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The necessity of loving yourself

From the June 2018 issue of The Christian Science Journal

When I was a child, my first church experience out of the children’s room and in the auditorium was a Thanksgiving service at my branch Church of Christ, Scientist. I was thrilled to sit with my parents, the adults. When the time came for testimonies of gratitude, I stood up and said, “Thank you, God, for loving me.”

Sometimes I still find this childlike acceptance of God’s love for me the most powerful prayer I can utter in moments of despair and self-condemnation. It can be tempting to think that qualities such as generosity, compassion, and unselfishness are mainly associated with love for others. But we ourselves are also included in the biblical commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. The book of Mark records Christ Jesus explaining it this way: “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (12:29–31).

The point that we ourselves are included in the second commandment Jesus mentions has implications for our sense of purpose, our health, our Christianity, our very life. How important, then, to realize that the essential Christly qualities of meekness and humility do not exclude seeing our own value and worth. They are actually the basis for us to boldly declare daily how infinitely loved and important we are, and they empower us to fulfill our divine purpose and experience health and harmony in the most practical and permanent terms.

But we need to go deeper than a sense of love or affection that is humanistic, declaring or “affirming” one’s worth as a good mortal who expresses wonderful qualities and possesses impressive skills. Leaving out our divine source, God, is like focusing on a print of a print of a print of the work of a great master, getting farther and farther from the source, when the source is what makes the painting great to begin with. The concept of good without God, or good that’s confined to a mortal sense of ourselves, would keep us from seeing our value as the expression of the infinite, untiring source of good that is God.

The first beatitude opens Christ Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and it radically declares, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). A literal or material rendering of this beatitude might lead us to think that we are blessed when we think poorly of ourselves, by implication putting others first. And that might lead us to believe we have only two options—serving others in such a way that we are destined to collapse with exhaustion, denying what we need; or putting ourselves first to the extent that we are so inflated with self we can’t see to help our brothers and sisters. But, are these truly the only options?

Right where an urge to be hard on ourselves may seem to crush us, we can accept how much God loves us as the very spiritual image of Love.

The spiritual significance of the beatitude takes both of those options off the table, because it reminds us that our need is for God, divine Love, not for more mortal self. Christ Jesus indicated a fundamental aspect of what being “poor in spirit” includes with this statement: “I can of mine own self do nothing.” Recognizing God as the source of all good, he sought to do “not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30). 

Jesus knew that God does the blessing, and the blessing is in knowing God; and it is God’s will that we should be blessed by knowing Him. He is Life, Truth, Love, the only intelligence and substance. God governs, causes, supplies. If we are busily trying to earn God’s approval, we are not “poor in spirit”; we are on the hamster wheel of the belief that there is something we can do personally—by ourselves—to generate more good. Indeed, we are good, but we are not the source of it. We don’t produce it, we reflect it; we are God’s good expression. In our human experience, our task is to let God guide us in thinking and living consistently with this spiritual truth.

We may be tempted to think that we are incapable of loving for various reasons, or unworthy for various reasons—or that we are free to choose not to love for those various reasons. Yet what power can stop divine Love? Because divine Love is Principle itself, its law can only be fulfilled. Right where an urge to be hard on ourselves may seem to crush us, we can accept how much God loves us—not as mortals who are sometimes good and sometimes bad, but as the very spiritual image of Love. As Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures states: “This is the doctrine of Christian Science: that divine Love cannot be deprived of its manifestation, or object; …” (Mary Baker Eddy, p. 304).

A few years ago, my husband and I were at the end of our financial rope. Commissions were falling through, jobs were drying up, and on top of it, there were thousands of dollars of unexpected expenses on account of some vandalism on our property. We did what we normally do in tough situations: pray. But I was not finding peace, and there seemed to be no resolution on the horizon. I also called a Christian Science practitioner to pray for me, and she helped me see that man’s sole purpose is to be dependent on God.

I have to admit, at first I rebelled against this idea. But I came to realize I’d been thinking that the more I grew spiritually, the less I needed God—as if that were the ultimate goal of spiritual demonstration. I saw that at its core, not only was this a rejection of God’s all-inclusive, loving nature, but by not humbly and gratefully acknowledging divine Love as my source, I wasn’t loving my true self! And my prayers, shifted to affirming my oneness with God, led me to see that trusting Him was the ultimate solution, along with more deeply loving God—and myself as His child. I saw that man’s very existence is the reflection of His infinite love and goodness.

Within days, several unlikely solutions to our financial problem came together. We were able to pay our bills and take care of the damage. Since then, we have had what we’ve needed financially, and I’ve also come to see more clearly that to best love myself, I need to look exclusively to God. The more I do this, the more exponentially I feel and know divine Love and experience healing.

Divine Love causes us to know God as the source of all goodness, to express compassion, patience, selfless purpose, and activity. The Christ, God’s message of love, causes us to see our own worth as the image of Love, and to see the worth of our neighbors—to love them—as fellow children of Love, our brothers and sisters. Because God loves us and causes us to love, there is no place for hate, self-condemnation, self-will, or anxiety. This is the truth of our being; we are spiritual and infinitely valued, and reflect God’s own awareness of that.

As God’s reflection, we are happy, complete, whole, and we know it. We are loved and we know it. We are lovable and we know it. Divine Love knows us, and we know divine Love. 

Thank you, God, for loving me.

Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have
I drawn thee. 

Jeremiah 31:3 

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