Do We Really Need More Self-Love?

In high school I had a friend who was overweight, socially awkward, and insecure. He was in the top five percent of the class, but he never reached the top one percent; he was the second chair trumpet player, but he never made first chair.

He doubted himself; he longed for the skills and good looks of others; he criticized himself for his social blunders; and he obsessed about his shortcomings.

My heart went out to him. I befriended him and listened to him in the lunchroom as he told story after story of how students, teachers, and his parents misunderstood him.

He grew discouraged and eventually depressed. His counselor said his problem was self-hatred, and that he needed to grow in self-love.

I thought he loved himself too much.

And I still think so

I don’t mean to be harsh. My heart really did go out to my friend. I just don’t think his problem was self-hatred; and I don’t think his solution was more self-love.

True hatred harbors ill will for a person; it wants rejection, pain, and humiliation for the hated one. My friend didn’t harbor ill will towards himself, and he didn’t long for his own failures. In fact, he was angry because of his failures. He wanted achievements, good looks, and social acceptance, and he was mad at himself for not having them.

He was angry because he loved himself so much.

Someone once said, “The opposite of love is not hatred, it is indifference;” and my friend was not indifferent about himself. In fact, “himself” is all he thought of. “He” was the topic of almost every conversation. He devoured time, emotion, and money with self-improvement: weight loss, trumpet lessons, tutors, and positive self-thinking.

To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, my friend had a “ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self.” And he grew more despondent.

If the solution isn’t self-love, what is it?

Love is not merely a mindset or a feeling. Love always involves action. My friend’s actions were already oriented toward himself. He didn’t need more self-love; he needed a new attitude.

He needed an attitude of self-acceptance. He was dissatisfied with his gifts, looks, body-style, personality, and intelligence (which was actually quite high, just not the highest).

Isak Dinesen said, “Godly pride is faith in the idea God had when He made you.” My friend lacked this “Godly pride.” He was disappointed with how God made him. He envied the gifts of others, their personality, their looks, and their intelligence.

He was angry with himself for lacking those gifts; he was angry with others for having those gifts; and he was angry with God for not giving him those gifts; gifts that he envied in others.

And envy sucks joy from our souls

Augustine said, “Envy is sorrow at another man’s good.” Sir John Gielgud (a famous English actor) revealed a personal example of envy as he admitted, “When Sir Laurence Olivier played Hamlet in 1948, and the critics raved, I wept.”

The cruel double agony of envy is this: we are sorrowful at our failures and we are sorrowful at other’s success. Envy’s sorrows rob our souls of joy.*

So what are we to do?

We probably all know people who suffer the deep ache of self-dissatisfaction or even self-disgust. Many of us have suffered this personally. The throbbing anguish is almost unbearable.

Instead of more self-love, I urge us to consider that we really need self-acceptance, indeed a rejoicing in who God made us.

Scripture says God chose us and made us his most prized treasure (Duet. 7:6) and that we are his joy (Heb. 12:2); he pronounces us his masterpiece (Eph. 2:10).

Imagine the genius Leonardo da Vinci (not DiCaprio!) handing you his masterpiece The Mona Lisa as a gift. If you whipped out a paintbrush saying, “Let me just fix that smile,” da Vinci would shout, “Stop! It’s my masterpiece. Anything you add will subtract.”**

We are God’s masterpiece. Anything we add will subtract.

As we learn to accept –indeed rejoice in—“the idea God had when he made us,” we walk into joy. We no longer sense the sorrowful envy of self-love. We are content as his masterpiece.

We no longer hide the masterpiece behind sheets of shame. We no longer bury our talents in a handkerchief.

What we need most

Perhaps in the end we need something beyond self-love or self-acceptance.

Perhaps what we need most is gratitude, thanking the Master artist for making us who we are.

Sam

* Emotional health is a complex issue. Sometimes we need more rest, sometimes better diet and exercise, sometimes counseling to deal with past issues, and sometimes we need to right a chemical imbalance. But we all need gratitude to God for who made us to be, and we all need to guard ourselves against envying the gifts of other.

** (I first heard this metaphor, or something like it, in a Tim Keller sermon.)

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18 Responses to Do We Really Need More Self-Love?

  1. Dana A says:

    Sam, thank you. What a great thing to read first thing in the morning. You have taken me by the chin and lifted my gaze to my amazing Father Creator this morning.

    He loves what He created…and He has placed each of us in this life, in our families; in our cities to be displays of his splendor, unseen and unrecognized by most of the world, but of great worth to God–as we reveal Him in our spheres of influence…and see Him reflected in one anothers’ faces. It is beautiful.

    Looking for him today–Dana

    • Hi Dana,

      And you took me by my chin and lifted my gaze higher as well.

      I love the picture you paint (it’s a masterpiece!!).

      I believe this: if we really knew this, if we believed this in our hearts, then we would live lives of power, grace, strength, and peace.

      It’s true! We need to come to believe it deeply.

      Thanks for you great words, they are beautiful.

      Sam

      • Dana A says:

        Thank you! And, yes, Sam, I agree with what you say….””if we really knew this….if we believed this in our hearts….THEN….we would live lives of power, grace….etc. That’s the problem, at least for me. I forget who I really am so often. That is why we need to put ourselves in the way of reminders; like yours is to us this morning. 🙂

  2. Bonnie Vernon says:

    A beautiful truth! Thank you! your words blessed me with a sweet repentance and a fresh perspective for my day that was headed the darker direction.

    • Hi Bonnie,

      Thanks for the thanks.

      I’m especially struck by your words, “sweet repentance.” Weird as those words seem, I believe the deepest and purest repentance is exactly, precisely, totally, “sweet.”

      It is admitting our brokenness, and then accepting the fact that God accepts us in our brokenness. It is sweet.

      Thanks!

      Sam

  3. Kim A says:

    Beautiful words….reached down deep today….the deep depths….

    “We no longer hide the masterpiece behind sheets of shame. We no longer bury our talents in a handkerchief.

    What we need most

    Perhaps in the end we need something beyond self-love or self-acceptance.

    Perhaps what we need most is gratitude, thanking the Master artist for making us who we are.”

    Have you read Brene Brown books or watched her stuff on TED?
    You so made me think back on some of her words that I have heard or read.

    Thank you for posting this!!

  4. David Williamson says:

    Good thoughts Dad. I think you hit at a core of what we need to learn. I have a question though. I think there is room in our lives for personal improvement, and I think you would agree. (perhaps growth is probably a better word). I struggle with how to articulate BOTH that we are loved as we are and the way that God made us AND that we are still called upward in surrender of our lives to Christ. Sometimes we need radical change. How do you differentiate between describing the need to accept ourselves as God made us, and yet also to become more fully those who we are meant to be?

    • Hi David,

      Two things. First, I like the person’s words of accepting, “the idea God had when he made us.” That is the true person we are meant to be.

      But we aren’t there yet. The fall, the world, our flesh, our immaturity–all these keep us down. And envy is one of the things that keeps us down. Let’s accept who God made us, and then let’s strive to become that person (not some other person).

      Even Jesus, “grew in favor and stature with God and man.” Even Jesus, “grew.” Wow! That takes my breath away.

      But second, we need to grow into our “calling” (becoming who God designed us to be, with skills, gifts, personality, gender, family background…). But we also need to grow into character.

      Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:12). We accept who we are, and we press on, we strive, to become the men and women of true heart character….that God has also planned for us.

      Calling and Character. Let’s become who God designed us to be.

      Thanks,

      Sam (Dad to you, David)

  5. tkuchera says:

    This is very timely for me. I have been meditating on 1Kings 21:8 where Jezebel wrote to the nobles to “set Naboth up high among the people.” and then she had him falsely accused and stoned to death. This was how she was able to steal his vineyard (his future and his inheritance). I have been praying and asking the Lord that He help me not to be duped by Satan this way. True God-dependent-humility is wise strategy against the wiles of the Devil.

    • Hi Tami,

      I love your line about, “Godly-dependent-humility.”

      Humility is not self-denigration nor is it a puffed up self-conceit. Scripture says to think of ourselves with sober judgement. That means thinking neither too high nor too low.

      It allows us to acknowledge our weaknesses and vulnerabilities (perhaps we’re occasionally impatient or harsh), but it also allows us to know we are His beloved, treasure, joy, and masterpiece.

      Thanks for you comment,

      Sam

  6. Good Word, sir. The love that God gives and teaches in unconditional, not critical. We can be so free and joyful when we stop idolizing ourselves and just be ourselves. Thanks.

    “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

    • Hi David,

      Thanks. I love that verse that you quoted. One of the things I love is the Greek word that is translated “workmanship.”

      The Greek word is “poema” from which we get poem. God is the master creator of beauty; he is the ultimate landscape artist. And he is the “word.”

      When God describes us–the human part of creation–he calls us his poem; and that is fitting since he is ultimately the word.

      That’s why I like the translation, “we are his masterpiece” (a legitimate translation from the Greek).

      Thanks,

      Sam

  7. Rachelle says:

    Looking for things to be thankful for each day helped me through a tough transition with a new baby, a very recent move, and no church. You’re right. We all need thanksgiving.

    • Hi Rachael,

      It does something to the heart to be grateful.

      I don’t mean “forced” gratitude, nor do I mean “fake it till you make it” gratitude. I mean actually believing that we are his joy, treasure, bride, and masterpiece.

      If we believe that–perhaps to the degree that we believe that–our lives will naturally overflow with gratitude.

      Thanks,

      Sam

  8. kenstewart says:

    Great post, Sam. You’ve hit the heart of the matter again!

    Ken

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