I remember, as a child, learning the acronym JOY:
- Jesus first
- Others second
- Yourself last
At the time, it seemed to make enough sense. Obviously, God should be your first priority, and you’re supposed to put others before yourself, so it fits, right?
But does it really work to love in that order? I don’t think so. I believe that’s actually backward.
You have to start by loving yourself. This concept of self love was pretty much considered heresy in the fundamentalist circles I grew up in, but it really is essential.
Jesus taught, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39, CEB). If your love for others is to be measured against your love for self, then self love has to be in place before you truly can love others. This is not selfishness; it is merely maintaining a healthy balance.
There’s a reason airlines tell you, in case of an emergency, to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping anyone else. If you try to help others before helping yourself, you risk running out of oxygen and causing much greater harm to both yourself and the people you’d like to help.
Likewise, if your love of self is lacking, your love of neighbor will be lacking as well.
As for loving Jesus, he taught that you love him by loving others. “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me” (Matthew 25:40, CEB).
You may show your love for God in an abstract way via songs and prayers, but it’s impossible to truly love God in any concrete and practical manner without first loving others. Loving others is how you love God.
So you can’t love God until you first love others. And you can’t love others until you first love yourself. And since love of God and love of others are the two greatest commandments, that makes love of self pretty damn important.
So go love yourself!