What did Jesus say that matters most? Since you’re a youth pastor, this might feel like a trick question, but humor me for a minute and let’s look at what Jesus said:
“‘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.’” (Matthew 22:37b-39 NIV)
Simple, right? Love God and love other people.
As someone who grew up in church, if there were two things I knew about being a Christian, it was: we’re supposed to love God and love other people. It felt like this point was central to every sermon I heard. Every song on Christian radio (my mom refused to let me listen to hip-hop…at least when she had control of the radio). Every Teen Study Bible commentary.
It seemed like loving God and loving other people became the key mantra of 90s and early 2000s Christians. Which, is great! I mean, Jesus did say these two things are important. Most important in fact.
The problem is, Jesus didn’t JUST mention those two love directives. He mentioned three.
Love other people.
You love yourself.
What Does it Mean to Love Yourself?
I don’t know about you, but for a lot of my life, it felt like I was receiving the OPPOSITE message of loving myself. In fact, it often felt like the idea of loving myself was exactly what I should avoid doing. I was supposed to deny myself, die to self, take up my cross.
But love myself? Absolutely not. In fact, it felt like to love myself meant I couldn’t be loving others as well as I should.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was wrong.
Several years ago, I was preparing to teach an XP3 series about this very idea. I remember looking through the Ministry Leader Guide to see where the series was headed. I discovered that there was a week on the importance of loving yourself. That was something I had never seen before! Honestly, I was ready to take my concerns about the message to my Orange Specialist when I decided to look at the text myself. And there it was, in plain writing all along—this idea of loving yourself.
It’s like Jesus is saying: “I want you to love other people, but if you want to do that well, you have to show yourself some love first.” I realized that my ability to love others is directly tied to my capacity to love myself.
- The grace I show others is directly related to the grace I show myself.
- In the way I care for my mental, physical, and emotional needs will also be the way I invest in caring for the needs of those around me.
- The way I learn to have compassion on myself is the way that I would have love and compassion for others.
Jesus Sees Us as Worthy of Love . . . Shouldn’t We?
Jesus mandates a love for others that is only possible when grounded in a love for ourselves. And if that idea makes you feel a little uncomfortable, think of it like this.
Who are we to treat ourselves less than how Jesus Himself treats us? If Jesus sees us worthy of His love, shouldn’t we see ourselves the same way?
Brené Brown says it like this in her book The Gifts of Imperfection,
“Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them—we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
Reread that one more time:
“When it exists within each one of them…”
Think about it. If we are going to do what Jesus said was most important, pour love from ourselves to others, then love has to exist within ourselves first. We can’t give to others what we haven’t discovered in ourselves first.
How Christians Can Love Themselves
But what does this look like exactly? Here is a list of a few ideas to get you started.
1. Prioritize your self-care.
Self-care starts with self-awareness—knowing what you need and then practicing the self-discipline to follow through. Prioritize personal hygiene, exercise, eat healthy foods, sleep 7-8 hours, and limit your screen time. (Note: self-care is more than binging on Netflix or lighting a scented candle.)
2. Make sure you have places to unload what you’re carrying.
Ministry is hard and oftentimes lonely. I personally believe everyone benefits from seeing a counselor to help us shoulder the load. It’s a great way to model strong mental health practices to your students and it’s a needed place to find the support it takes to remain strong in ministry.
3. Prioritize your personal relationships.
In ministry we can often get caught up thinking that the mission is too important to ever take a break from it—even at our own expense. But God is bigger than your work schedule. Take time off to spend a day with your friends, go away with your significant other, or attend your kid’s tournament. If you want to have love to give to others, then you need to find time to do the things you love with the people you love.
4. Be patient with yourself.
If the idea of loving yourself is new and still feels a little strange, cut yourself some slack. Remember, this isn’t about pampering yourself, indulging yourself, or giving in to every selfish desire in the name of “loving yourself.” To love ourselves as Jesus loved us is learning to tend to the deepest part of who we are. It means learning to pay attention to when we are feeling stressed, angry, hurt, or stretched thin, and then doing something about it.
It will take time to begin to recognize the cues our mind, body, and spirit are giving us to let us know they need tending, too. Ultimately loving ourselves begins with knowing ourselves. And if we’ve spent a lot of our lives tuning out what our soul might be telling us to attend, it will take time to change that pattern. So, be patient. But don’t give up looking for ways to take care of yourself so you can better take care of others.
When we find ways to love ourselves, we’ll be on the way to living out what Jesus said matters most.
I mean, just imagine if we got this right as youth ministry leaders, and it had an impact on the next generation of students that we are leading. Wouldn’t we want the next generation to grow up loving God, others, and themselves? Wouldn’t this kind of wholistic love make better parents, employees, leaders, and friends in the future? We can’t expect to raise up a generation who loves their neighbor well if they haven’t learned to love themselves first.
And as their leaders, we get to model the way.