there is love over law. This isn’t a list that I must perform. This is a pointer, an indicator to help me know myself and help me to love myself. 

I think of these questions as flags. When I start boasting about myself, it’s a good cue to me that maybe I’m feeling shame, that I’m not enough as I am so I have to puff myself up to feel loved. The truth is that I’m loved AS I AM, not as anything I could appear to be.
I want to encourage you and me that loving myself is not only NOT selfish, but it is beautiful and good and encouraged by our loving God. It must be best for me or he wouldn’t have said it was one of the two most important things in all of Scripture.

So I leave you with were created to connect. God made you this way and enjoys your ability to love and be loved. And he gave us a map for this connection - not a rule, but a map. And the map he gave us is this: Love God, love others, and love yourself. This is good and will help you feel as whole as you can possibly be this side of heaven.

Teri Murphy is a therapist in Franklin, Tennessee where she works with women and couples using Emotionally Focused Therapy. She is married to her childhood sweetheart, Chris, and has two children, James (8) and Livie (6). When not helping people connect with God, themselves, and others, you can find Teri reading, quilting, watching Doctor Who, and writing whatever is on her heart. 

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