In a recent meditation, Fr. Richard Rohr quotes Bishop Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, on the subject of ‘loving the “true you”’:
There is a Jewish proverb, “Before every person there marches an angel proclaiming, ‘Behold, the image of God.’” Unselfish, sacrificial living isn’t about ignoring or denying or destroying yourself. It’s about discovering your true self—the self that looks like God—and living life from that grounding. Many people are familiar with a part of Jesus’s summary of the law of Moses: You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself [Mark 12:31]. Yourself. Loving the self is a required balance. If we fail in that, we fail our neighbor, too. To love your neighbor is to relate to them as someone made in the image of God. And it is to relate to yourself as someone made in the image of God. It’s God, up, down, and all around, and God is love.
This brought to mind something I wrote way back in 2013:
If we are to become the type of people who make a difference in the lives of others, it’ll be because we have a healthy view of ourselves... If I don’t invest in myself, what will I have to give to others? If I don’t see value in myself, what value will I be able to add to others? Having a positive impact on the lives of others flows out of ensuring we have something to give. We love ourselves in order to better love others.
In a similar vein, Bishop Curry goes on to add:
The ability to love yourself is intimately related to your capacity to love others.
Sadly, the ability to love yourself is not a given. Some of us struggle with this intensely. If we have not been loved well in our lives, we often end up seeing ourselves as unlovable.
It’s hard to undo the damage from growing up in an unloving environment. Or one where love was entirely conditional. How can I see myself as lovable if my whole life I’ve felt that I have to prove I’m worthy of love through what I do? The idea of being loved as we are, without any conditions, or not connected to anything we do or don't do, is mind-boggling to many of us.
But there lies true freedom: To know we are loved, accepted, welcomed, and affirmed as we are is the ultimate gift. And that gift is the basis of self-love.
In fact, this truth is Christianity’s greatest gift to the world. Yet, tragically, the God who loves us unconditionally got hidden behind a pile of man-made conditions. Instead of angels proclaiming, ‘Behold, the image of God,’ came preachers declaring, ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God.’
So we turned our back on religion. God too. And we lost the opportunity to hear, ‘You are my beloved child’ spoken over us.
It’s no wonder lots of us find it hard to love ourselves. And, subsequently, others.