Life Lessons in Loving

(Me at 15)

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Most people get the love your neighbor part, but why is it so hard to understand the “as yourself”  part? Because we don’t know how to love ourselves.  As Christians, many times we have a warped view of loving our neighbors more than ourselves.  We beat ourselves up and always try to put others first, but is that really what is being said here?  I’m not saying you should love yourself in the Jenny Craig commercial stand-in-front-of-a-mirror-in-your-newly-fitting-little-black-dress-and-love-the-new-you way.  I’m also not talking about a narcissistic kind of love either. I’m talking about loving ourselves for who God made us: the good, the bad, the seen and unseen, lovable and unlovable people that we think we are.  We have this idea of trading God one good deed for an ounce of his love.  We see His command more like this: “Love your neighbors and if you do, I’ll love you more.” We think that we don’t deserve love: not God’s nor anyone else’s.  And that would be right.  We don’t deserve anything, but God’s already offered to give us his love for free and all we have to do is get over ourselves and accept.  He’s like the old man at church who used to hand all of the kids mints after church.  We probably didn’t deserve them, but he always held them out for us as we passed by.  What keeps us from loving ourselves and in turn, keeps us from fully loving our neighbors? Let’s explore…

Loving your outward self

When I was 8 years old, I knew a girl named Catalina.  My brother Jonathan always called her “Catalina salad dressing” because I think maybe he had a slight crush on her.  She was 15, and was exactly what I wanted to be when I turned fifteen.  She was tall, well-endowed (a perfect hourglass figure), porcelain skinned, and had long black curly hair that flowed down gently to her waist.  I wanted to be her–except maybe have cute Meg Ryan “I.Q.” curls.  Little did I know that when I turned fifteen, my hair would not be able to hold a curl even with two cans of industrial grade hairspray, my chest would be “flat as a flitter” as my mom used to say, and I would have what is known as a “rectangular figure”  (see above photo). Basically, this is a nice way of saying that I had a boy figure and this was one of the factors that led to my being mistaken by many people as a lesbian.  As college progressed, I had the pleasure of being one of those lucky people categorized as a “sufferer of adult acne.”  The day before my wedding, my dad, trying to be helpful asked, “Don’t you think you should see someone about–you know, the pimples?  They look pretty bad.”  Haha, thanks Dad.

On the flip side of the coin, since high school, girls have always made comments like “I wish I had a body that looked like yours”  or other such sentiments.  This always makes me feel guilty and awkward.  I run and try to be healthy, but really it comes down to things much out of my control: genes, bone structure, etc…I don’t want anyone to compare themselves to me.

(And just a little furthering of my point, if you watched any of the olympics, you saw how people playing the exact same sports could have completely different body types while being completely in shape.)

Now to the nitty-gritty details of who we really are.

Loving your inward self 

Some years ago while I was in college, someone made this point that to love your neighbor, you must first love yourself.  “Do this,” he told me. “In a mirror, can you look yourself in the eye and tell yourself ‘I love you?’ ”  This seemed a little odd to me, but one night, alone in my dorm room, I stood in front of a mirror and tried; I could not do it. When I looked at myself, I saw someone who didn’t deserve love, someone that was not good enough, not smart enough, not outgoing enough.  I saw a person all too familiar with failure.  I saw only the tarnish.  That girl who seemed to have it all together on the outside was different from the one on the inside.  On the outside, I was the good student, the hard worker, the woman who pulled herself up by the bootstraps and didn’t need anyone.  And yet, just to love myself, I had to ask God to help me.  I had to see myself from God’s perspective: a person worth loving.  Perhaps this is how it’s supposed to work.

Since that time, whenever I find myself having difficulty loving my neighbor, I look a little deeper.  Most of the time, what is bothering me is the reflection I see of myself–the self I try to hide from others.  I encourage you to see yourself and others through God’s eyes. And although I’m still working at it myself and always will be, I just thought I would share some of my thoughts with you.


  1. Anne Hockenberry says

    Thanks for sharing so personally. I’ve always been a little jealous of the amazing woman you are; I guess we all have our insecurities. Thanks for the thoughts on that verse!

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