**When did you last say, “I love you!” to yourself? **I can’t remember ever saying it. Just the thought of it somehow feels wrong.

“I love you, Mike.”

There, I just tried it! But I have to say, the words didn’t come easily. My inner critic was lying in wait:

But you’ve been critical and impatient with your kids! But you shouldn’t think too highly of yourself. You should be humble.

I decided to ask a few co-workers if they love themselves.

L: “Ahh … um, yes.”

D: “I’d like to think so, sometimes.”

T: “I guess so, but I don’t like those words. That’s not what the world needs — more people in love with themselves!”

Apparently, it’s not just awkward for me. So why not forget about it?

We can’t. Jesus told us that loving others is linked to loving ourselves: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

How do we love ourselves? We take care of our physical needs: rest, nutrition, and hygiene. We see the doctor when we’re ill. We indulge in treats like my favorite — dark chocolate infused with chili pepper. We care for our soul and our spirit by giving it what it needs to thrive. We are supposed to care for others in the same way we care for ourselves. I get that.

But the Greek word for love here is a derivative of agape, so we’re to take it a step further and unconditionally love others as we unconditionally love ourselves. But apparently, that’s easier said than done. Our hearts run into a problem: they remain broken in sin and unable to truly love well. Without a heart-transforming encounter with Jesus Himself, who is the embodiment of agape love, we will fail to love others or ourselves unconditionally. A revelation of God’s unconditional love for us through Christ not only frees us from the conditions we put on loving others; it also frees us from the caveats we so easily put on loving ourselves.

Even the ways we affirm ourselves are conditional. If I tell myself I’m talented, smart, or, dare I say handsome, in my mind there are usually comparisons going on: more talented than her, smarter than him. I can’t help but judge myself by a culturally imposed standard of beauty. I’m definitely not a 9/10. Maybe I’m a 7.

But God made us in his image, which means he never intended for us to compare ourselves to anyone else. His power made us awesome and beautiful. Everything he creates is pure genius.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14).

What if, rather than just giving a nod to verses like this or letting our latent shame dismiss them, we looked at the wonder of God’s handiwork and rejoiced in it, just as David did? What if we loved ourselves without comparing ourselves to others?

Celebrate yourself! Could that actually be a biblical concept?

But that celebratory and unconditional love only comes from God who is love. We hold on to a lesser view of ourselves when we don’t live a life of intimate communion with God. Loving ourselves will continue to feel forced or awkward if intimacy with God isn’t our top priority. There’s a reason Jesus made the first commandment first:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30).

If we live disconnected from our Creator, we continue to live out the labels we choose or those we’ve been given by the people around us. Other voices determine who we are, not God’s. Our ability to love others remains crippled because the love of Christ has not yet renewed and transformed us.

But when Jesus is at the center of our lives, we hear his voice affirming us and calling us to live according to all he enables us to be. We can learn to love ourselves because we know we’re so incredibly loved; we can forgive ourselves because he has fully and perfectly forgiven us and purified us (1 John 1:9).

This closeness with Jesus chips away at our self-pity and shame, forming true humility within us. We take ownership of our mistakes, but don’t let them own us; we celebrate our accomplishments, knowing they were accomplished by God’s grace. It’s a humility that says, “God, you did a good job when you created me and recreated me. Thank you!”

The self-love God enables is holy and pure — it is an act of worship towards God, not ourselves. We have another wonder to praise him for. We’re also free to celebrate the wonder of those around us, without conditions. It’s no longer about being “good enough” or “better than.” We have found our worth in who we truly are — who we are in our Father’s eyes thanks to Jesus. We don’t need to prove that worth to anyone, especially ourselves.

Go ahead, love yourself!

If you find it difficult to see yourself as God does, it could help to talk about it. Fill out the mentor form in the Connect tab!

updated November 2019

Photo Credit: Yingchou Han