Love difficult people. Start with yourself.
It’s easy to like those who treat you well, to love those who love you, to encourage those who cheer you on.
But what about loving the people who irritate us, inconvenience us, dismiss us, dislike us or antagonize us?
Jesus tells us in the Gospels that the greatest commandments are to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
This can be tricky, though, because we don’t always love ourselves well, or we misconstrue love of self as narcissism, arrogance and conceit.
We can accept that God loves us unconditionally, because after all, He’s God. But to love ourselves?
God's commandments are stated in that order - to love God first, then ourselves and others - for very good reason. The order matters. We can only love ourselves and then others because He first loved us (I John 4:19). We can't love others with a God-like love unless we are first secure in God's love for us.
But the most difficult person to love can sometimes be ourselves.
We know our own thoughts, insecurities and strongholds. We can be the biggest haters and, simultaneously, the biggest glorifiers of self. We can boast, belittle, contradict, cut, starve and slight ourselves all in one conversation.
We can mistake meekness for weakness, humility for self-deprecation, all the while keeping our focus fixed firmly on ourselves instead of on Jesus.
We can even forgive others, at times, more easily than we can forgive ourselves. We can support another in her gifting and calling but then resist sharing our own gifts because of a lack of confidence, or a fear of being taken as too confident or self-absorbed.
As image bearers of our Creator, we should love ourselves as people who have been “remarkably and wonderfully made” by a God who doesn’t make mistakes (Psalm 139:14).
When I tell my three year old how beautiful or smart or brave she is, she doesn't balk or refute my compliment. She accepts it wholeheartedly, sometimes even shaking her head in agreement and saying "I know." Amen, yes, I agree. There are even days that she will look at herself in the mirror - still in jammies and a nest of tangles in her hair - and declare, "I am boo-tee-ful!"
This child-like acceptance of who she is isn't egotistical but worshipful. She is agreeing with me, her parent, and more importantly God, that she is indeed a sight to behold. How it would break my heart if she didn't think of herself in this way.
We are a reflection of our magnificent Creator, and all our talents and strengths are glimpses into His splendor. God wants us to agree with Him that we are His beloved. It breaks His heart when we don't.
Godly self-love really isn’t about ourselves at all but about loving the God Who made us and lives within us.
Our love for God will produce in us a healthy love of self. And that self-love will be secure enough to celebrate, sacrifice and pour out for others, because our eyes will be fixed on Jesus and not on ourselves.
We have to allow ourselves to receive God’s love before we can love our neighbor.
I’ve heard it said that when one person is conversing with another, what they are really communicating - through words and actions – is either “love me” or “I love you.” If we truly listen, we will hear an overarching desire to either be a giver of love or a receiver of love in our conversations.
King David, a man after God’s own heart, said “Lord, You have searched me and known me ... This wondrous knowledge is beyond me” (Psalm 139:1, 6).
We all have a need to be known and loved.
God knows everything we’ve ever done and everything we ever will do, yet He loves us anyway. Because the Lord is completely sufficient and in need of nothing, He can give His love to us without condition or expectation of reciprocity.
Love is the very essence of Who God is.
“God’s love was revealed to us in this way: God sent His one and only Son into the world so that we might live through Him”(I John 4:9)
God’s love doesn’t allow our mistakes or successes to define us. His love bridges our brokenness to His wholeness and allows us to live and love abundantly through Him.
Because God is eternal, His love is limitless. It is behind us and before us, with us and all around us, encircling us wherever we go.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing.
Your failures can't separate you. Your past can't separate you. Even your unfaithfulness to God can't separate you from His love, because this supernatural love depends on Who He is, not on what you have done.
Once we begin to grasp how secure we are in God’s love, we will begin to see and accept ourselves through His eyes: a beloved child of the Father.
Our ability to love and accept ourselves stems from a deepened trust in God. It says that we believe that we are in fact a very good creation, created for the good works that He prepared for us long ago (Ephesians 2:10).
We are to love one another as Jesus loves us (John 15:12). That means we love all people – the pleasant and painful – irrespective of their actions. Loving them doesn’t mean we love what they are doing or have done. It means we love them as a creation of our Creator.
We are to love our enemies and bathe them in prayer just as Jesus did with Judas when He washed the disciple’s feet the very night of His betrayal (Matthew 5:44, John 13:5). Sometimes this kind of love means letting people go, just as Jesus did with Judas. This kind of love, while costly, honors God because it imitates Jesus.
Love like this is impossible to do on our own! We can only love one another as Jesus loves us by abiding in His Words and in His love (John 15:7, 9).
It is the power of Christ in us Who will love through us.
"By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).
Abide in Jesus. Abide in His love. Keep His commands. And start by loving yourself, so that you can love others well.