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.
It has become very apparent that our modern world, in many ways, is the enemy of a pious Christian life. I know that sounds outrageous to many people. When I talk about this with most people, even those who claim to be Christian, they mostly look at me like I have three heads. Consider with me if you will our lives in today’s world.
We are quite possibly the most distracted people in the history of humanity. That probably sounds hyperbolic, but I really don’t think it is. From the moment we rise in the morning until we close our eyes at night, we are bombarded. Our minds and hearts are in a constant state and world of noise and entertainment. Our so-called smart phones think for us. Rather, they constantly keep our minds and hearts dulled with an endless barrage of nonsense. Social media dictates our ideas to us and implants in us a worldview and lifestyle that is not only not true but is indeed harmful to our souls.
Our televisions stay on close to around the clock. From that screen, images are burned into our psyche and messages are planted in our brains that literally change the way we think. Propaganda is the norm. We are “taught” by our TVs that homosexuality and transgenderism and all the other “wokeness” is not only attractive and cool but normal and not something that should be questioned. We are given an image of what our lives should be like, how we should speak to others and how we should spend our money and time. Rarely, if ever, are these images those of the life of Christ or His Church. And if they are, the images we mostly see of Christians is either comedic and ridiculous or painted as either ignorant or “behind the times.” Christianity is not portrayed as something attractive or beautiful or fulfilling.
If we are really honest with ourselves, even the behavior of most who claim to be Christian in the modern world is a little fuzzy at best. Most modern people who call themselves Christian will openly say they have no problem with homosexuality or promiscuity or whatever else is corrupting our society. They tacitly approve of sin with expressions like, “It’s none of my business,” or, “You do you,” or, “Follow your heart.” And the worst is, “You have to follow your truth,” as if Truth were something that is entirely subjective and up to you. Or, even more sadly, those who claim to be Christian participate in these sins.
If you want to know how Christians are supposed to live, I suggest a few things. Number one, read Holy Scripture. The Scriptures are resplendent with instructions and commands we are to live by as followers of Christ; both Old and New Testament are important. After all, God has not changed His mind about what holiness is. As we review just the New Testament, it becomes readily apparent that most of us (including me) are not living as the Scriptures tell us to. Even a cursory consideration of our lives will show us that.
Another thing that we can do is to read the lives of the Saints. These brothers and sisters in the faith lived luminous lives of faith, chastity, asceticism, and holiness. That’s why they are Saints. Frankly, when I read the lives of the Saints, I am embarrassed by how weak my own faith is and how poorly I live my life. Another group that we can emulate as much as possible and learn from are the Church Fathers. If you want to know how Christians should live and what they should believe, these men are humble and brilliant examples and teachers. There is much more I could say about the Fathers but I will refrain right now. You can also study the lives and writings of the monastics. Although they are, in many ways, outside our experience, we can learn much from them.
Last but certainly not least, we see how Christians are supposed to live by emulating the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. You may say, yes but that’s Jesus, and I can’t be Jesus. No, you and I cannot be Jesus. But we can be conformed to His image (Romans 8:29) and we should be. We have put on Christ and therefore should look like Him (Romans 13:11-14, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 3:9-12, Ephesians 4:22-24).
We are to be different than the world (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). We should look different, walk differently, talk differently, have different priorities etc. Our love for the world, wordly things and ways are anti-Christian (1 John 2:15-17). In fact, they make us anti-christs. My brothers and sisters, we need to repent. For the sake of our souls, we need to turn again to the Lord Jesus and forsake the world. If we do not, we will perish. Go into your prayer “closet,” stand before the icons, prostrate yourself and beg God’s forgiveness. Ask Him for His strength to stand against the world and things thereof. Come out from among them and be ye separate.
Pray for me and each other.