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If your Instagram feed looks anything like mine, it’s often saturated with this continual theme and phrase:
It’s the anthem of our generation, and I think it’s something that causes a bit of confusion for young Christians, myself included.
On one hand, part of me really likes part of the message of the movement:
I’m done despising myself: my body, my personality, my style, and my character traits. I’m finished with hopelessly focusing on my unworthiness. I’m finished feeding into the lie that I am disgusting and will never be worth anything because of my mistakes or the parts of me that don’t fit society’s highlight-reel standard.
I’m all like, “yeah, you go girl! same, same! me too! I’m done fixating on that stuff. Not worth my time. Jesus’s grace is bigger, so big it conquered and is conquering all my mess. Imma focus on that more than my mess-ups.”
On the other hand, I can’t help but be a little apprehensive towards this simple undefined phrase of “self-love” since I’ve seen it taken too far as well, saying things like:
“You don’t owe anyone anything.” “Don’t be there for someone who isn’t there for you.” “You need to be your first priority.”
The problem with these things? Interestingly enough, no one would actually like someone who lived these things out in reality. If you had a friend who always put themselves above you, always trusted themselves (even when they were wrong), and thought they were perfect as they are, then you probably wouldn’t like them.
Most everyone would agree that the most virtuous acts, such as a person who gives one’s life for another, coworker who stays the second shift so that you don’t have to, the friend who pays for your dinner even when you are on the same financial playing field, do not embody the characteristics of this movement.
Considering all this, in modern evangelism, you can have two opinions on the subject of “self-love”:
- Self-love is the antidote to all our problems.
- Self-love is the enemy of all our problems.
In this short blog post, I hope to offer a third, more nuanced option.
I’ve been thinking recently about how we get so caught up in the language of issues, that sometimes we can miss the thing that a person is actually trying to communicate, because of the literal words and phrasing coming out of their mouth. This is similar to getting “lost in translation” except, there’s no “translation” part. It’s just simply misunderstanding a person because of the phrases, buzz words, political, or popular terms they are using.
I think that’s what is often happening in the “self-love” conversation in the evangelical world.
Allow me to explain.
If I had to choose one of these sides, I would definitely choose to the second argument. I think the self-love alone is a terrible, terrible medication and will only result in a more sick, more self-absorbed soul. I believe that, in all actuality, coming to the end of ourselves is a good thing, and that turning to God, loving Him, is the medication that will heal all the diseases of the soul.
However, I don’t have to “choose sides,” and I can give a nuanced and full answer to this question, just like any other question.
(You can too, and I encourage you to!) I think there’s something we might be misunderstanding on the “self-love is the enemy of all our problems” end of the argument.
It seems that neither of these two arguments (at their most extreme) actually answer the issue at play.
The issue is often:
Do I have worth?
This question comes from a place of hurt. Whether it was for past bullying, shame, abuse, trauma, etc. a person is asking themselves: am I actually worth anything? Past trauma, experiences, people in their lives, etc. have sent them the message that they aren’t worth anything, and so the question is posed: do I really matter?
The self-love movement screams, “Yes! You matter—even more than anyone else in your live! You matter the most.” This is how the movement has coined phrases like “you are enough” and “love yourself” and “it’s okay to be a little selfish.”
Self-love believes the best remedy for society is for everyone to look out for themselves. (I just explained a few sentences ago why this ideology doesn’t really play out well in reality.)
Then, we have the other side. They hear the term “self-love” and their ears perk up, ready to “fight the good fight” of telling everyone how they are not worthy of ANYTHING, especially before a holy and righteous God. These people make it their mission to make sure the person who might be swooned by the self-love movement knows that, because of their sin, they aren’t much better than scum, than a rat that crawls on the earth.
I believe this is a reactionary statement to the extremist self-love movement: they hear “self-love” and assume the the person is asking “should I be the center of my whole entire world”? instead of “do I actually matter?” In this scenario, the person’s true question is lost in the mess of buzz words and secular catch-phrases, and the person’s real desire to be of value is kicked to the side.
So what do I think is the proper response to the self-love conversation?
Instead of only focusing on points on how sinful a person is, maybe we need to start at the beginning of the story, in the Garden. In Eden, God spoke mankind into being, and He gave them value based on the fact that they were a reflection of His glory. They were “made in his image.” (Remember: His glory is all that He is: kindness, love, goodness, compassion, patience, etc.) This person needs to understand that the story begins with worth, because they were created for a worthy God by a worthy God with inherent worth as a gift.
Of course, because of the fall and inherited sin, our worth has been twisted into worthlessness, since God made mankind to reflect His glory and it doesn’t when it’s in a state of unbelief.
This might be an example you could use: God is the potter, and we are the pot. We each are a beautiful piece of pottery, made with a specific purpose, and it will thrive in that specific purpose, but someone came (inherited sin; Satan) and smashed it to not just pieces—but ground it into powder. The potter comes, asking the pot to allow him to “love” it and restore it back to its original beautiful intention (this is redemption/salvation), a task that is absolutely impossible for the pot. But if the pot screams “No! I can do this on my own! I don’t need to to live out my purpose,” the potter won’t force it. All the potter was doing was trying to love the pot back to life, but the pot refuses its true worth and the worth of the potter’s gift of redemption. If the pot chooses, they can reflect His character and bring Him glory, becoming the value they once were (Gen. 3 and 9:6, Matthew 6:26).
Basically, we all have the potential to live up to our worth. The question is how we will answer that calling.
Are there moments where a person is giving into a terrible, extremist version of self-love that is anti-Biblical and extremely hurtful, likely demonic in nature? Indeed there are.
Are there also moments where someone has been frustrated by their past abuse, trauma, or messages of hatred by society or individuals, and this made them ask questions about themselves, like what is their worth? Yes.
When the second scenario happens, that person needs to be told of the truth: the dignity and worth God has gifted them with, if they so choose to walk in light of it.
My suggestion, though, is that the needs, understandings, and presumptions of a person need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis in order to actually understand what they are trying to communicate, rather than prescribing the same “filthy dirty sinner” rant to every person who mentions the idea of self-love.
Self-love alone is a terrible, awful, ridiculous, and hell-bound path. However, if Christians miss someone’s true question about their worth because of buzzwords and misunderstandings about their question, then we just might lose that person to such a disastrous path as the extremist version of the self-love movement.
Let me know your thoughts and questions regarding this! I can think of plenty someone might have. Email, text, comment, etc. This short post can’t do the entire topic justice, but I just really wanted to start conversation, so I’d love to hear what you have to say!