It’s not a sin to love yourself. For those of you who group up in church, I can hear your gasps through my computer screen. And, those of you who did awesome in AWANA, are PK’s and never missed a 5 Day Club, probably even started reciting KJV verses that explicitly say “self-love is bad”, but in King Jamesish, of course. But, before you slam down your laptop screen, grab your coffee and walk away from your computer, hear me out: There is a difference between pride and loving the person God created you to be.
One of my least favorite things about the English language is that although we have many words, we do not have words with varying levels. For example, you love your spouse, your mom, coffee, the outdoors and America. However, when you say, “I love you, mom”, you mean something much different than when you say “I love you, babe” while cuddling, and something much, much different than announcing at your office meeting how much you love your pumpkin spice latte. Likewise, we need to have more names for the word “pride”. It is a good thing to take pride in your work and ensure that it is the best, it is a good thing to be proud of your family, but yet, pride is also so awful, that it’s one of the “Seven Deadly Sins”. Therefore, the emotion that we have (usually) when we tell our child we are proud of them, is much different than a “proud man”.
So, why is pride such a bad thing? Why is it considered one of the most difficult, and dangerous sins? Here’s why:
- When we are truly proud, we believe we are the greatest. We are invincible. Nothing can bring us down and we surely do not need God.
- Heck, not only do we not need God, we don’t need other people.
- And, since we don’t need other people, we don’t need to be concerned about their well being. It’s all about ME, because I’m super freaking awesome and invincible. Bow down and worship me now, minions!
In short, pride makes us believe that we do not need God, we do not need to seek or listen to correction, and we do not need others, nor do we need to be sensitive to their needs. No wonder the Bible, and wise people, warn so much against pride. In case your Bible is a little dusty, a quick few verses about pride:
- Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18
- Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. Proverbs 13:10
- The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled). Isaiah 2:12
Think of a “proud person”: someone who thinks they are so great they don’t need help. Perhaps they have a serious problem or addiction and refuse to seek help. Perhaps they are so concerned about having the perfect car in the driveway, that they work crazy hours and neglect their family. Perhaps it’s a student who refuses to tutor others, in fear that they will loose the top seat in the class. In short: pride hurts relationships and makes us unable to see our need for God. This is why pride, or self-love as some translations call it, is bad. However, loving yourself is not bad, it’s Biblical.
Throughout the Bible, there is an overwhelming theme: to love people. The book of 1 John is filled with verses about the importance of loving others.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
We are told over, and over again to love one another. I mean, Jesus said it best. When asked what was the greatest commandment (rule to follow), he said that second only to loving God, we are to “Love your neighbor as yourself” Matt 22:49. Oh my goodness, that’s a big deal.
So, here’s the thing: neighbor, in the Bible, means everyone. Therefore, you are commanded to love every person in the world, and, every person in the world is commanded to love you. We’re human, we have flaws, we have personalities that we naturally fit with. I get that. Loving everyone does not mean being everyone’s best friend. I mean, seriously, can you imagine trying to have 7 billion people over for a sleep over? No thanks. Loving your neighbor means treating every person with dignity and respect, and recognizing that they are loved by the King of the Universe and created in His image.
Loving your neighbor means treating every person with dignity and respect, and recognizing that they are loved by the King of the Universe and created in His image.
Yet, we, as humans and especially are women, are so hard on ourselves. There is nothing wrong with recognizing areas for self-improvement, however, we are our own worst critics. Take 30 seconds and think of all the ways you have criticized yourself today:
- I’m too fat/too skinny
- I talk too much/not enough
- My nails are too short
- My hair is too short/long
- I’m not smart/I’m too smart
And the list goes on and on and on. If we’re called to recognize the dignity and value in every other person, we need to recognize the dignity and value we have. We need to be thankful for the amazing talents God has given us, and we must recognize them first. If you’re reading this: you can read! You had the brain capacity to learn to read. Thank God for that, and celebrate your diligence (learning to read is difficult, if you don’t remember). Are you on your own computer? Thank God for giving you the physical and mental ability to work, and then being diligent in that. You, precious reader, have so much to offer this world. It is in no way sinful to recognize the abilities God has given you, to thank Him, and to use and celebrate them. It becomes sinful, and prideful, when we forget that God gave us all of our abilities.
The Problem with J.O.Y.
In an attempt to combat the sinful, destructive pride, some Christian came up with the idea of JOY: an acronym for Jesus first, others second, yourself last. Although this is well intended, and has respectable merit, it can also be very damaging. I have seen this. Yes, Jesus does say that we need to love God (the greatest commandment) and love others as ourselves (2nd greatest), and I am not a heretic. Sometimes, in order to serve God, and serve others, we need to make ourselves, and our well-being, a top priority. For example: I am a volunteer advocate at my local rape crisis center. In order to be the best advocate possible, the night before I go on call, I need to make sure I get a full night’s rest (this means not answering Instagram messages or staying up encouraging a friend). Additionally, if I have a super emotionally difficult case, I may need to take a break, and take time out of my day to go to counseling. This is not being selfish. Additionally, it is not a sin to recognize we need rest! This means taking time away from people. Self care is not selfish.
Self care is not selfish.
In fact, refusing to take care of yourself, can in fact, be prideful: you are refusing to admit that you are not superwoman and that you don’t need help. Think about the long talk you get when you get on airplane. Before you help the person next to you put on their oxygen mask, you need to put on your own. Likewise, we need to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves before we can take care of others.
In my own life, and experience with various ministries, I have seen people shamed for doing this. Once a mother, overwhelmed with the birth of her newborn twins, declined to help at the church nursery the next year. Various people in the church, including church leadership, talked about HER heart issue. They told her to “Pray for strength” and that she was being selfish by not helping at the nursery. Yes, God does provide strength. However, how could she minister to the children when she was falling asleep and emotionally drained? Additionally, why couldn’t other members in the church step up, thank her for her service, and volunteer to do nursery? Who is really the one with the pride issue there? Self help and self care are necessary.
So, to quickly summarize:
- Sinful pride is where you feel you are so great that you neglect your need for God, the need to improve yourself, and the need to help others
- If everyone else in the world is called to recognize your dignity and value in Christ, you must also do this.
- Recognize the talents God has given you, thank Him, and then use them boldly.
- Self care is necessary. Sometimes you need to put your needs before others. This is ok.