I Can Love Me Better

There’s a reason why the world is obsessed with romantic love. There’s something about it that calls to a deep part of ourselves—a part that desperately wants to be loved perfectly. But even when we are being loved greatly, some of us feel like we are too messed up or too far gone to be worthy of being loved at all, much less loved well. In response to this self-deprecation, there has been a call for people to focus more on learning to love themselves well. Self-love urges people to find and see the value in themselves rather than waiting for others to give them value. It is easy to see why this is, in a world that sees more and more people ultimately being hurt by love than healed by it. Countless songs have come out of this movement, one of the most recent is Miley Cyrus’s “Flowers.”

Despite being released at the end of January, “Flowers” has remained at the top of the Billboard 100 list, showing people’s love of not just the sound of the song, but the ideas it conveys. It’s a song that talks about the end of a relationship and the subsequent focus on self-love. Cyrus points out that she can love herself better than the other person ever could. The perspective of the self-love culture goes beyond this in saying we can’t truly love others until we first love ourselves. Interestingly, despite many Christian’s rejection of self-love culture, this is a point on which both popular culture and Christian culture seem to align: Jesus taught that Christians ought to “love your neighbor as yourself”(Mark 12:31). But is the method and reasoning for loving ourselves the same as what the self-love culture advocates?

A Call to Self-Love
According to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, “Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others.” With the rise of burnout, depression, anxiety, and other behavioral disorders, people have recognized their need for healthy self-care and constructive change. It is clear that the push for this kind of self-love comes from a good source.

In “Flowers,” Cyrus recognizes that in her relationship “we were good, till we weren’t.” She sees the relationship is no longer working, a feeling many can resonate with. Sadly, many people have never experienced a love that is anywhere close to perfect. In fact, they have experienced love that, when it was gone, left them scarred and jaded to the idea of love. Then, riffing off the chorus of the song “When I was Your Man” by Bruno Mars—which laments losing someone due to not loving them well enough—Cyrus sings about how she doesn’t need someone to show her love by buying her flowers or taking her dancing, because she can do those things for herself. She’s essentially saying that in showing herself ‘love’ in these ways, she doesn’t need another person—she can care for and know herself better than anyone else.

The point of the world’s self-love is “being kind, patient, gentle and compassionate to yourself, the way you would with someone else that you care about.” These are all good things to strive for, but if we are not careful, ‘self-love’ can become hollow love. We can begin to focus on needing the next ‘thing’ that will help us love ourselves—spa days, massages, special gym memberships. These things may help us to relax or feel loved for the moment, but they don’t get to the core reasons that people struggle to love themselves. Though nothing is inherently wrong with these things, they can turn self-love into a selfish love that says “as long as I look out for myself first, everything will be okay.” However, this saps us of the ability to give real love, both to ourselves and others. Love is often a sacrifice, thus ‘self-love’ attained through acquiring things or experiences is in some sense not love at all. True love, like the love that God has for us and the love that ought to occur in relationships, is inherently unselfish. This is the kind of self-love that Christ teaches when he tells people to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

Redeemed Self-Love
The world’s version of self-love is related to self-care actions and feelings towards oneself whereas self-love as Christ teaches it doesn’t have to do merely with self-care, but with radical acceptance, both for the sake of oneself and others. As C.S. Lewis once said, “You are told to love your neighbour as yourself. How do you love yourself? When I look into my own mind… I do not think that I love myself because I am particularly good, but just because I am myself and quite apart from my character. I might detest something which I have done. Nevertheless, I do not cease to love myself… Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”1 Loving ourselves, from a Christian perspective, isn’t simply self-care—Christ says “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). Self-love is about truly accepting oneself for who we are–not for how we ought to be or could be. True love is radical acceptance, regardless of whether that is directed towards another person or towards oneself. This doesn’t mean we accept whatever we do, but it does mean accepting who we are—the image-bearer God made us. We not only do this for ourselves, but for others as well.

This is what Christ means when he tells people to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). It is audacious acceptance of one’s neighbor regardless of what they do to themselves or others. Jesus makes the shocking claim to love and pray for even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). This is not because of anything others do to earn our love, rather it stems from the immense love Jesus has shown us that we can now offer to others. And once we have been loved in this way, it isn’t possible to believe that real love can be anything else. If we can learn to love ourselves in this unconditional way, knowing better than any other human how much brokenness is in ourselves, then we can learn to love others similarly.

Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us to our own devices when it comes to loving others like this. He has given us his own Spirit to dwell inside of us. When we are willing to ask God for the ability to love with radical acceptance, he willingly and generously gives it. In the book The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom was arrested and sent to the deadly Ravensbruck concentration camp during World War II because she hid Jews in her home. She explains that once, when she was traveling and giving talks about what she had experienced, she came face to face with one of the prison guards who had a role in her torture and captivity. After hearing what she said about Christ’s pervasive love in her talk, he thanked her, asked her forgiveness, and went to shake her hand, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She couldn’t love him in her own power. She knew that God wanted her to extend love and forgiveness towards the guard, but it wasn’t until she asked God to help her in that moment and mechanically took his hand in hers that something within her changed. “I suddenly feel a warm wave through my body. From my shoulder, through my arm, to our hands. I have to cry, ‘I forgive you brother, with all my heart.’ There we stood. The camp guard and the prisoner. For a long time we held hands. And never before have I experienced the love of God so deeply.”

Jesus said that the only law greater than loving one’s neighbor and oneself is that of loving “the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). He explained that there are no other commandments greater than these. This gives significant weight to Jesus’s words on loving not just others but also ourselves. We know that God himself is love (1 John 3:8), and as we imitate and follow God we should be so filled with his Spirit that his love pours out of ourselves in every direction, even towards ourselves.

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Rebecca Sachaj

Rebecca Sachaj is enthusiastic about helping fellow believers deepen their relationship with God. After finishing her Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric and Writing, she pursued further study in Apologetics through The Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics. She plans to obtain her Masters in Apologetics, focusing on the connection between the Christian Imagination and Apologetics. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her two dogs, Strider and Samwise.