If the title of this article sounds familiar, that’s because it is also the name of a famous song by the Jackson 5. I considered Michael’s unforgettable voice coupled with this unforgettable appeal in Matthew 19:19 — “love your neighbors as yourself.”
This text has not only been memorable for me, it’s also held intense meaning in knowing we cannot love our neighbors as ourselves if we don’t love ourselves. In other words, if I don’t love me, I can’t love you. I’m not just referring to the kind of love that results in tangible offerings to ourselves. I’m not just referring to the kind of love that results in our closets, palates or pockets being filled. I’m talking about the kind of love that results in putting mirrors to our faces, to see who we really are. I’m talking about the kind of love that requires us to look deep within for introspection; the kind of love that will cause us to ask forgiveness of ourselves, for the times we: didn’t believe in ourselves, didn’t trust ourselves and didn’t live into the reality that we are enough.
Though the list could go on. There is still hope for us because there will always be hope for us.
That hope lies in knowing with God all things are possible. That hope lies in knowing within that possibility is a choice to do better and be better by loving ourselves.
Cue “I Love Myself” by Compton, California, rapper Kendrick Lamar who used instrumentation from the Isley Brothers as the backdrop of this catchy tune.
Regardless of the lyrics surrounding it, the phrase is a statement of audacity and vulnerability. It takes courage to love ourselves so beautifully that we’re willing to say no now, so we can say yes later. It takes a certain level of openness to admit we haven’t always done it well, but we are willing to improve.
The irony: Self-love isn’t as much about us as we think. It’s about our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Glad you asked. It’s not just the people who lives across the hall or up the street. Though true, we can go a bit further. The word neighbor means “near.”
Near isn’t limited to proximity of living. The person in the next car over is your neighbor and so is the person you walk by at the office. Though at least six feet away, the person in front of you at the store is your neighbor and so is the person virtually worshipping with you.
Now that we know who’s who, I ask: How can you love your neighbor if you don’t love yourself? How can you fulfill the charge if you don’t love yourself? Understand, this wasn’t just a simple statement Jesus made. It is a clarion call repeated throughout the New Testament that we see five times in the gospels: Matthew 19:19, 22:39, Mark 12:31, 33, Luke 10:27; twice in the Pauline epistles Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14; as well as in James 2:8. Might I add we see it first in Leviticus 19:18.
It’s apparent the Lord is serious about the love you have for yourself, so that you can love your neighbor. The self-love and neighbor are not the same. I can’t love you the way I love me.
But I can love you because I love me.
So, instead of asking who’s loving you, I ask: Are you loving you?
Rae Karim, formerly chapel director at Christian Theological Seminary, is now pastor at First Christian Church of Honolulu. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.