Jesus tells us we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But do we love ourselves well? Would we speak to others as harshly as we sometimes talk to, and about, ourselves?
When asked which of all the commandments is the most important, Jesus replies as follows:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:29-31
We have traditionally shortened the answer Jesus provided to “Love God, love others.” Although this abridged version is still true, it is a bit incomplete. There is one part that we have been leaving out; the part that we sometimes struggle with the most. Jesus tells us we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But do we love ourselves well? Would we speak to others as harshly as we sometimes address ourselves?
At some point, whether at a wedding or on a coffee mug, we have all undoubtedly come across the well-known passage about love from 1 Corinthians 13. We learn here that love is patient, love is kind… it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. I can easily confess that I have not always been patient and kind with myself, and that I have only recently stopped dragging around some pretty heavy baggage filled with all of my sins, shortcomings, and past (and even potential future) failures – a long and weighty record of all of my wrongs. After years of trying to shoulder it on my own, I finally left all of that luggage at the foot of the cross where it belongs. As I accumulate more baggage along the way, I find myself running back to Jesus, surrendering suitcases filled with insecurities and packages full of fear and doubt; exchanging burdens for freedom and rest and love. And you know what? It gets a lot easier to love my neighbor (…or spouse, or friends, or family members…) when I am no longer focusing on my own shortcomings and insecurities, when I am free and rested and loved.
We often pray to see the people in our lives through God’s eyes, to see them as He sees them, and to love them the way He does. Why haven’t we been praying this for ourselves as well? The irony here is that stepping into our identities in Christ, accepting the free gift of grace and the unconditional love He offers, and receiving our new roles as daughters and sons of the King – seeing ourselves through His eyes – this enables and equips us to follow both of the commands Jesus gives. The Gospel isn’t just something we are supposed to be telling others about; the Gospel of Jesus is for us, for me and for you. Let’s speak truth to ourselves and remind ourselves to Whom we belong.
When we go to the Lord and fully receive the perfect love He offers, we start to understand what real love is and are able to glimpse what unconditional love actually looks like. We are able to worship Him more completely and follow Him more closely, loving Him more as He continues to teach us what authentic love is.
In a truly miraculous way, seeing ourselves through His eyes removes an entire layer of self-focused questions and desires that can often distract us from loving others well: Who am I? Am I worth loving? Am I beautiful? Do I matter? Am I successful? In Christ, we can claim the identity He has gifted to us and accept the love He extends, facing each day with the knowledge that we are not alone, that there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less, and that we are free to be fully present and love others with the love we ourselves are receiving from God.
We love because He first loved us. – 1 John 4:19
Make time to consider how much God loves us and how He sees us, and pray to not only see others as God sees them, but to see yourself as He sees you. Friend, you are a beloved child of God in Christ: Worth loving, beautiful, and cared for beyond measure. Next time you look in the mirror, pray to see yourself as our Heavenly Father sees you.