A few days ago my five-year-old daughter asked me to download her favorite new song. It’s called “Let Me Love You Until You Learn To Love Yourself.”
The music didn’t speak to my soul, but the title did. Sometimes it can be hard to love ourselves. We need help. We need hope.
Faith can help us. This may surprise some. We often think religion is solely about loving others. It’s selfless rather than selfish. Yet, there is a tremendous difference between selfishness and love of self.
Why Loving Yourself Is Important
Selfishness focuses inward. Self-love radiates outward. In fact, Erich Fromm, in his classic book, The Art of Loving, defines them as opposites.
Selfish persons think only of what interests and benefits themselves. They look at people solely in terms of their usefulness. They look outside for what is missing inside.
Genuine self-love, however, begins within. It accepts and appreciates who we are and what we can become. It helps us form a vision of our higher selves.
The Steps We Need to Take
How do we love ourselves? First, we focus on the unique gifts we bring to the world. This is harder than it sounds. If I were to hold up a big white posterboard, with a small black dot near the side, most of us would focus on that dot. We look at what’s wrong rather than what’s right.
We do the same things to ourselves. We focus on our weaknesses rather than our strengths; our inevitable failures rather than our many gifts; what others do wrong rather than what they do right.
But it won’t make us any happier or more loving. It will only block our vision.
How Faith Helps
Our faith can enhance our vision. It reminds us that we are created in the image of God. It reminds us of our purpose as people–as husbands, wives, children, friends, grandparents, citizens.
Through prayer and acts of love and kindness, we bring to the foreground what so often remains in the background. We try to remember, as Rabbi Yehuda Kirzner put it, that “All of life is a challenge of not being distracted from the greatness that we are.”
The greatness that we are can take on many forms. Primarily, it means staying acting on our values and giving our unique gift to the world.
What Is Your Gift?
A funeral I once conducted taught me this lesson. The man who died had been an elementery school teacher and author of over 300 childrens’ books.
His children told me of his penchant for wearing the same red sweatshirt they had purchased for him decades ago. On it were the words “One Hot Firecracker.” They spoke of his tendency to quote Sam Adams–about whom he had written seven books–as if he was an old friend.
Yet, as they laughed, they also spoke of his integrity, his honesty, his dedication to teaching students, his friendships, his character inside and out. He knew who he was. He loved who he was. And others loved him for it.
When we love ourselves, we love ourselves for who we are, not who we pretend or are expected to be. Our genuine selves become our greatest source of strength.
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