There are two opposing schools of thought in Christian society. The first school of thought belongs to the progressive half, and it appears to stem from the ‘worldly’ idea that ‘I am more important than anyone else.’ It buys into the idea that ‘self-esteem is the most important thing you will ever learn.’ The second school of thought belongs to the more conservative half, and it buys into the idea that ‘I am worthless, God is everything. Self-esteem is a lie, and my happiness is of no concern.’
I’ve always had trouble balancing the two, and trying to make them both fit. On one hand, the idea of self-esteem does seem fairly postmodern and self-centered – but on the other hand, constantly degrading oneself and allowing people to walk all over you doesn’t seem like what God had in mind.
Meekness? Certainly, but ‘meekness’ doesn’t imply we’re all milquetoast. When I was younger, my mom used to organize a family retreat, and occasionally I would answer the phone when someone interested in attending would call. Frequently, it was a conservative Christian woman speaking in a breathy, barely-there voice I would strain to hear. Also frequently, she would ask a question, and then I would hear, “Was that all right?” and her husband’s voice saying, “That was fine.” This baffled me. They thought they were being ‘meek,’ I’m sure, but that isn’t what ‘meek’ means. The definition of ‘meek,’ as used in the original language, means ‘power under control.’ A rudder on a ship, a bit in a horse’s mouth. It means restraint and self-control.
But how was I supposed to combine everything – self-esteem, humility, meekness, confidence? I felt like I was missing a key ingredient somewhere, a puzzle piece I needed for any of this to make sense. And then, a couple weeks ago, during a sermon, I was handed that piece in the form of Mark 12:31.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Key words: as yourself.
So I put it to you – how are you supposed to obey this instruction if you don’t love yourself? If you’re constantly putting yourself down, putting your needs aside, and draining yourself of all energy? How are you supposed to give others anything if you’re empty?
I’ve had days where I’ve spent so much time counselling people, praying over them, being there for them that I have nothing left to give. I’m tired, I’m worn-out. I have no grace for my family or myself. It wasn’t until I was up past three a.m., encouraging someone I barely know, that I realized – I wanted to help everyone, but I was destroying myself in the process. I wasn’t sleeping. Every day was a gray fog of uninspired weariness, and I was irritable around those who love me most. I was scraping the bottom of the barrel and still coming up empty.
I wouldn’t drain someone I love like that, but I was doing it to myself, and it’s an easy cycle in which to fall. I had already made steps toward taking care of myself – I was getting more sleep, running on a relaxed schedule. Things were better, but after Mark 12:31 struck me, I made even more changes. I unfriended negative people I barely spoke with on Facebook. I unfollowed a few blogs that irritated me. I finished several commissions I’d been lagging on, so I didn’t have that weight on my shoulders.
For me, that’s what loving myself looks like. It looks like going to sleep well before midnight and getting up at seven in the morning. It looks like taking time out of my day to read those books I’ve been wanting to read and sketching something that isn’t a commission when I feel like it. It means not jumping overboard to help everyone who dives into the ocean, because I need that energy for my family and close friends. It means spending more time out of the house, doing things – simple things, like shopping trips with my mom and my baby sister, and it means hibernating in my room when I get the time because I need that to recharge. It means saying no sometimes, and it means saying yes sometimes.
It means finding a balance. Finding a place where I stay recharged and lit, so I can share that light with others and not worry about it. It means being my best self, so that I can encourage others to be their best selves.
Balance. I’m not ready for a tightrope walk, but I have more balance than I’ve had in a long time.
It takes discipline to love yourself, but it’s a necessary discipline if we want to follow Christ’s command. We must love ourselves so we can love others as God loves us.