Last week, I went on one of the most dreaded excursions women face this time of year: swimsuit shopping.
To say the suits didn’t look like they did in my Athleta catalog was an understatement. Each left scars of “too much” or “not enough” – and for a moment, my identity hung in the balance as I realized that once again, I didn’t measure up to the standards of this world. All those workouts… all that running… and for what?
Seven suits, three overly-helpful salesclerks and a mild nervous breakdown later, I choked back angry tears and headed for the door, defeated. In the corner of my eye, I saw a nagging hashtag etched into the store window.
It simply said, “#selflove.”
I rolled my eyes and mumbled a sarcastic, “yeah, right.” But for some reason, that little hashtag stuck with me as the pain of the shopping experience began to fade.
We live in a difficult age – especially for women, but for a growing number of men as well. We’re bombarded with messages from the media, our peers and ourselves that we’re not enough. Swimsuits aside, the image battles we face are very real.
So naturally, the idea of loving one’s self seems a refreshing and healthy way to counterbalance the negative identity impacts of mainstream culture. I’m all for it – but it’s important to keep it in context.
When Self-love Goes Too Far
The Christian faith requires an undeniable element of selflessness, which at first glance seems entirely counterintuitive to the idea of self-love. But selflessness requires more than simply putting others first; it requires us to put God first.
More of God, less of us (John 3:30). It’s a radical thought. But the gospel isn’t always easy to swallow.
- We’re called to go beyond loving our friends or spouse – even non-believers do that (Matthew 5:47).
- We’re called to lay down our lives for our friends (John 15:13).
- We’re called to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (Matthew 5:44).
- We’re called to love the unlovable and forgive the unforgivable (Matthew 5:45).
- We’re called to die to ourselves and be born again – of water and of Spirit (John 3:3–7).
Oh, and we’re called to do all these things not for our own glory or hyped-up martyrdom, but in order to glorify God.
Here’s the sticky part: When self-love makes us the center of our own universe, it removes God from His rightful place in our hearts.
We begin to believe the lies that we can do it all on our own, that we don’t need His help – and that maybe we’re even better off on our own. As pride sets in, we begin to see our lives through the distorted lens of our own glory, as if we had anything to boast about on our own.
Self-love + Selflessness – There is a Place for Both!
“Dying to self” is part of being born again in Christ; the old self dies and the new self comes to life. Death to self is not optional for Christians; it’s a choice we make and a path we follow that leads to eternal life.
However, this does not warrant self-loathing behavior. When we surrender our lives to Christ, He redeems us. He makes us new and beautiful, and we can stand strong and confident in Him. No matter how scarlet the sins of our past, we are washed clean because of His sacrifice. As He continues to reveal brokenness in our lives, we can respond by continuing to actively surrender – to “die to self” – on a daily basis.
In Christ, we are accepted, secure and significant – not because of anything we’ve done, but because of who we are in Him. He desperately wants us to embrace our identity in Him and see ourselves as He sees us – as beloved.
The key to exercising “selfless self-love” is to live our lives as a reflection of God’s love for us, His beloved children. He makes all things bright and new in us, for His glory. Our part in it? Saying “yes!”
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
Self-love and selflessness are not mutually exclusive. In fact, embracing the “new creation” we are in Christ creates room for the concept of self-love. Faithful self-love is seeing ourselves the way our Father in Heaven sees us; not as perfect or worthy by the world’s unrealistic standards, but fearfully and wonderfully made in His image.
Now that’s a self worth loving.
Want more on self-love? Read part 2 of 2: 7 Healthy Ways to Love Yourself.