One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, ” `You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” (Luke 10:25-28)
In the church, we talk a lot about love. We teach it, we preach it, we sing about it, we try to live it. We SHOULD because love is the message of the church, the primary theme of the scriptures, and the
TEACHING OF JESUS!
‘Love’ is our religious faith summed up in one word. Jesus called us to love everyone… not just our friends and family, those we know and want to be around, but also those who are not nice to us, those we don’t even know, and even those who are our sworn enemies. Pretty tall order. And I would hazard a guess that most of us here try very hard to follow this commandment.
But, how many of us concentrate, or even think about the rest of His commandment:
‘as thyself’? (Luke 10:27)
I would guess that most of us don’t give it a second thought.
Let me restate the scripture:
`You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ and love your neighbor
As. You. Love. Yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
There are three kinds of loves mentioned…
love for God…,
love for neighbor…,
and then the third kind of love… love for self.
We live in a society that thinks of love for self as selfishness, something that only people not concerned with the welfare of other possess. But didn’t we just hear that Jesus said
“as you love yourself”? (Luke 10:27)
The big question is: how do we love yourself without being selfish or arrogant or getting caught up in the epidemic of “Me, Me, Me”?
It is not only OK to love yourself, but that it is extremely important… to love yourself in the right way.
We know that proper self-love or positive self-esteem is essential to health and happiness and wholeness. Too often, our disappointments in life are not the real issue, but only symptoms of a bigger problems. Our real problem is we don’t like ourselves. And when we try to live looking through those dark, destructive glasses, everything we do is tainted.
Let me give you an example:
Most of the time I tell myself that I am overweight, dumpy and unattractive, an old lady kind of like Pig Pen in Charlie Brown, constantly followed by a dark cloud. When someone gives me a compliment, I discount it – telling myself they are just being ‘kind’ to some pitiful soul. So when I do something that I should feel good about, it is always accompanied by that black cloud of gloom and doom.
Even though I know that when you don’t like yourself, when you don’t feel good about yourself, it affects everything you do.
Dr. John Sutherland Bonnell, pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City said this:
“Whenever you find an individual who has become a constant source of bitterness… taunting and criticizing people… saying cruel things that wound the hearts of friends… you may be sure that he someone who hates himself, who loathes and despises himself… and the bitterness is but the projection of his own contempt for himself.”
Think of the alcoholic who despises himself and what he is becoming, who loathes his inability to cope with his problem, who wrestles constantly with guilt and as a result is mean to his wife and children.
Think of the college student who doesn’t study, flunks her exam and then disgusted with herself, lashes out at her roommate with hostile, critical words.
Think of the business executive who misses out on the big deal, “blows it,” loses it… and then aggravated with himself comes home and berates his family with a temper tantrum and kicks the dog. 
Let’s be honest now. Think about your own life for a moment. Isn’t it true that usually when we fuss at someone else, it’s because we are really upset with ourselves!
Isn’t that the way it works?
- When we are unhappy with ourselves we project that aggravation toward other people.
- On the other hand, when we feel good about ourselves, we are more loving, patient, kind and gracious toward everyone we see.
Many of our deep personal problems arise from a lack of proper self-love. Many of the sins we commit, wrongs we do, crutches we lean on, irritations we experience… come from not feeling good about ourselves. Self-hatred is destructive and dangerous. Low self-esteem is crippling.
Self-respect is so important. A healthy self-love is essential for a productive, creative and meaningful life. Here are some things that result for not loving ourselves:
- DISLIKING OURSELVES CAN LEAD TO INSECURITY… and this insecurity can cause persons to be critical of everything and hostile toward everyone; can cause us to be worried all the time, fretful, running scared, anxiety-ridden and suspicious of everyone and everything.
Some people are so insecure that they even turn genuine compliments into defeats and insults. One time I said to a lady, “My, My! Don’t you look nice today! Quick as a flash she retorted: “You said ‘today’! I guess that means you think I usually don’t look nice!”
That insecurity is destructive and depleting. It robs us of the joy of life… and makes us and everybody around us uncomfortable.
- DISLIKING OURSELVES CAN LEAD TO JEALOUSY and this jealousy can cause us to be envious, resentful and sometimes cruel.
When you don’t like yourself, then you see every person as a rival, as the enemy, as someone who has it better than you, as someone you have to put down or undercut. Self-hate is so dangerous; it can lead to a volatile jealousy and cause us to hurt other people, even those closest to us.
- AND FINALLY, DISLIKING OURSELVES CAN LEAD TO SELF-PITY. Remember how Charley Brown put it: “I know the world is filled with hatred because the whole world hates me!”
This kind of self-pity causes us to look for crutches… temporary attempts at “pick-me-ups” like drugs or alcohol… that only add to the problem. They don’t pick us up; they let us down. They don’t make us stronger; they make us weaker.
So, I ask you:
- Do you want to feel good about yourself?
- Do you want to like yourself more?
Then… Remember this…
You are special to God!
You are valuable to Him!
You are the child of God and nothing can cut you off from Him and His love.
You are a unique beloved child of God. You and I are unique people in the world. You and I are new and different from anything this world has ever seen. You and I have something unique to do, something unique to offer and give and be.
You are special to God, you are valuable to Him.
If we are loved by God, then we should love ourselves. We should love ourselves as God and others love us.
A poet put it like this:
I have to live with myself and so,
I want to be fit for myself to know.
I want to be able as the days go by
Always to look myself square in the eye.
I don’t want to keep on a closed shelf
A lot of secrets about myself
And fool myself as I come and go
Into thinking that nobody else will ever know…
I don’t want to stand at the setting sun
And hate myself for the things I’ve done.
Whatever happens I want to be
Self-respecting and conscience free.
I have to live with myself and so
I want to be fit for myself to know.”
So, I ask you:
“Are you fit for yourself to know”?
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, sometimes it is hard for us to see things about ourselves that are worthy of love from you and other people. Please reassure us of your eternal love; help us to accept it without ‘yes, but’ and believe that we are worthy of that love. Help us to view each day and every person through the eyes of love that allowed you to give up your Son Jesus for our promise of eternal life. Thank you for reminding us that we are your beloved children. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 10 July 2016