I feel like lately across my social media, and even on different TV shows or current event websites, there's this focus on “self-love” - loving who you are and celebrating what it means to be you.
At first glance this seems like a wonderful and healthy idea, and something we should invest in and aspire to do. However, when I stop and think about it, it actually seems kind of selfish, devoting time and attention to loving myself and building myself up, maybe even talking myself up...it almost sounds a bit arrogant.
At this point I should distinguish between self-care and self-love, because they aren't the same thing.
A quick Google search will back me up, revealing that while the definition (or at least perceived definition) of self-love varies from egotism to a regard of one's own happiness, self-care is well recognised as a legitimate form of deliberate care of one's own mental, physical, and emotional health. This could be going to bed early, maintaining a healthy diet, seeing a therapist, going for a run, or taking a break from technology. Self-care is really important. Self-care is not selfish.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, someone who often is pretty hard on herself, and someone who could do a lot more to care for herself mentally, physically and emotionally, I am all for self-care.
As someone who follows Christ, longs to serve others, and believes foundationally in the sacrifice Jesus made for me and all human kind, I am not all about self-love. In fact, I wonder if it's actually the opposite of my foundational beliefs?
Popular opinion on self-love
In my quick Google and Facebook searches, advocates of self-love told me to: “love myself”, be “sex positive”, not be “limited by others”, only do things I'm good at, and ultimately, to only rely on myself.
Prominent New Age figure Deepak Choprah (on even more prominent figure Oprah's website) said that if I can reach a state of total self-love, I would no longer have any “personal stake” in the people I love, and that self love “becomes a self-sufficient state of fulfilment” (http://www.oprah.com/spirit/how-to-love-yourself-unconditionally-deepak-chopra-advice/all).
On the flip side, Jesus, the God-man, said, “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew chapter 16 verses 24-25).
Deny myself, or love myself?
First off, I am not in any way suggesting that Christians should hate themselves, or even dislike themselves.
Part of self-care (which as we've established, is healthy and good) is knowing and understanding that every single human being is created in the image of God (Genesis chapter 1 verse 27). Therefore, every single human bears something, some spark of the creator. We are all intrinsically valued by Him, and created to be like Him: very good.
So what could Jesus possibly be on about when he says I should deny myself?
At the heart of self-love is the mantra or belief that “I am most important”. That I can't possibly help others if I can't “help myself”. That by putting my own wants and needs and desires first, I will be ultimately satisfied and free to live my life as I please.
But here's the thing, it just doesn't seem to work out that way. Jim Carrey, wealthy, famous and successful actor and comedian says, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.”
I don't think Jim Carrey has that answer, but Mother Theresa, sacrificial, poor, famous for loving others, seemed to get pretty close to an answer. She said, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love”.
This is the paradox of following Jesus: that if we would put aside our own selfish desires, our hunger to “look out for number one”, and instead deny ourselves, and serve Jesus, we would love like he loves; unconditionally and sacrificially. In doing so, only then can we find fulfilment, only then can we discover what we were truly made for: to mirror our creator in whose image we were made.
“Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for his friends” (John chapter 15 verse 13).
Imitating Jesus in self-denial
Jesus wasn't a stranger to self-care, he regularly took time out to pray and be alone. There are plenty of accounts of him eating well and enjoying social time. Jesus could easily have lived a life of self-love, he had everything at his disposal to do so. When it came time for him to make the ultimate sacrifice however (his life), he denied that selfish desire, that instinct to put himself first, and followed the will of God (Luke chapter 22 verse 42).
He encouraged his disciples to live the same way. Not in a creepy, Da Vinci Code, self -flagellating way, but in the same way he did. Jesus looked after himself as a valued human being created in the image of God, yet he was willing to deny his own self-love for the greater love of all human kind.
Jess is married to Colin, and they have a one year old daughter, Lucy. Together they are striving to live like Jesus every day, by loving God, loving people, and serving the world with joy.
Jess Curries’ previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jess-currie.html.
Jess is married to Colin and they have a young daughter who is teaching them more than they are teaching her. Jess is also a recent college graduate who has no idea what she will do with her ministry degree, but is passionate about following Jesus wherever he may lead.
Jessica Currie’s previous articles may be viewed at: http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jessica-currie.html