That’s not what the passage of scripture says, but I think it’s what I’ve believed much of my life. Love your neighbour instead of yourself. This worked for me because in my framework, I was the helper, I was the giver, the one who took care of others. Self-sacrificial love was one of my core values. I lay my life down for you, and I encourage you to do likewise for others. That’s what it means to love powerfully.
But some part of my heart became resentful of the love that I gave away to others. My emotional state began to yo-yo. I have been blessed with incredible, life-giving friendships and a rich communal life. When we are together, we encourage one another, we spur each other on, we touch, we hug, we laugh, we eat and we cry. When we’re not together, I get a bit desperate, which might be OK on its own if it wasn’t for the fact that my wife and kids feel ignored, that I start to emotionally obsess about my community, and that I slide towards depression and withdrawal as soon as I am removed from the presence of friends.
The love that you experience as a result of others pouring into your life is most likely going to have a natural ebb and flow associated with it, in relation to your proximity to others, how frequently you gather, what your love languages are, how vulnerable or available your community is, etc. The love that you have for yourself can help you create a much more consistent emotional space, and loving yourself well will defuse inner resentment while you love others.
Loving ourselves is really an act of worship to the creator. And true self-sacrifice for the sake of another requires the sacrifice to have value. All throughout the Old Testament we see the sacrifice had to be perfect, spotless, sinless. God’s invitation for us to live lives of self-sacrifice is itself a declaration of our worthiness to be sacrificed. You are valuable! You are worthy! You are worthy of your community’s love, and most importantly, you are worthy of your own love. And if you don’t love or value yourself, then you dishonour the creator and you cannot really love anyone sacrificially.
As my friend Rochelle recently said, “Loving your neighbour as yourself is a pretty crappy deal for your neighbour if you don’t love yourself very well.”
So start with you. Love yourself. Tell yourself you love you. Do it right now. Put your hand on your heart and say, “[name], I love you. You are beautiful. You are creative. You are powerful. You reflect your creator. You are worth getting to know. I am sorry for not listening to you and for living as though you didn’t matter. I want to get to know you better, starting today.”
The love that God has for us is immeasurable and constant, yet our awareness of it is inconsistent. The love that our friends and family have for us varies from person to person, and circumstance to circumstance. Your awareness of it may be strong or it might be non-existent. It may come and go like the wind, but at least it’s present, physical, manifest. The love that you have for yourself can become a healthy medium between. Not necessarily limitless, but steady and powerful and one that you are consistently aware of. You can start that journey today.