In Order to Love Your Neighbor, Start with Yourself
We know we should love our neighbor, but do we love ourselves?
I went to my first professional therapist in 2013, and I’ve been seeing therapists on and off ever since.
I’ve had helpful therapists and not so helpful ones, but over the years all those conversations have taught me that focusing on myself isn’t self-absorbed, it’s an essential practice to love myself well so that I can love others.
In the Bible someone asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is. He responds with a brilliantly memorable and infinitely wise saying:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ~ Matthew 22:37-38
We tend to focus on the first two parts—love God and love neighbor—but we neglect the last part—“as yourself.”
How can we love others well if we don’t love ourselves? If you can’t love yourself in your brokenness, how can you love others in theirs?
Loving yourself well starts with knowing yourself well. That’s what all those hours of therapy—along with prayer, conversation with trusted friends, journaling, and cultivating silence—have taught me.
Spend some time getting to know you. Self-knowledge is one of the hardest disciplines to practice because you’ll find parts of yourself and your actions that wish were different.
Maybe you struggle with addiction, or you've hurt someone else, or you've made some bad decisions in money or relationships. Maybe you have a hard time making friends, or keeping up with family. Maybe the people who were supposed to love and protect you as a child made you a victim somehow.
Whatever it is, we all tend to see the worst in ourselves and this makes it hard to love ourselves well.
But in God's kingdom, the way up is down. And the only way to truly love yourself is to explore both your beauty and your brokenness.
The question is not if you are wounded but how you are wounded. And what are you willing to do about it?
If we ignore the ways we’ve been harmed then it is likely we will harm others, too. If we have not learned how to embrace being an imperfect human being who is “in process” we won’t be able to love other “in process” people either.
I’m not saying subject yourself to toxic people or relationships. Part of loving yourself well is to set boundaries. But there are people in our lives who we should maintain contact with, but we can’t do that in a healthy way if we haven’t grasped how to love imperfect people starting with ourselves.
If you are willing to patiently tend to your wounds so that they start to heal, then you can be patient with others as well.
But the only way to truly love your neighbor as yourself is to realize that you are already loved.
God is pleased with you right now simply because you are you. It’s not because of what you’ve done or haven’t done. God is not waiting to love the better or perfect version of you. You are loved and lovable today.
Embrace the truth that you are already loved and you can begin loving your neighbor as yourself.
To hear more you can listen to this sermon I preached on the topic of loving your neighbor as yourself.
What other advice do you have for learning how to love yourself well? Share in the comments.