Jesus replied, You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. – Matthew 22:37-39
We know we must love God. As the scripture says, this is the greatest commandment. We certainly understand that we must love our neighbor – the second and equally important rule. Why is it that we miss the last part of that scripture – also equally important – “as yourself.” While it ends the sentence, “as” implies that loving ourselves is necessary before we can love others.
God expects us to have a healthy self love, not an inflated sense of self, but a balance that allows us to relate to others because our own self issues are not in the way. We bear the burdens of our behaviors, our words, our memories, until they shape us into someone we don’t recognize in the mirror. Distorted self image can cause depression, psychological and physiological disorders, angry outbursts or emotional numbness, self-destructive behavior, sarcasm or indifference. Not healthy and not useful to the Kingdom of God.
Most of our trouble with ourselves stems from our inability to forgive ourselves – for things we’ve done, for things we didn’t do but should have, for not living up to the expectations of others, for not living up to our own expectations or dreams. We think that no one knows us like we know ourselves, knows our faults and secrets. But God does. He knows every hair on our head. He knew us before we were born and knows everything we think or do. And He still loves us; always…forever…unconditionally. Maybe too much, too hard for us to comprehend.
Judas betrayed Jesus and set in motion a succession of events that changed the world. Bible scholars speculate that he was stealing from the disciples treasury, or that he truly believed his action would force Jesus to take a political stand and raise a rebellion against the Romans. Whatever his intentions, it is clear that he was profoundly repentant, his grief and guilt inconsolable. He could not forgive himself for his own actions, and he took his life. The saddest part of the story is that Jesus would have forgiven him – surely did forgive him – but he could not accept forgiveness for himself.
Then think of King David. He did horrible things. He committed adultery, he schemed to hide her pregnancy, and ultimately orchestrated the murder of her husband. He abused his power as king and sinned greatly in God’s eyes. Yet, when he repented, God forgave David and he clearly forgave himself. Even after all that, he was still able to write the most self revealing psalms of praise to God, to lay his emotions bare to the world, and to be called “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).
Start forgiving yourself. Make a list of all the things that need your forgiveness; every failure, mistake and misdeed that lurks in your memory and causes you pain. Pray over the list. God knows it all, but it is good for the soul when we confess it out loud. Then burn the list. Watch it burst into bright flame, curl into blackness and die out into smoldering nothingness. That’s how God sees those sins, how He forgets them forever – they no longer exist.
We are worthy of forgiveness. We are much loved children of the King. Forgive yourself as God forgives you.