“Love yourself more.”
“Love yourself first, so you know what you deserve.”
“Put yourself at the top of your to-do list every single day and the rest will fall into place.”
“You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”
A quick Pinterest search produces mounds of advice on self-love, self-care, and self-esteem. This movement is taking our culture by storm, and frankly, the advice feels good. Me first. This seems like good advice, right? At first glance, the deceit is so subtle that it’s easy to ignore. Some of these statements have some truth to them. But let’s dig deeper. “Me first” doesn’t come from God’s Word.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy. (2 Tim. 3:1–2)
This verse is humbling to me. As I glance around stores and see T-shirts touting “more self love” and try to rectify it with this verse, my mind turns over. Let’s unpack the dangerous ditches on either side of the movement.
The goal of the movement is basically to heal low self-esteem with high self-esteem. But is that really biblical? Do we really need help loving ourselves more?
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Rom. 12:3)
For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Gal. 6:3)
The natural bent of our hearts is to think of ourselves more highly than we should! Think of children. Do any of them have to be taught to demand their own way and think of themselves more? No. How many thoughts do I have about my needs for every one thought about others’ needs? I’d be ashamed to find out.
What the self-love movement seeks to remedy is low self-esteem. This mindset is one I am familiar with; it’s quite easy to feel like a victim. Poor me, I’m not pretty. I’m not talented. She is smarter than me. Have you ever felt your mind stuck in this exhausting loop? What many of us don’t readily realize is that low self-esteem is actually rooted in pride, just as high self-esteem is! Sound crazy? Stay tuned.
I am not suggesting that you should feel terrible about yourself. In fact, far from that. I want you to know your worth. Listen to this truth:
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well (Ps. 139:14).
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows (Luke 12:6–7).
Not knowing your worth and falling into low self-esteem is limiting and dangerous. You could end up in a toxic relationship to fill a void or find yourself unable to focus on serving others because you’re so distracted by your insecurities. That’s no way to live.
A Better Way
The hard truth is, whether self-esteem is high or low, it’s rooted in an obsession with self. It’s believing that I am great or the best (or that I deserve to be) or mourning the fact that I’m not. May I suggest a better way? C.S. Lewis says it best, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
Truly, you are treasured by the King of kings! He calls you His child. You have incredible value and worth in His eyes, and that is enough. This is not a reason to love yourself more and serve yourself first. This truth should fill you with peace and rest in your heavenly position that frees you to forget yourself and better serve others.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3–4)
That’s counter-cultural stuff. But I can personally testify to the truth of this. The times when I have felt the most confident and secure are ironically the times when I am thinking of myself the least, serving others and wanting their best, championing others rather than myself, and rejoicing in their successes.
I’m no expert. I am actually quite a work in progress on having a healthy view of myself. Faster than a cheetah chasing supper, I race back and forth from feeling ugly and unworthy to judging others because I feel better than them. One may even say I’m seeking to feel mediocre about myself. Nonetheless, I am learning and growing and a long way from where I was a couple years ago. The more my love for Christ and others grows, the more my view of self takes care of itself. Go figure.
Let me leave you with John 3:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
You can build your life on that.