Loving Yourself As Your Neighbor
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
A package was delivered to me. "Who's sending me a gift?" I asked as the delivery man handed it to me. Then I looked at the label and discovered it was something I had ordered for myself. "I guess I'm the only one who loves me," I joked.
"If you can love yourself, you don't need anyone else to love you," shouted the delivery man as he dashed away.
Beyond the momentary amusement, the thought of loving myself began to take on a deeper significance than treating myself to pleasant gifts. It isn't always easy to love yourself. And just as the best of friends and family sometimes become at odds with each other, so, too, can we grow at odds with ourselves. Self-condemnation can be miserable and needs as much attention as does animosity felt toward another person.
If you can't love yourself, can you really expect anyone else to love you? I have known people who were so sure that I couldn't love them that anything kind I did for them made them suspicious. At other times I have wondered what some people could possibly like in me.
Even if economic, educational, or cultural backgrounds make us fear we are not lovable in the eyes of others, prayer to discover our true value can help to break any spell of feeling unlovable.
I found that true when traveling on board a ship. The deck was filled with teenagers. We seemed so different-I was of another race. Yet they expressed a joy I admired. Could they see admirable qualities in me? Of course they could.
I walked along, quietly remembering that they and I were the lovable children of God, who is Love itself. The timidity I felt disappeared. Their smiles were friendly, and some of them took the opportunity to practice their English by asking me questions. As that delivery man's casual remark implied, when we can value ourselves, we won't fear that we'll be unacceptable.
You learn to love yourself the same way you learn to love another person. As I did in getting acquainted with those young people, you can find your real nature to be acceptable as a child of God. That means you are essential, perfect, in possession of the lovable qualities of God, your creator. I had learned this by studying Christian Science, which is based on the teachings of the Bible and particularly of Christ Jesus.
Valuing oneself is part of the instruction Jesus gave to his followers. He said: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:37-39). Obviously this works both ways; it wouldn't be right not to love yourself as your neighbor, either.
Real self-love is not conceit. It is rightfully including oneself in what God made-what is real and good. God is eternal, ever present. He shuts out no one from love. We shouldn't either.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the textbook of Christian Science. Here we read, "To love one's neighbor as one's self, is a divine idea; but this idea can never be seen, felt, nor understood through the physical senses" (p. 88). Love has to be spiritual to include everyone. The love of God, of divine Spirit, is all-inclusive, constant love. It is love worth pursuing. It is unselfish. It makes us recognize we each have something very real and worthwhile to give others, something deserving of respect and appreciation. Egotistically praising oneself is of no more help than is insincerely flattering someone else. In both cases, it's fake. But genuine love, placed on a spiritual level, reveals God's good child to be the noble identity of both oneself and others.
Feeling genuine love for yourself can only result in feeling love for everyone, and vice versa. In this way, your love grows. Universal, unconditional love is the highest goal we can ever strive for.
Other articles discussing the love of God appear in a weekly magazine, the Christian Science Sentinel.