Last spring I walked into Target and straight through the bathing suit section because they put it right at the front of the women’s clothing section for some ludicrous reason. I’m not sure what genius marketing executive thought would draw women in, but I would like to sit down and disagree with his market research.
Anyway, I stopped midway through the tiny bikinis because I was perplexed by an ad I had never seen before–an ad with all shapes and sizes of women smiling in their swimwear. This was a new concept for me. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. We didn’t get all shapes and sizes of women in advertisements. We were blessed with stick-thin airbrushed images that were unattainable for 90% of the world’s population.
I stood there for a minute in complete amazement.
Was this real life?
As I continued my browsing through the women’s section, I noticed more and more images of real women, in real clothes, exuding confidence.
What a breath of fresh air.
Unless you are an English or Marketing major, you probably haven’t put much thought into the ways advertising affects the human psyche. Because I don’t want to go into a massive diatribe on this, I’m going to need you to trust me when I tell you the images we see, the messages our brains and bodies receive from the media, and the way our brains have been trained to think about ourselves has a ginormous impact on how we view ourselves.
It isn’t just how we view ourselves physically, either. There are messages we ingested from our parents, our teachers, our pastors, our Sunday School teachers, our coaches, our youth pastors, etc that affect how we think about all aspects of our person–mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Too often, those messages we received, and might still be receiving, are negative.
They influence our thought life, our emotions, how we see and treat our bodies, and how we view our mental abilities.
If we aren’t careful, those negative thoughts and negative behaviors can seep into our actions, our relationships with friends and family, our relationships with God, and even how we parent our children.
We have to do better.
We have to love ourselves better.
God Wants you to Love Yourself
If I hear one more person bashing self-care and self-love, I might just beat my head against the wall.
There are so many different schools of thought out there on self-love and self-care. The main argument against self-love and self-care is that it is selfish. Can it become selfish if we overindulge? Sure. But, we can also become gluttonous if we overindulge in chocolate, just like we can become drunks if we overindulge in wine. However, eating some chocolate or having some wine does not make you a gluttonous drunk just like practicing healthy self-love and self-care does not make you selfish.
Let’s talk about a scripture you’ve probably heard a thousand times. Matthew 22:35-40 records the words of Jesus:
Then one of them, a religious scholar, posed this question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus answered him, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with every passion of your heart, with all the energy of your being, and with every thought that is within you.’ This is the great and supreme commandment. And the second is like it in importance: ‘You must love your friend in the same way you love yourself.’Matthew 22:35-40 (TPT)
We see the first part of this verse, where Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, energy, and being, and we don’t take issue with it. It’s pretty cut and dried–Love God first. Then, we get to the second part of this verse, and we focus really heavily on the first part–Love your neighbor. We might struggle with this concept because sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to love our neighbors, but we don’t argue with the merit and truth contained in that part of this verse.
We ignore the rest of that sentence, though, the “in the same way you love yourself” part.
Have you ever thought about this?
Jesus doesn’t tell us to love others instead of ourselves. No, he tells us to love others in the same way we love ourselves. This isn’t a verse about sacrificing self for the love of others. It is a verse reminding us to love others in the same way we love ourselves.
And those are two very different things.
You’ve probably heard me talk about my upbringing in a very legalistic, fundamentalist church. I grew up believing selflessness was next to godliness. There was no room for loving myself–only others. The more I sacrificed myself, the closer I surely was to God.
Yes, we are called to service. We are called to take care of the orphans, widows, and prisoners. We are called to love others.
We are not called to disregard ourselves.
We have to be so careful with this because if we start disregarding ourselves and treating ourselves as if we are expendable, that is the message we are going to send to our kids as well.
That is counter to everything God says about who we are.
Who God Says You Are
God did not create us to be sacrificed on the altar of selflessness.
He created each of us as unique individuals in his image.
Genesis 1:26-28 (MSG) says:
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.Genesis 1:26-28 (MSG)
If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard that verse so many times that the gravity of its message gets a little lost. We have been created in the very likeness of God, reflecting his nature. If we truly love and respect who God is and what his nature is, we owe ourselves that same love and respect because we were uniquely and individually created in that same likeness.
The message doesn’t stop there, though. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:10 (NIV):
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.Ephesians 2: 10 (NIV)
I think this is another verse where we focus on one part and ignore the message of the verse as a whole. We have no problem accepting that God wants us to do good work or that he has prepared that work in advance for us, but we just kind of read over the beginning of this verse without much thought.
God has created us as his handiwork.
We are truly unique, individual creations God has formed in his image. While we have no problem taking care of the rest of God’s handiwork, we really struggle to acknowledge ourselves as God’s handiwork and to take care of ourselves and love ourselves as the miracles we really are.
Loving Yourself Better
Once we accept that we need to love ourselves, then we have to figure out what that even looks like. The reality is that we are complex human beings, and we all have different needs. However, there are really four areas of our lives we need to think about when we make a plan for loving ourselves better.
- Loving Ourselves & Our Emotions:
I grew up in a church and era that preached “Give it to God.” That meant that therapy and counseling were never talked about. In fact, if you went to therapy, it was viewed as not having enough trust in God. And, if you went to therapy with a professional who didn’t have “Christian” in front of their name, you were really in trouble. Loving yourself emotionally looks different for different people. For some of us, it might mean we need a good therapist to help us work through our emotions and our trauma. That doesn’t make us failures, and it definitely doesn’t mean we don’t love God or have faith in God
For some of us, loving ourselves emotionally might be learning how to express our emotions in a healthy way because we might not have any role models in our lives who have taught us to do this. Maybe we push all our emotions down and never talk about them. Or, maybe we are screamers who feel like the only way to be heard is to scream. Neither of these are healthy options, and they aren’t doing anything to help us love ourselves and our emotions.
Loving ourselves emotionally might be learning about identifying our emotions and where they are coming from, and then learning to communicate those effectively to our friends and family members.
- Loving Ourselves Mentally:
My brain needs stimulation. I can’t sit idly by and watch the world go by. For me, loving myself mentally means reading articles, learning new things, and being able to talk about these things with like-minded people. It looks like books on the stand in the living room that I can pick up for an hour a day and read on my own because I know I need that.
For other people, this might look like spending an hour a week in a book club or being involved in an online community of like-minded individuals.
Too often, we prioritize the needs of our family and partner over our own needs, and these mental needs we have seem to be the first that are sacrificed. It’s not selfish to take some time for yourself to make sure your mental needs are being met and to love yourself and your brain a little better.
- Loving Ourselves Spiritually:
Loving ourselves spiritually means setting aside the time we need to grow in our spirituality. That might look like taking 15 minutes in the morning while you’re drinking your coffee when no one is allowed to disturb you unless someone is dead or the house is on fire when you can read your bible or a devo and spend a few minutes starting your day with a conversation with God.
It might look like committing to a small group where you have no other responsibility except to focus on your own growth and spirituality. It might look like starting a book club that meets in your living room so you can grow together with other like-minded people.
Again, I think these are the things that unfortunately get sacrificed on the altar of busyness or get sacrificed so we can meet someone else’s needs when we need to be focusing on our own growth and on loving ourselves enough to prioritize our own spirituality.
- Loving Ourselves Physically:
I purposely saved this one for last because I just have a feeling this is the one the majority of us struggle with the most. One of the keys to loving ourselves physically is to take your thoughts about your body captive. We need to celebrate our own bodies in the same way I was cheering those women on in those Target ads! But, that’s easier to do for someone else and their body than it is to do for own.
Step one in this is to remember what Paul said in Philippians 4:6–”Keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind.” Our thoughts about our bodies need to be just that–authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, and merciful and kind. We have to start giving our bodies a little grace.
Once we get our thoughts under control, we need to make our health a priority. Maybe that means assessing what you’re eating and feeding and fueling your body a little better. Maybe that means not eating what’s left of your kids’ meals because that was cheaper than buying your own meal. Maybe that looks like taking 10 minutes to make a menu and shopping list on the weekend so you aren’t scrambling and eating crap during the week.
While food is a great and necessary place to start loving ourselves better, we also have to quit obsessing over scales and pants sizes! What message are we sending to our kids if that is our obsession? Instead, we need to start prioritizing our health as a whole. Instead of asking what the number on the scale says, ask yourself if you were healthy today. Did you fuel your body well and move your body well? We have to shift our thinking and start loving our body and taking care of our body in a healthy way because our kids are always watching, and they will mimic the message we send.
Loving Ourselves Better One Day at a Time
Learning to love yourself better and actually being able to put that into practice is not something that happens overnight.
It takes time.
We have to change mindsets, habits, and behaviors.
We are God’s handiwork, created in his image, and our bodies are temples of God. Even though it might be hard to prioritize yourself and love yourself better, I know God will honor those decisions and walk with you through this process.
- What is the biggest struggle for you–loving yourself emotionally, mentally, spiritually or physically?
- What is one step you can take this week to love yourself a little better?
- What do you think the biggest obstacle for you is in loving yourself better?
Wonderful words and Scripture here. So good. 🥰 Much to ponder.
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Love, Love, Love this!
It is strange how rethinking a verse and realizing how often it is misquoted can make such a big difference. Matthew 22:35-40