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, like I’d be lying to myself or ignoring all the ways I still sin.

“I love you, Mike.”

There, I just tried it! But I have to say, the words didn’t come easily. Even with sincere intentions, my inner critic was laying in wait:

But you’ve been critical and impatient with your kids! But you shouldn’t think too highly of yourself. But 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 who are in love with themselves!”

Apparently, it’s not awkward just for me. So why not forget about it? We can’t. Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31

This seems to mean we can only love others to the extent that we love ourselves.

In some ways, we do love ourselves. We take care of our physical needs: rest, nutrition, and hygiene. We see the doctor when we’re ill and indulge in treats, like my favorite — dark chocolate infused with chilli pepper. We are supposed to care for others as 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. If we put conditions on the love we give ourselves, how then can we love others without conditions?

Even the ways we affirm ourselves are conditional. If I call myself 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 wasn’t comparing us to others when He made us in His image. The very moment He conceived of us, 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, like David, looked at the wonder of God’s handiwork and rejoiced in it? And loved ourselves without making comparisons?

Celebrate yourself! Could that actually be a biblical concept?

But that celebratory and unconditional love only comes from Him 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 hasn’t been 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 consumed and transformed us.

But with Jesus at the center of our lives, we can hear His voice reaching in to affirm us and call us to the potential He sees. We can learn to love ourselves because we know we’re so incredibly loved, and to forgive ourselves because He’s not holding our sins against us.

This closeness with Jesus chips away at our self-pity and shame — forming true humility within us: where we take ownership for our mistakes but don’t let them own us, where we can celebrate our accomplishments without having to be the best. It’s a humility that says, “God, You did a good job when You made me. Thank You!”

When loving God leads to loving ourselves, it’s holy and pure — an act of worshiping God, not our egos. We have another wonder to praise Him for. We’re free to celebrate the wonder of those around us, without conditions. It’s no longer about being “good enough” or “better than.” Our worth has already been established by our Maker. We don’t need to prove it to anyone, especially ourselves.

Go ahead, love yourself!

If you find it difficult to love yourself, sometimes it helps to talk about it. Fill out the mentor form in the Connect tab!

Photo Credit: Yingchou Han