For many Christians, the idea of loving yourself is one we either shy away from or we don’t give much thought to. It may be that we’re concerned that if we pay ourselves too much attention, we could become prideful and push God into the background. Or it may be that we were just taught simply to not think about ourselves, in an attempt to focus only on God.

But there’s an important difference between selfishness and self-worth.

The issue here is that we all have an idea of our worth, even if we’re not aware of it. Whether we consciously think about it or not, we all feel a certain way about ourselves (because we were made to). And what we feel will naturally impact the way we live our lives, interact with God and other people.

A Wise and Healthy Life

It’s clear that God wants us to live intentionally. He desires us to make wise choices that benefit our well-being and help us remain close to Him. We simply can’t do that if we don’t love ourselves.

If we don’t grasp and appreciate our value, we won’t treat ourselves with respect. This may mean we talk negatively about ourselves and look for every chance to be critical. It may mean we stay in unhealthy relationships because we think we can’t find better ones or we don’t deserve them. It often means we don’t take care of ourselves emotionally or physically.

Obviously, God doesn’t want us to put ourselves above everyone else, but He does desire for us to be good stewards of our bodies and minds. He doesn’t want others to hurt us, and He doesn’t want us to hurt ourselves. He wants us to choose behaviors and situations that will bless us and match up to His opinion—and the truth—of our value.

God’s Love and Grace

Yes, the more we know God’s love for us, the more we love ourselves. But sometimes the more we love ourselves, the more we know God’s love for us.

Let me explain.

The message of Christianity is that God values us enough to send His Son on our behalf. His gift of grace is predicated on our worth to Him. But what if we don’t let ourselves believe that we are in fact, valuable?

While the Word is clear on this topic (Zephaniah 3:17, Romans 5:8), hurtful relationships or traumatic pasts can make us feel that we aren’t good enough. And if our hearts really wrestle with that, we may be hesitant to accept that we are fully accepted and loved as God’s children.

Even the concept of Jesus taking our sins so that we will be clean is not always easy to accept for the person who is reluctant to stop blaming themselves. If we are plagued with shame, we may hide as Adam and Eve did. We close ourselves to the tenderness that is available to us. God may tell us we can come boldly to the throne, but if we choose to hold onto our shame, we will pass up what He’s offering.

God longs for us to truly believe that we are a treasure to Him; and that grace is in fact, a free gift. Only when we recognize that as God’s children we are inherently special to Him can we imagine why He might give His life to be close to us. And only then will we be open to experience His love and mercy.

Sincere Love for Others

Most of us are familiar with the second commandment: “Love your neighbors as you love yourself.” Have you noticed that the understanding here is that you start off by loving yourself?

If you don’t love yourself, you won’t be able to love your neighbors. This is often painfully clear in interactions where one person feels so lousy about themselves, they want to make others feel just as bad. A bully often has low self esteem, so they want their peers to feel the same way. People who are rude or easily angered, even those who seem prideful, often feel something missing inside and are just pretending they’re secure.

On the other side of the coin, many people who don’t love themselves allow others—often others who also don’t love themselves—to walk all over them. They may accept poor treatment or enable addictions of their loved ones. Not only does this not honor who they are, it also is not even real love. Real love does what is right for another person, even if it’s hard. It makes healthy choices. People who are encouraged to continue bad behavior stay stuck and are not shown real love. God, who is love, never enables unhealthy behavior, but stands up for what’s true and good.

Simply put: Only when we love ourselves can we give love to others that is genuine and life-giving.

How God Sees Us

We must all consider and meditate on how God loves us. But there’s even more to it. After focusing on His love, we need to accept it. We need to start with the knowledge that it’s real.

We’re important to Him, each one of us, no matter what we’ve done or not done. As we accept His love, we must also decide we’re going to agree with Him and apply that love inward—to ourselves. This means learning how to forgive ourselves for the past, being kind and patient with ourselves in the present and being hopeful for our future. It means we treat ourselves—and others—more the way God does. This will be the open door to the life and relationship with God that is intended for us.