Recently, I have heard several people say this and read it a good bit in some on-line articles. I don’t really watch television much but what tiny bit I do, I have heard this or something very similar on several occasions. It is a little saying that lots of people say but really, it’s an underlying life philosophy. Here it is:
I need to learn to love myself.
Or some variation of this. Learn to love yourself or something along those lines.
I have some problems with this idea. If you are a Christian, you should have some issues with it as well. Let’s talk, first, about our society for a sec. We live in a self-obsessed society. I’m almost 50 years old and I cannot remember a time in my life that this has become so obvious. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a recent phenomenon. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden, giving in to an inflated sense of their own power and dreams of grandeur (“ye shall be as gods”), this has been part of the human condition. People loving them some themselves is obvious and rampant throughout Holy Scripture and world history.
At the root of this notion of self-love is really pure selfishness. I think we can all see from even a cursory browsing of most news outlets or social media..heck, even a walk through a local mall, that self-love is rampant these days.
I want to take a quick second and tell you that there is a difference between thinking you’re a piece of crap and self-loathing and humility. Of course, we are to be humble. But humility is not thinking that you are worthless. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who defined humility as not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.
St. Paul is helpful for us as we consider humility. Philippians 2:3-8 tells us,
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”(emphasis mine)
St. Paul tells us that we are to have a lowliness of mind and that we are to follow the example of our Lord Jesus who humbled Himself and became obedient. St. Paul ties obedience and humility to each other. We’re going to come back to that later. St. Paul further reminds us in Romans 12:3 that a man is to “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly..” We are to examine our hearts and souls and actions and compare it to the standard.
Icontinually hear people say, “I’m a good person.” My response to that is always, “Good according to whom or by what standard?”
And what standard are we to judge ourselves by? Did Christ have anything to say about being good? As a matter of fact, He did. In Luke 18:19, we read this,
“And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.” This was in response to a man asking Jesus a question and calling Him, “good teacher.” So, when we say that we’re a good person, perhaps we need to check our standard. Only One is good, our Lord tells us…and it ain’t you or me.
I think before we dare to call ourselves good, we need to take a really hard and honest look at ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I am a very great sinner. The thoughts that come from my heart and mind are many times so vile that I am shocked. I shouldn’t be but I sometimes am. As Jesus reminds us, we are defiled by what comes from within us (Matthew 15:11, Mark 7:15). Why would we love ourselves when what comes from inside us is so vile and filthy and wretched? The prophet Isaiah tells us,
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” (Is. 64:6-8)
Love ourselves? Our righteousness is as filthy rags. Our iniquities have taken us away. We are merely the clay; He is the potter. We are entirely in His hands.
Rather than “loving ourselves,” we should rather take a sober assessment of ourselves and the condition of our soul and heart. St. Maximos the Confessor wrote quite a bit about self-love. He said it was rooted in selfishness and pride and was the “mother of all passions.” By the way, passions are a bad thing.
So, how do we have a proper view of ourselves and not fall into “the mother of all passions?” I want to go back to something really quick for that answer. Remember what St. Paul talks about in Philippians and the mind of Christ. What did he tie together?
Humility and obedience.
I think obedience is one of the major keys to a proper opinion of oneself and humility. After all, our Lord Jesus Himself was obedient, as St. Paul reminds us, even to the point of death. Christ Himself said He came not to do His own will but the will of the Father (John 4:34, 5:30 and 6:38). And Christ gave us commands that we are to follow. After all, our life is not our own just to be lived for our enjoyment (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Rather, as the Psalmist reminds us in Ps. 143:10, we are to cry, “Teach me to do Thy will.”
Christ said hard things that don’t sound like we’re supposed to “love ourselves.” He said things like, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” and “He who loves his father or mother, or son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” and “He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom.”
None of that sounds like, “love yourself.” That sounds like, “Give yourself away. Recognize who you really are and how dark your heart is without me.”
As Father Seraphim Rose (+1982) said,
“Carry your cross without complaint. Don’t think you are anything special. Don’t justify your sins and weaknesses, but see yourself as you really are.”
Pray for me, brothers and sisters. Pray for yourself and each other.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not but, recently, in our country and around the world, there is a push for what has been called “cancel culture.” Don’t you just love how the media labels things? Anyways, this whole cancel culture thing is really kind of scary and utterly ridiculous. It’s honestly like watching a bunch of 6-year-old children on the playground arguing.
“You’re not playing the game right.”
“Nuh-uh, you’re not playing the game right.”
“I don’t want to play with you anymore.”
“I don’t want to play with you anymore.”
“You’re mean and I don’t want to be around you.”
“You’re mean and I don’t want to be around you!”
“I’m taking my toys and going home because you’re not my friend anymore.”
“Nuh-uh, I’m taking my toys and going home because you’re not my friend anymore!”
I mean, really, isn’t this was it mostly sounds like? What a bunch of weak people we’ve become. We can no longer have a disagreement with each other without trying to completely humiliate and destroy one another and we act like, if we can just pretend like it never happened, all the bad things people do will just go away. It’s silly. This goes for all ends of the political spectrum. But, sadly, we see this in our own lives, don’t we? I mean, if we’re being honest with ourselves. I heard a priest preach a homily about something like this recently and it got me thinking and digging into Holy Scripture.
I think I have a solution to this whole problem. Let’s cancel ourselves.
Seriously, let’s cancel ourselves. Before you get all triggered, let me explain what I mean. As a race (the human race), we have gotten really full of ourselves. Our hubris is at an all time high, I feel like. I could be wrong. Humans have been pretty full of themselves for a long time. Maybe I’m just seeing it more because I’m paying attention or because this is the era of history in which I currently live.
We could use a strong dose of humility in our world today. But let’s not be too quick to just say, “Oh the world is so sick, and those people are so whatever.” In truth, it’s not just the world that is suffering from pride or the people you disagree with or don’t like. It’s us too. We could use a strong dose of humility in our own hearts as well. We could certainly use a big slice of humble pie in the Church today.
I dare say that, if the world is ever to value humility, the Church must illustrate it and live it first. Sadly, even in the Church today and indeed in our own hearts, self reigns. I mean, if we’re being honest. Unless I’m the only one…
If we truly understood who we really are and would spend more time praying and confessing our own sins, we’d have a lot less time to be prideful. I want us to consider a text on this one. St. Paul, who was perhaps the greatest missionary and theological mind that has ever lived, knew a thing or two about pride. And, he knew how poisonous it is to life in the Spirit. Consider that he called himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). So, in light of our discussion about pride, let’s consider part of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church.
We find, in Colossians 3:1-17 the following,
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
St. Paul starts off by saying if then you were raised with Christ; this is important. If you’ve not been raised with Christ or don’t know what I’m talking about, I urge you to go and find the nearest priest or pastor and ask them what it means to be in Christ. He tells us to set our minds on things above, not on things of the earth. I want to be clear here. St. Paul is not talking about stuff. There is nothing wrong with stuff, per se. The problem is that our minds and hearts get attached to the stuff of this world and we lose our eternal perspective. You and I will live forever, body and soul. The only question is, will we live forever under the blessed gaze of our Lord Jesus in His presence or will we live forever in Hell. This stuff that you’re so attached to now and that attracts so much of your attention will one day be gone. But you will live forever. Choose wisely.
Then he tells us why. He tells us that we are dead. If you are in Christ, the old man is literally dead and your life, my life is hidden in Christ. If nothing else will kill pride (well, should kill pride), meditate on that fact. The only reason you and I have life is because of Christ. The truth about who we are apart from Christ should keep us humble. But who we are in Christ kills self. The only confidence we can have is in the grace of God given to us in our Lord Jesus.
Verse 5, St. Paul says it flat out, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth.” That is aggressive. If we are honest with ourselves, the reason we suffer from pride is because we want to. We don’t want to put our flesh and our desires to death. We are quite comfortable with ourselves.
Therein lies the problem.
We would rather have our own idea of comfort here than put ourselves to death in order to live in and with Christ.
Brothers and sisters, we will not progress in our spiritual lives unless we cancel ourselves. Unless we put to death our own selfishness and pride, Christ cannot reign in our hearts. Put on tender mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, forgiveness, and love. Let the peace of God rule in our hearts and the word of Christ dwell in us richly. Give glory to God alone for who He is making you in Christ Jesus!
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!