This is part 5 of the mental health series. Click for part 1, 2, 3, 4.
How do you "love your neighbor as yourself" if you don't love yourself?
A scribe approaches Jesus and asks which commandment is most important. Jesus answers, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Churchgoers have heard this passage approximately 4,205,607 times in their lifetime. Many churches (including mine) use these commandments as the basis for their mission statement. For example:
"Loving God, Loving People, Meeting Needs"
"Love God, Love People, Nothing Else Matters"
"Love God, Love People, Serve Joyfully"
The common (and correct) interpretation of these commandments is that we should love and follow God with our whole lives, and to love those around us--friends, enemies, everyone.
However, recently I've heard a couple of people discuss the command to "love your neighbor as yourself," and mention that in order to love your neighbor as yourself, you need to love yourself.
But what if you dislike almost everything about yourself? Wouldn't that mean that thinking of your neighbor in the same way means disliking your neighbor?
Over the past year or two, I've noticed that more and more often I hate things about myself. Things I've said, things I've done, things about my personality, etc.
I wake up between 2 and 3 AM almost every morning and remain awake for a couple of hours. It's super annoying. During that time I obsess over things I've said and done that I regret. I think about things I've said recently, things I said when I was five, and everywhere in between.
I've tried a bunch of ways to distract myself when I awaken and have these thoughts: moving to a different room, reading, watching crummy tv until I can't possibly stay awake any longer, journaling...and for the most part these things don't work. I continue to fixate on things I hate about myself.
As I said, though, this has only been going on for a couple of years. In general, throughout my life I've felt pretty good about myself. Sure, like everyone, I often compare myself unfavorably with others, but I also realize that I have a lot of gifts and a lot to offer the world.
But lately, any rumination on something I've said or done leads me down a mental path that ends with me feeling completely and utterly worthless. Whenever I think about something dumb that I've done, I almost immediately despise everything else about myself.
It makes no sense.
Objectively I know that there's a lot to like about me. When my therapist has me do one of those "talk about everything great about yourself" practices, I have a lot to say. I know I have value, I know I have a lot of gifts. Yet my mind keeps these thoughts of worthlessness at the forefront. It does not make a bit of sense.
The other thing (and this is the weirdest part of all of this), the thoughts that cause me to hate myself are often incredibly stupid. Really, they are.
I co-host a podcast, and recently I was trying to say something on the podcast and flubbed a line. It wasn't bad. Honestly, I listened back, and it's hardly even noticeable. It's not even like I said something offensive--I just tried to close off the podcast a certain way, but didn't say the words in the order that I planned. It was fine, and most likely nobody noticed. This shouldn't have upset me.
Also, it's an incredibly laid-back show, and we flub lines all the time. That's actually part of the appeal of the show.
However, this single flub has gone through my head about four thousand times over the past few weeks. And every single time I think about it, I start to feel completely and utterly worthless.
Every time I think about this flub, I almost immediately begin thinking that every single choice and thought and decision that I've ever made has been terrible, and that I have no value at all as a person.
All because I flubbed a line.
Which again has me thinking: if the second most important command in the bible is to "love your neighbor as yourself, how do I do that when I repeatedly and consistently find myself feeling worthless and without value?
And how does a person who has spent his life following a God loves all of his children and sees value and worth in them find himself despising everything about himself on a pretty consistent basis?
If my mental health problems cause me to hate myself--a person created, valued, and loved by God--does that mean I don't trust that I'm the person that God made me to be?
Does this aspect of my mental illness mean that I have a weak faith?
And why do I no longer see the person that I know myself to be, and the person that God sees in me: a person with many gifts, many good qualities, value, and worth, when I previously saw great value in myself?
I've walked with a bunch of people of faith over the years who struggle with mental illness. Many of them seemed to constantly feel like failures, and never appeared to be able to see the person that God sees in them. I'd always remind them of their worth and their value, but every time we'd meet, they would be in the exact same state of mind--hating themselves and feeling like failures. Sometimes I'd think, "Why do they not see the wonderful person that they are?"
There's this situation that a lot of Christians with mental illnesses deal with: other well-meaning Christians will tell them that if they "just had more faith," God would make them better.
Looking back, I feel like that's what I used to do with these folks. I'd tell them to "see what God sees in you," but I'd internally criticize them when they didn't.
But I get it now. Objectively, I can see all of my great qualities, but most of the time I'm blinded by the things I dislike about myself.
And it's only recently that this started.
Trying to remember the beloved, valued person that God sees in me sometimes helps, but only for a short while.
So how do I live as a follower of God? If I have this much trouble loving myself, am I really able to love my neighbor?
I'm going to try to unpack these ideas a little more over the next couple of weeks.