Loving Yourself

by Adam Smith on December 01, 2023

This sermon was preached by Rev. Adam Smith on July 23, 2017 using the Scripture text: Matthew 19:16-26.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop working on a final paper for one of my D.Min courses, and realized quickly that I had made a mistake. I wanted to sit by the window to get some of that great Iowa sun (while in the air conditioning), and without thinking sat at a table very close to two young women, probably in their mid to late 30’s who had just started diving into their large caffeinated drinks and breakfast sandwiches. Now I know you’re thinking, what’s wrong with that...well let me tell you...the decibel level at which these young ladies were sharing their lives – their personal lives I might add – had my coffee shaking. Don’t you remember that scene in Jurassic Park...you don’t see the T-rex coming, but the screen zooms in on a cup of water in the car and shows ripples every time there is a “boom” for every dinosaur footstep. That was my cup of coffee on this particular morning!!

Yes, I could have moved, but I would have lost the sun AND I’m not sure there was really anywhere in the shop to escape the two ladies chat anyway.

So, I endured. As you can imagine I got very little done on my paper. Instead, I was a bit a snooper. Not in the creepy sense, since everyone in the store could hear the hour long conversation, but in the anthropological sense. That’s the story I’m sticking with anyway. The ladies spent the hour unloading on one another. Each spent time sharing how tired they were; how busy they were; how many ball games, and work meetings, and daily commitments they had: 5 in the morning to 11 at night. They talked about missing the college years, the minimal responsibilities, the fun, the slow boredom.

The more I listened the more I was starting to feel depressed. Just hearing them talk was making me tired and bringing me down to some level of dissatisfaction with my own life. Eventually I decided that I was reaching an all-time low in my self-esteem and needed to leave, but before I got out the door one of the women made the comment, “I just don’t love who I’ve become and who I am anymore.” Yep, my day was ruined.

Whether or not the person meant what she said, it stuck with me for the rest of the day and into the next week. It was only a few days later that a church member emailed me a question they wanted to hear addressed in worship: “How can we love ourselves, so that we can love others?”

Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength. And the 2nd is just like it, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Oh, it sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Love God and love others like we love ourselves. No problem. But what if we don’t know how to love God? What if we don’t know how to love ourselves? How then can we love others?

If any of you have known a friend or family member who, or if you yourself have, suffered from depression at some point in your life, you may know how hard it can be to love yourself. But even outside of a clinical diagnosis of depression, many of us have wrestled with that feeling of worthlessness, or have felt our own lives overburdened by commitments, responsibilities, self- induced busyness, and other worldly weights. It’s hard to love others when we so often neglect ourselves. It’s so easy to hear the message of the world that tells us we are not enough without more of this or more of that. We are not enough without the big house, the nice car, the kids involved in every activity under the sun, working so hard that work itself becomes an idol in our lives.

It’s no wonder there are so many self-help books and businesses out there.

How do we love ourselves, dear saints? Now I’m not talking about being narcissistic or self-centered, I’m talking about love in the sense that Jesus loves us; that we are of infinite worth and value in this world to God. We are called and chosen, a part of God’s royal priesthood, unique, gifted, and the Body of Christ.

Matthew 19 seems to be of no help, because it seems to assume that EVERYONE already loves themselves. When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he is not issuing an edict to love yourself first, so that you can then love others, the assumption is that all people already love themselves; that all people as children of God want the best for themselves in life. They want to live full, whole, complete, satisfactory lives filled with love, joy, and happiness. And I think this is true in the sense that even those suffering from depression, and those of us who have experienced times where we questioned our self-worth, we still want the best for ourselves, even when we don’t know what that ‘best’ is.

The woman in the coffee shop who was questioning her purpose in life, still loved herself as a human being, but wrestled with her identity. In all truth, as life moves and shifts and changes, we are always trying to understand who we are in the midst of it. Sometimes we can feel lost, lonely, and maybe even think we don’t love ourselves, but often what we don’t love is not ourselves, we are simply dissatisfied with our circumstances, our choices, the curveballs life has thrown at us and how we’ve handled them.

So maybe the question we should be asking is not so much, “How do we love ourselves,” but rather, “How do we remember that we are loved and see it again?”

I don’t think that Jesus gives us the greatest commandments in the order that he does by accident. The greatest commandment is one that all Jews know well, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind...” You see our identity as human beings IS beloved, created by God in love. We are by definition loved from our very beginning and in every moment of our lives and beyond. It is who we are, who we were created to be, how we were created to live. Every time we turn our lives to God, every time we worship, every time we pray, every time we remind ourselves of our true nature, we remember that we are born from love. The very fact that we are here now is because God loved us so much that God gave us breath.

So how do we remember that we are loved, and how can we see ourselves again as beloved, dear saints, in the midst of an often chaotic, difficult, and painful life?

We can turn our hearts and minds to God.

I know, it sounds like the stereotypical “church” answer that every pastor around the globe will give you. And it doesn’t sound like a really helpful answer, does it, especially for those that feel no sense of self love?

But is not loving God a whole way of living and being in the world. Is not loving God with every breath we take not what we were created to do? Perhaps the cliche’ answer that is spending time with God, thinking and dwelling on God’s love for us, is the most life-giving. I think when we love God with our lives, grateful for what we’ve been given, and when we participate in acts of love, we participate in a small part of God’s love that reminds us of our identity as beloved.

Inherently loving God, neighbors, and ourselves are all interconnected with one another. If God is love, as first 1 John proclaims, it is in our acts of love that we commune with God AND remember our own identity as beloved. We are not called to first love ourselves and then to love God and neighbor, it is in our loving that our identity is more fully revealed.

I know it sounds paradoxical: in order to love ourselves (to see ourselves as beloved) we have to love others, and in order to love others we have to love ourselves (see ourselves as beloved). So what can we do? The simple answer is this: we can love God with all that we are, and we can love our neighbors. But perhaps it’s more helpful if we are a bit more specific about the nature of our love. Here are my 5 tips for remembering our identity as beloved, and for loving God and our neighbor:

Tip #1: Spend time with God. Nurture your spiritual life. So often we learn the stories, we learn the liturgy, we learn what to say and how to say it, and yet neglect our relationship with God. How do we grow in our relationship with Christ? We pray, we read our Bibles or participate in a Bible studies, we take time out of our busy schedules to just be, we participate in worship, we engage in self-reflection.

Tip #2: Rest. I don’t think that one of the 10 commandments has to do with Sabbath and resting for no reason. Time to just be, to be with family, to reflect on life, to get away from all the worldly commitments and pressures if not for a short time, is an important spiritual discipline. Maybe you don’t have a whole day, but maybe you take Sabbath time throughout the week. An hour here. 30 minutes there.

Tip #3: Spend time with God in community. Surround yourselves with brothers and sisters in Christ who love you and affirm that you are a beloved child of God. Worship together. Fellowship together. Go on bike rides, go to lunch, share a meal, go bowling. Talk about your faith. Lift each other up in a world that constantly brings us down. Who can you talk to about your faith and about your walk with God? The more you talk about it, the more you reflect through the lens of Christ in your life, the easier it becomes to see that you are beloved.

Tip # 4: Choose love. We can go about our life in all sorts of ways. We can be cynical, pessimistic, rushed, angry, whatever else. Make a conscious decision to choose love. Approach your mornings with love. Wake up with love on your heart and on your lips. Walk into work ready to love. When confronted with a difficult choice to make, choose love. I know, this tip can be so open-ended. “Choosing love” may look different from one person to the next, but walking around life with a sense that love is what it’s all about changes your patterns of thinking, and doing, and being. It’s not just a spiritual change or an emotional change but can literally change your brain chemistry.

Tip # 5: Go the extra mile for someone else. Choose one person and love them in a way that goes beyond what they need. Try it. Do it again. See what happens.

These are my 5 tips for seeing yourself as beloved. Each tip shows the interconnectedness of loving God, loving neighbor, and loving self. This is not a complete list but a place to start.

As we go into this advent season, where we ready ourselves for God’s love that will be born into this world and walk among us, let us let that light illuminate our lives.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

With Glad Tidings,

Pastor Adam


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