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When I hear about how we’re supposed to love ourselves, it always makes me cringe a little.
Isn’t loving yourself a selfish and therefore egotistical thing to do? After all, being selfless means not thinking about yourself, and being truly loving means loving others.
So even though I wanted to, it was hard for me to jump on the “love yourself” bandwagon. Then a thought brought the concept into a new light; what if, by loving myself, I actually did something good and productive for the whole world?
An example came to mind when I thought further about self-love and care. As we’ve evolved as mothers, we know that to properly care for our children we must first take care of ourselves. Hospitals now counsel the nursing mother to feed herself first, so that she has the energy and nutrients to feed her baby. Before taking off in an airplane, parents are instructed that if the cabin losses pressure, they must first put their oxygen masks on before assisting their children with theirs. As children grow, rested and healthy parents have much more to give their children, both intellectually and spiritually, their attention more focused and loving. Therefore the care we show to ourselves can spill out gloriously upon our young ones and everyone benefits:
Love yourself – accept yourself – forgive yourself- and be good to yourself, because without you the rest of us are without a source of many wonderful things. – Leo Buscaglia
So I began to see that caring for myself would benefit not just me, but those around me. It also could help me to better serve my Faith:
Guard your health above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23.
…if he sleep, it should not be for pleasure, but to rest the body in order to do better, to speak better, to explain more beautifully, to serve the servants of God and to prove the truths. When he remains awake, he should seek to be attentive, serve the Cause of God and sacrifice his own stations for those of God. When he attains to this station, the confirmations of the Holy Spirit will surely reach him. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 384.
In taking care of ourselves, as in all things, moderation and balance are essential. Pushing yourself beyond reasonable limits will not yield a productive outcome:
Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 216.
Still leery of my ego encroaching, I ask, “Is loving ourselves really a part of self-care?” If so, then it isn’t selfish or egotistical. I know when I am feeling bad about myself, my family and those I come into contact with suffer, because I am not able to radiate any light. The mirror of my soul is clouded with self-doubt and low self-worth. On the other hand, when I feel good about myself I am happy and reflect more love and light to others. By practicing unconditional self-love and acceptance, I am able to give so much more:
You are the work of God and His work is wholly loveable and wholly loving. This how a man must think of himself in his heart because this is what he is. – A Course in Miracles
There is, however, a distinction to be made between acceptance and approval of myself. I may not approve of everything in myself since I am not perfect, but if I can unconditionally love myself, then I am acknowledging the presence of God within me:
O Son of Utterance! Thou art My stronghold; enter therein that thou mayest abide in safety. My love is in thee, know it, that thou mayest find Me near unto thee. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 6.
If we concentrate our love on the light within—our heavenly spirit—and not the lamp—our personalities—this love will not translate into egotism. The light of God is to be loved and nurtured and that light is within all of us. We were created in His image:
And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female, He created them. – Genesis 1:27.
O Son of Man! Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 4.
Though I still struggle with the concept of self-love, I do realize now that when we care for ourselves, we are happier and we honor the light within us. We can give more to our families and to the world. All the holy writings teach us to love humanity. Surely that love includes ourselves.
At the end of the day, my focus becomes very simple as I remember the poignant lyrics of the song, “Nature Boy” sung by the wonderful Nat King Cole: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.”