One of the foundational principles of Christianity is a commandment found in each of the synoptic gospels. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Generally, the message we hear in this passage is our relationship with our neighbor. While that is the ultimate goal, the statement assumes one critical step — that we love ourselves. Many struggle with this first step. Ask yourself this question, when you look yourself in the mirror, do you say “You are amazing, beautiful, smart and worthy of love”?
Some days we struggle to love ourselves and can be downright hard on ourselves. There are two prominent reasons we do this. First, we are convinced we are inadequate. We compare ourselves to other people and feel as though we do not measure up. Perfect family and travel pictures to exotic locations on our friend’s social media page often make us feel inadequate. We have been conditioned to always be “above average.” We feel like we need better test scores, a bigger house, a nicer car, more exotic vacations and more successful children than our “neighbor.” If we do not have those, then we are inadequate and therefore love ourselves less. This can even lead to cutting other people to convince ourselves that we are better — this is not love of self or others.
The second reason we struggle to love ourselves is because we cannot reach perfection. We are self-critical for not doing everything right in our life and making mistakes. We carry with us the weight of shame for the many ways we keep failing. It is hard to love ourselves when we judge ourselves so harshly.
God knows that we are not perfect. But we do not have to be perfect or better than everyone else to be loved by God. We are loved, not for our successes or failures, but because we were made with an intrinsic value. Psalm 139:14 says “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” This Psalm was written by someone who understood what it meant to be “knit together” by God. The work of a master craftsman has an intrinsic value that nothing can ever erase.
The challenge for us is to realize our value — to love the beautiful creature God formed us to be. And from that love and the love graced to us by our creator, love our neighbor as ourselves.