When I started to explore meditation, I was expecting some benefits, but a deeper Christian faith wasn’t one of them.
My decisions about life are based on values that try to live a life pleasing to God. When I started embracing meditation, naturally, I tried to filter it through the perspective of my Christian faith.
It came as a bit of a shock to me to realize that it took this practice to bring clarity to my thinking about myself, and a level of love and acceptance for myself, which I didn’t find in my Christian faith. Imagine my discomfort when I realized that perhaps one of the most important relationship in my life—that with myself—had been missing in my understanding of my Christian faith.
If I could summarize my Christian understanding of ‘self’ as it stood at that point, it would be to say that it was characterized by struggle and judgment, not love.
Christian commentaries on ‘self-love’ rarely describe it as a desirable or positive attribute: the best Christians are the ones that ‘esteem themselves the least, and depreciate themselves the most’. Self denial, self accusation and self mortification are the pious attitudes toward self.
Once I came to an awareness of compassion and acceptance for self, this became a difficult position to accept; In fact, I didn’t accept that this was the perception of my self that God wished me to have.
Yes, understanding my flaws and discerning my errors is vital, but how could God, who is love, and who asks us to practice love to all people, also ask me to deal with myself without compassion? Surely somewhere along the years I had gotten my wires crossed. Surely God had a different message if I took the time to understand it?
A cursory glance through the Bible didn’t help at first. My heart sank a little when I did a search for ‘love yourself’ and came up with only a handful of verses, all outlining the same teaching: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ This is not looking promising, I thought.
I could pick up any book on mindfulness, and it would give me detailed insights into how I could love myself, and yet the one Book I based my life on had… nothing? It is implied that I ought to love myself, but why was it not clear what that love should look like?
Taking a different tack, I trusted that if God doesn’t explicitly talk about loving oneself, then He must have a reason for it. So I looked at what sort of love God teaches us, and this is what I came up with time and time again: ‘Love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.’ And why should we love God—why is this the resounding message on love?
I found a beautiful answer here:
“I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments… that you may live and multiply; I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days.”
I discovered that God doesn’t describe self love explicitly because He tells us that choosing to love Him is our highest good—it is in fact choosing life. Love for God, and love of myself ought not to be considered independent things: if I love myself, I ought to love God. I pursue my own happiness in the pursuit of God. God’s instructions to love Him are not due to His need for our love or devotion, but are so that we may live an abundant life:
“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; More to be desired are they than gold, Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”
If I love God then, I ought to abide in His commandments. It is poignant to realize that central to God’s commandment of love is His desire for us to love others. In essence, by loving Him, I am compelled to love others—and by doing so I love and care for myself.
It took a journey through meditation for me to discover what had always been: that God’s message of love connects us all. If I am interested in loving myself, this can’t be separate from my love for God, or separate from a desire to love those around me.
We are not independent—we are in fact connected through His love, and in His love.
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Assistant Ed: Karissa Kneeland/Ed: Bryonie Wise