Growing up I was raised in a God-fearing home. I was raised to have a deep reverence and respect for God and his holy word the bible. I examined the scriptures daily and committed each verse to memory as it was my aegis in a world where angels and demons look alike and the devil is a god that pens your confusion daily. Being raised as a Christian, you are always taught how to put others before yourself. You are encouraged to deny the flesh for the sake of the spirit and adopt a spirit of self-sacrifice. Scriptures such as Philippians 2:3-7, 1Corinthians 10:24, and John 3:30 extol the importance of treating others as superior to you, not seeking your own advantage but that of another person and decreasing yourself while increasing others. While those admonitions are indeed helpful and essential to the maintenance of peaceful relations with others, to a young impressionable mind such teachings can be detrimental as young people have not yet carved out a solid identity of their own. They have not yet learned how to correctly love themselves. How can one even begin to comprehend the profound concept of self-sacrifice when they haven’t even found the self that they are expected to sacrifice for the sake of others?
I know growing up I was never taught how to love myself. Rather I was taught to take care of everyone else’s needs at the expense of my own. I was taught that everyone else’s wants, desires, fears and frustrations took precedence over my own. My self-worth was gained based on how I could be of service to others. Anytime I would on the off chance consider my own needs, I was accused of being selfish and assaulted with scriptures that highlighted the importance of being a selfless martyr whose value and worth as a person was based on what they could give and not who they were inside as according to Luke 17:10 “we are good for nothing slaves doing what we ought to have done”. As a youth whose comprehension of context was still developing, such teachings affected my self-esteem drastically and also influenced how I allowed others to treat me. And yes while I may have taken some scriptures out of context when I was younger, I realized that there were only three scriptures in the synoptic gospels that spoke about self-love. I would later draw great comfort from these scriptures on my quest to love myself better.
In Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31 and Luke 10:27 we as God’s beloved children are instructed to love our neighbors as we LOVE OURSELVES. But what does that mean? What does loving yourself even look like to someone so used to putting everyone else’s needs as a priority over their own? I didn’t know and this is what made me susceptible to much heartbreak as I encountered a series of narcissistic individuals who only saw my generosity and magnanimity as a supply source.
In my quest for love, I constantly sacrificed my own happiness for the sake of another’s. My wants, my desires, my wishes were always placed on the back burner and I only felt good when I was doing what others wanted me to do. Based on my scriptural upbringing, being selfless came naturally to me and truthfully accentuated my inner beauty. It was being self-invested that was the challenge as taking care of myself and doing things just for me always did make me feel a tad bit guilty as it ran contrary to everything I was raised to believe. I wanted so badly to please God but at what expense? My own identity? The identity I never even knew existed apart from this overwhelming desire to please. I was torn and wildly conflicted and this led to a painful dissonance between what I was taught to believe and what I actually felt deep down inside. I needed answers. I needed to find a way to comfortably and realistically reconcile these two very distinct schools of thought without compromising the integrity of either as both seemed very applicable and accessible to me.
I read some more of the scriptures and in Matthew 10:39 and Luke 9:23,24 it encourages us to disown ourselves and our desires. It admonishes us to lose our souls if we want to save it as the one who tries to save his soul will lose it. I was plagued by confusion as all I wanted to do was love myself and honor my experience in life. But here I was being taught to disown myself. It was obvious that these scriptures were not speaking to my experience but rather were reminders for those who struggled with self-immersion. That was not my battle. My battle was how to love myself wholeheartedly and balance my desire to serve God with my desire to honor my life and what I wanted.
I realized that it is assumed naturally that people love themselves therefore these scriptures are intended to lead us towards a higher self, a self-more in tune with others as sacrificial love is the greatest, highest most truthful expression of love ever sold. For those who already possess the gift of selfless love, their task is to negotiate what it means to love themselves apart from another person as a diamond does not rely on another person to recognize its shine. It just shines internally on its own accord. I want my life to resemble this diamond. Personally loving myself means assessing what my needs are as a unique human being and living my life in alignment with what I discover. Loving myself is about dedication to consistent self-improvement, self-maintenance and self-preservation as well as living a life full of integrity and emotional, physical and spiritual authenticity. It’s about knowing who I am and what I believe apart from what has been drilled into me.
While I love and appreciate the principles and values of self-sacrifice that are associated with my Christian upbringing, I realize that there is also room at the table for self-love and personal celebration. While there is definitely a time and a place for spiritual self-denial and humility for the sake of accepting God’s grace into our lives, I feel that there is also a time and place to celebrate and honor Gods creation by loving, uplifting and praising the majesty of God’s work in us. This can be accomplished with loving ourselves, treating ourselves good, and giving ourselves all the love that we expect from someone else. This is the message that needs to come across when discussing the tenets of self-sacrifice as this is the message that will motivate one to continue to sacrifice for others as you cannot pour from an empty cup. You must first fill yourself up as you are the greatest love story ever told. It’s time we all start telling ourselves this now.