By: Christine Elizabeth
One of my favorite Bible verses has always been from 1 Corinthians 13:13-“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Why is it my favorite? Well, it highlights love as the greatest Theological virtue. Also, who doesn’t love love? Haha. Love is a beautiful thing, but I think it’s one of the most misunderstood things especially when it comes to having the grace of self-love to love God more perfectly. Is self-love necessary to love God? The answer is yes, but I know it’s not so simple. The next question to ask is what is self-love?
I am no expert, but what I can offer is my own experience. There were many years of me hating myself. I didn’t like the way I looked and often thought I wasn’t smart enough. I questioned every decision I made and was literally my own worst critic. When anything bad happened I would use it as fuel to reinforce all the negative things I kept telling myself. I tried to make myself feel better by attaining certain friends, dressing a certain way, drinking more than I should, and by making sure I weighed a set amount. All of this seemed, to me, the way to make myself better so I could be more lovable for others and for myself. God was in my life, but I felt so disconnected from him. I thought I was loving Him by showing up to every Bible study, every campus ministry event, volunteering, and making things look a certain way. I was convinced I had to earn love for myself through external things and that I had to do things to earn God’s love. I didn’t understand love at all.
I thought self-love was something that I could gain through external actions… I didn’t see that self-love came from within. I learned that it’s actually more about accepting yourself as you are. Even more, it’s about accepting your flaws. Accepting flaws doesn’t mean you can’t try to improve some parts of your life such as getting in shape or studying more for a class you struggle in. It means you have the self-awareness to know that something is hard for you, and being okay with the struggle. I found a lot of liberation when I realized that I wasn’t a terrible person for having some of the struggles I did. Better yet, I found that I was actually better able to form healthy relationships with others when I wasn’t turned so inward on what I hated about myself. Self-love leads to positive external actions that are life-giving for not only the people around me but also for me. Better yet, it leads to an openness to a real relationship with God.
God loves me. He loves you. He also loves anyone who has come into existence. His love is freely given in such a way that for each one of us it’s as if we were the only human being that existed. That’s a powerful love and a perfect love. We can’t do anything to destroy this perfect, unconditional, and eternal love. Should we act like people that are loved by God and do good thing? Of course… The best part about God’s love is that it’s so beautiful, personal, and infectious that we want to share it with others. The main point is that we can never lose God’s love and we aren’t required to do anything to have this love. He just loves us. That is it.
If we cannot accept ourselves as we are- loved and known by God, then how can we say that we love God? We should never reject or stop loving our beautiful existence. God made us. God doesn’t ever love us any less, and I truly believe His love only multiplies when we are struggling the most. Nobody loves to struggle but if we can’t accept ourselves and love ourselves in whatever state we are in, then how can we overcome the struggle? Love is this thing that carries us through hard times and gives us hope that things will get better. You can’t defeat darkness with darkness. You can defeat darkness with the light that shines from God in His love that is free. The question is, do you want to accept this love into your life? It means acceptance of suffering and things that do not always feel good, but if you can learn to love your vulnerable self and be open to relationships with others including God, then, in the end, we are never alone. Also, we build up courage and resiliency to face hard days. Confidence to rise above things is a part of life, and can only blossom the more you accept who you are. Remember, self-love has a lot to do with embracing our weaknesses and that can even mean asking for support in our struggles.
Self love isn’t just an individual thing. Essentially, it leads us to look outward towards the life around us. It isn’t selfish at all. Self-love and God’s love is reciprocal. If you love yourself you can better love God. If you love God, you can better love yourself. They can’t exist independently of one another. You need both. Sometimes God reaches down in moments of need and pours out His love in a way that we probably don’t truly deserve. He gives His love anyway. This can and should lead to a love you have for yourself, because if God is willing to become man and die on a cross for us, then you matter. He did that for you, and me, and every single person here on earth. If you deny your importance and value, you aren’t really loving others, because you can’t give what you don’t have.