If the entirety of your life is to give happiness to yourself, then it’s a pretty meaningless life. Isn’t it? Some people seem to have another view. You, it appears, should be placed at the center of the Universe.
Love who you are, embrace who you are. Love yourself. When you love yourself, people can kind of pick up on that: they can see confidence, they can see self-esteem, and naturally, people gravitate towards you. – Lilly Singh, YouTube personality
Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world. – Lucille Ball, American actress and comedienne
Is there a bit of truth in this? Sure. (Maybe a little.) And I realize that these quotes address millions of people (across many generations) who really just don’t like themselves, and that’s sad. To loathe oneself can be an exhausting and depressing habit. But the cure for self-loathing or self-annoyance has never been (and will never be, no matter how much people preach it) “self-love.” Or, perhaps as a better term, self-obsession. There is a time for introspection, of course. And you’ll notice that much of what I believe on this is pinpointed on a fine line between two extremes. But here, I believe, is where you will find joy.
The natural step to take, in an effort to become less focused on yourself, is to focus on others. Pour into others. Love others. Expend time, energy, and other resources on showing people how much you care for them. But then, more problems arise. What do we do when that person turns less-lovable? What do we do when something flips and that person becomes a source of negativity? If you’re part of this Millennial/Z generation, then your answer is immediate. (1) You label that person as “toxic,” (2) call them out as that to everyone in your friend group, and (3) proceed to ignore them! (For good measure, block them on social media.) Problem solved, right? After all, just like toxic chemicals, there’s really no healthy reason to expose yourself to them.
But isn’t this just running directly back to the dogma that brought us quotes like, “Love yourself and everything else falls into line?”
So where is the middle ground? How does one maintain a healthy level of self-care and confidence, while reaching out to a broken world? Do we sacrifice our happiness and health on an altar of ministry? Or do we forget the world and seek self-love, self-knowledge, and, in the end, selfishness?
No. Neither one is the answer, and you can tell because I set up strawmen representing both sides, simply to prove my argument. (That’s a joke–I don’t want to confuse you, but I want to be honest about how I’m arguing it.) Here’s the answer: Jesus.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus, Matthew 11:28
Oh, goodness. Aren’t we all weary? Don’t we all need rest? I think part of the cultural saying, “I’m tired” that we seem to repeat as often as the word “good,” is, at its core, not an expression of physical fatigue, but one of emotional, relational, spiritual fatigue. Sure, we’re tired because we stay up late, get up too early, and run on caffeine. But we’re also tired because our souls are weary.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that the sweetest bit of poetry you’ve ever heard? This God that created the Universe and loves each and every weary soul on this planet, says he will give you rest!
Ugh, I’ve been distracted from the point. This verse gets me every time.
How does Jesus give us rest from the relational difficulties of the world?
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)
When we take his yoke upon us, and let him pull our burden with us (which is a deeply difficult thing to do, sometimes!) we learn from him. We become gentle and humble. Instead of loving ourselves or hating ourselves, we begin to care less what we think about ourselves in the first place, (a “self-forgetfulness” that C.S. Lewis and other writers talk about,) and learn to develop a healthy way of viewing ourselves that is profoundly informed by how Jesus views us.
As with all truth, though, it doesn’t stop with us. We then carry this to others. We take this rest to those in our lives and become anchors of Jesus’ undying compassion and love. Others can sway with the tide, expelling negative forces from their lives. Well-intentioned loving, caring people can pour into the lives of others until they are pushed away or burn out, exhausted. But when we rest in Jesus, he gives us strength.
We all know we can’t do it on our own. We all know we’re tired in a way that sleep isn’t going to repair. Why don’t we admit it? Why don’t we let Jesus take this burden of life with us? Why don’t we just forget about ourselves now and then? And why don’t we let Jesus love broken people through us?
It’s not easy. As soon as we make an attempt to do this, we catch ourselves going back to our instincts of self-reliance. But you can’t love her. You can’t love him. And you can’t really love yourself. You’ll never know what real love is until you let Jesus supply that love.
To be very clear with you, I’m not writing this as a display of my perfect ability to anchor the love of Jesus in the lives of others. I’m writing this because my thoughts have been spinning around this topic for months, and I believe that these words of Jesus in Matthew 11 resonate with this human struggle.
Think of someone in your life that is hard for you to love. Here’s the thing: it’s hard for you to love them, but Jesus loves them immensely more than you ever could. And on the opposite side, think of how you feel about yourself. You may not think highly of your eccentricities and intricacies. And that’s okay. Because you don’t need to think about yourself. Just be an anchor of Jesus’ love. It’s enough. You can always find rest in him. Always.