The Way of Christ and Healthy Self-Love

In light of the plight in the world of mental health, both at Harvard and abroad, the staff of the Harvard Ichthus wants to offer a three-point reflection from a Christian perspective. To be clear, this is not by any means a “solve” for mental health issues. It is, rather, a reflection on who we are as children of God, and how that Gospel message might impact our experience of emotional anguish, mental suffering, and crises of self-image. 

Our prayer is that, through the grace and power of God’s most Holy Spirit, this reflection may be of use or comfort to our readers here at school or abroad. This, our second reflection on the topic, is called, “The Way of Christ and Healthy Self-Love.”

According to Jesus, all the law and the prophets hang on two great commandments. The second–”You shall love your neighbor as yourself”–is of particular importance for our reflection on mental health. The great Danish philosopher-theologian Søren Kierkegaard once mused that “if this command is properly understood, it also says the opposite: ‘You shall love yourself in the right way.’ If anyone, therefore, refuses to learn from Christianity how to love [them]self in the right way, [they] cannot love [their] neighbor either.”

We are reminded by Kierkegaard’s analysis of the Great Commandment that healthy self-love is a prerequisite to loving others and implementing God’s dream of self-giving agape for the human family.

But self-love is not only a practical means to an altruistic end. We must remember that, if we love ourselves, we see ourselves the way our Creator sees us: known more deeply than we know ourselves, fearfully and wonderfully made, resplendent reflections of God’s invisible image. Think of the Apostle Peter, who upon encountering Jesus for the first time as a humble fisherman falls to his knees and cries, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Peter’s encounter with the Word-Made-Flesh catalyzes a shameful reflection on his own depravity. Yet Jesus does not dwell on Peter’s darkness. Instead, he offers a loving commandment: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Jesus glimpses the Light of God in Peter even when Peter cannot see it himself. In the same way, Jesus gazes lovingly upon the Light of God within us, and calls us away from shame so that we may love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and enact the Gospel on Earth.

If we love ourselves, we have internalized the message of our previous reflection: we are precious to God, and honored, and beloved. Self-love enacted in the power of the Spirit is therefore not mere arrogance or self-indulgence, but the fullest affirmation of the reality at the core of our being as children of God. We pray that you come to know how much God wants you to see yourself as God sees you, to love yourself as God loves you, to be patient with yourself as God is patient with you, to be compassionate toward yourself as God is compassionate toward you.

The Way of Christ does not only give us permission to do this. It exhorts us to.

The Ichthus Staff