I just read an article the other afternoon, and it really got me thinking. I’m not sure, maybe it’s just not as prevalent where I am, I mean I don’t think I’ve ever gotten some Psalm 139 paraphernalia and I don’t remember the last time I heard a sermon on Psalm 139 with the emphasis being on the part that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I do however, realize how saturated our culture is with “self-love” and doing what makes you feel good and putting ourselves above everyone else. And I believe that this is what the article was addressing, and really there are parts of the article I agree with, like how, as disciples of Christ we are not to conform to the social norm that is indeed prevalent in our society of self-infatuation; the me-me-me, it’s all about me and how good I feel, philosophy’s. And neither are we to go too far the other way, labeling it humility while it is truthfully just a self-loathing pity-party that’s going on. However, I really disagree with the tone of this statement: “Good Christian women are supposed to love Jesus first, others second, and ourselves last, because, like, Philippians 2, duh.” You see, when I read that in my head, I shudder. There’s an air of arrogance that just seethes from it…”I can’t believe you don’t know this…you’re not practicing this because you take care of yourself…you can’t be a good Christian woman then…” Ugh.
You see, yes, I absolutely agree that God commands those who are bible-believing, Jesus followers to one, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and two, love your neighbours as yourself (as found in Matthew 22:36-40). I’m not sure if you caught that though, but it says to love your neighbour as yourself, so perhaps that implies that we are to love our self? Honestly, I believe that practicing self care, loving God wholly, loving others, and loving self are intertwined and cannot be separated.
So where does that leave us? For me, you are darn right that as a fellow Christian I am not only going to love myself, but also encourage others to love themselves as well. Why? Because I am the second gift God has ever given me. The first gift was Christ, His life, His sacrifice, His love. The second gift truly is the life He created in me; He chose to bring me into existence. Therefore, I am going to love myself out of the love I have for God Himself. And I do believe that I need to be filled up in order to give out, because I honestly do not believe that I can give out from an empty cup. And I know this first hand, because I neglected taking care of myself appropriately for years, and even now when I neglect self-care I’m short-tempered, I am easily angered, I have headaches more frequently, I don’t digest my food well, and those are just a few of my symptoms! But here’s where my “self-love” might differ from many. My self-love, starts with God; it doesn’t neglect Him or put Him second, it puts Him first and foremost. It starts with me loving Christ, worshiping Him, spending time with Him, following after Him, doing what He’s asking me to do. I believe that these actions are loving actions towards God, and I also believe that by actively participating in these loving actions we are loving our-self, which fills us up, and then in turn we are able to give out love to others.
The other side of this, I believe, is that by choosing not to love our self, or by not practicing self care we are disrespecting God, essentially saying that this gift He has blessed us with is not good enough. Now, like the article pointed out, there are extreme’s: the one side, being too self involved, and the other being too self deprecating – both sides focusing on self. And I more than hundred percent agree that our focus should be on God and bringing glory to His name.
Here’s the thing, we can’t hate ourselves into who God designed us to be. We cannot. It’s impossible. The way we become who God designed us to be is by loving Him, choosing to believe Him, take Him at His Word, and trusting Him, which in turn leads us to loving our-self. Loving God wholly means taking good care and being good stewards of the gifts He has given us, ourselves being one of those gifts! And, by putting God first, and choosing to love ourselves, we naturally love others, as Christ commanded us to. Is it always easy? No, but when we are in deep communion with our Creator we begin to have the mind of Christ, and if we have the mind of Christ, then we love others just as He did.
So what does loving others and practicing self care and self love look like practically for a disciple of Jesus? First, I believe it means we daily spend time deepening our relationship with our Creator. This happens through spending time in His Word and praying; deliberately choosing to approach Him with the intent of getting to know Him. It means we fill our minds with things from above, just like it says in Colossians 3:2. I love how it’s written in the Message: “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” And in Philippians 4:8 we are told to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” In the Message it says that “you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” When we focus our minds on Christ and things worthy of Him, that is both putting God first and loving our self; and we also love others as a by-product because He is going to be pouring out of us.
Next, as a disciple of Jesus, we put Him first, love others and practice self-love by actually caring about our bodies. This means treating our bodies like the gifts they are, and by truly recognizing that Christ is in us (Colossians 1:27), we are a temple of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Timothy 1:14). We treat our bodies like the gifts they are through many means: eating healthfully; choosing not to overeat; caring about what we consume; going to God first before food and more! It also includes moving our bodies in various forms of exercise, not lathering our-self with man-made chemicals in the form of shampoo, conditioner, lotions, etc. It means that when we get an ailment of some kind we seek God first before anything else; seeking His wisdom and direction in how best to take care of what ever is happening and then dealing with it accordingly. We practice good stewardship of our bodies, because they are gifts from God. When we are stewarding our bodies well we are truly loving God, and we are also loving others by showing them we care about them enough to make sure that we are not an unnecessary burden on them.
I believe that we also live out our love for Christ, putting Him first in our lives by caring about the well-being of others. For me, this looks like caring about and being aware of who made the products we purchase and how they are treated; same goes for the food we consume. We put an emphasis on being mindful of the conditions where things are being produced. We support our local farmers; we buy local and fair-trade and ethically when we can. And we bring God into our purchases. We seek out where He would have us shop and spend our money. I believe this also means that we don’t over-book our schedules (or our children’s), for we cannot give our job 100% if we are spread too thin; we’re unable to be present and mindful and aware because our thoughts are on so many other things as well. That in turn leads us to feeling exhausted and burnt out, which then we are unable to love the best we can. I feel that by doing this we are loving God by loving His people and caring about their lives, and we in turn are practicing self care and self-love because when we are being mindful of what’s happening then we are more open, more present, more aware to what the Spirit is doing and we are able to rest in Christ by doing so.
We also practice self care and self-love, loving others, and loving God when we choose to be in community; being active participants of community; working with others through their “stuff” and encouraging them, lifting them up, building them up, calling them out on things they need to be called out on (in appropriate manners obviously). Because when we practice those things, and are seeking God’s direction in each of them, we are in turned built up and encouraged ourselves, which is a form of self-love! Do we did out of self-ambitions? No, we come at it from a place of recognizing that God calls us to live in community and that He strengthens us to do what He calls us to do. And we choose to practice forgiveness, because not only did God choose to forgive us first, but when we practice forgiveness we are loving God (by following His commands), we grow in our faith, and we are taking care of our bodies, because the health implications surrounding forgiveness are profound!
Practicing self care can also be done in really simple ways as well, oftentimes it’s things that we overlook, such as practicing good oral hygiene (brushing & flossing), showering, slowing down when we eat, getting enough sleep and even smiling & laughing.
Are we ever going to love God, others, or ourselves perfectly? No. Do these practical steps come naturally to everyone all of the time? No. Does it take time to grow in the wisdom of God and how best He wants us to move forward? Yes. But that’s the beauty of growing in our relationship with Christ and loving Him first and foremost, we have the opportunity to grow in Him and become more like Him daily. Each day is a new opportunity to seek His wisdom and to practice loving God, loving others, and loving self. And we listen and learn and grow. We listen for His calling, His promptings, His leadings. We learn more about Him, what it means to live through Christ, and how we are suppose to live in a culture that is saturated with self-conceited self-love. We grow in our love for God, for others, and for our-self. As we learn and listen and grow we realize that we are not perfect and we make mistakes and screw-up and say the wrong things sometimes, BUT we also realize that we are God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), we are God’s child (John 1:12), we have been declared righteous (Romans 5:1), we are complete in Christ (Colossians 2:9-10).
Yes, we are called to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). But we also need to realize and understand and believe that self-love, from a Godly, disciple of Jesus perspective is intertwined with loving God first and foremost and loving others; the three cannot be separated. Self-love really just means loving our self, and self-care really just means taking care of self. It doesn’t have to be self-conceited, and it sure doesn’t mean that we just accept where we’re at and do nothing to keep to growing into who we are designed to be. I personally don’t believe that true self-love or practicing self care implies that at all; just the opposite in fact: we are showing our love for God and for others by recognizing where I’m at and loving each of us enough to keep moving towards and becoming more of who God has created me to be. I believe this honours God and shows Him how grateful I am for the life He has blessed me with.
So I encourage you to start practicing self care, go out and practice loving God with all you have, and I bet you might just see yourself loving others and loving yourself in the process.