Someone once told me that if I didn’t love myself I couldn’t love God. “Of course I love myself,” I replied hastily. Honestly though, my insides were confused. “What does it even mean to love myself,” I wondered, “I’m pretty sure I love God so I must love myself.”
Over the years I have often wondered about love.
What does loving another person or being in love even mean?
Why don’t I feel love and compassion the way people talk of it?
What’s wrong with me as a mother, since I don’t have that motherly love I see in other women?
Do I love God? I sure don’t feel him even though I know he is there.
And then one day while reading to my classroom of first graders, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself,” little Olivia raised her hand. “Does that mean you have to love yourself?” she asked. It hit me. Yes. Yes, it does.
She will never know it, but that day Olivia got me thinking… I needed to love myself. For lots of reasons I hated myself. I found out that I didn’t know how to love myself, let alone God or anyone else, because I had never been taught that I had value. I had never been taught love. It’s not something you can read in a book or learn at school. It is learned through relationship and somehow, although I grew up in a good home with a mom who did her very best to love me and a dad who did the best he could on the weekends, some pieces important were missing.
And so I did the best I could.
I can remember the day I figured it out. I know my exact location when the thought, “I think I am learning how to be loved,” came to me.
Love is learned.
When someone started intentionally treating me with kindness, respect, encouragement and unconditional acceptance, I started to learn that I am worthy of love.
It was necessary to learn how to be loved before I could love myself. In learning to love myself, I am now able to love God and others. It’s not a road I would have chosen for myself, but I believe my capacity to love, encourage and understand the hearts of empty and hurting people is bigger because of my experience.
I am grateful.