Love Yourself to Love your Neighbor

by Stephen Mayer

Where has the year has gone? I know we still have a couple of months left before those New Year’s resolutions expire. Perhaps you’ve disappointed yourself by not keeping many of them. Maybe you resolved to lose weight, exercise regularly, tithe, stay within a budget, stay in touch with your family, or take a Facebook vacation for a week. Or maybe your resolutions had to do with work or your spiritual life. Or maybe you’re like one of my coworkers, who resolved not to make a resolution!

And now we are already approaching Thanksgiving. It’s time to think about what we are thankful for. The time to gather with family and friends for a meal and show thankfulness. But really, any month of the year, any week of the year, any day of the year, is a good time to think about thanksgiving—about appreciating how the Lord has led us thus far, about how we have been blessed.

Many of us can look back over our daily experiences and be thankful simply for the fact that we have a loving family. Every day we are given the opportunity to love and show love to those around us, both those within as well as those outside our immediate family. As we realize that one of our strongest needs is to love and to be loved, we must also realize that we all have a need for genuine self-acceptance and a sense of rejoicing in ourselves. We can be thankful for our accomplishments both as individuals and as members of a community.

I'm thankful you are you! I'm thankful I am me! We are children of God

We often hear the words of Jesus quoted left and right that we must love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). But how do we love ourselves? Are we able to love others if we lack love toward ourselves? There is a need inside all of us to do precisely that. We must adequately meet the need to accept who we are and love the unique creature created in God’s image that we are. We need to resolve to be able to say: “I'm glad to be who I am. I am unique. I am a treasure from God.  There is a reason for my being, a plan that includes me!”

I want to venture that to love ourselves is only the first step. Only by loving ourselves are we capable of loving our neighbor.

I want to venture that to love ourselves is only the first step. Only by loving ourselves are we capable of loving our neighbor. The second step is closely related. We need to respect who we are. We need to develop a sense of self-respect. There was a meme some time back that said something like, “I know I’m somebody because God don’t make junk.” Perhaps the language used in that meme was rather crude, but the message matters. God made you, and He doesn’t make junk! It is only as we respect ourselves that God can use us to help develop self-respect in others. "If we wish to do good to souls, our success with these souls will be in proportion to their belief in our belief in, and appreciation of, them. Respect shown to the struggling human soul is the sure means through Christ Jesus of the restoration of the self-respect the man has lost" (Ellen G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 281).

What we struggle with is the ingrained Judeo-Christian concept that to put ourselves first—to love ourselves!—is egotistical, selfish, arrogant, and shows a lack of true Christian character. We feel guilty when we think of ourselves first. That, in turn, leads us to consider ourselves unworthy and undeserving. We are conflicted by our inner need to feel loved and the request to love our neighbor first. 

But wait—did Jesus say to love your neighbor first? Did He say you should not love yourself? I don’t think so. And check what Ellen G. White also wrote: "The great plan of mercy from the beginning of time is to have every afflicted soul trust in His love. Your safety at the present time, when your mind is tortured with doubt, is not to trust in feeling, but in the living God. All He asks of you is to put your trust in Him, acknowledging Him as your faithful Saviour, who loves you, and has forgiven you all your mistakes and errors" (Ellen G. White, Letters and Manuscripts, vol. 19, Letter 299, 1904). 


Cropped shot of a group of friends holding hands

The living God is who we must put our trust in, not in our feelings that we are undeserving. If Jesus loves me, and if this I know, why do I resist loving myself? Jesus wants me to love myself—but not in an egocentric way, not in a boasting way, not in a “first me and then who cares” way. No, He wants me to love myself the way He loves me, so that I may in turn show love for my neighbor. So that I may see my neighbors through the eyes of Jesus and show the same love that is willing to put their interests first. And, if needed, so that I may be willing to follow Jesus’ advice showing “the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends” (John 15:13, The Message).

In the end, I pray you will be able to say, “I’m thankful to be alive; I’m thankful to be unique; I’m thankful to be treasured by God. There is a reason for my existence. I’m thankful for being who I am. I’m thankful for having the opportunity to love my neighbor as I love myself.” I pray that we are able to look at our neighbors, regardless of the ways they are different—especially as related to race, ethnicity, language, or gender—and say with Christ’s love, “I’m thankful you are you! I’m thankful I am me! We are children of God!” Now that’s something to be thankful for!
Stephen Mayer is the treasurer of the Pacific Union Conference.