Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied: " '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.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
When questioned, Jesus didn't have to stammer in naming the most important thing that a child of God can do in this world - love God with all that you have. His very next statement was to point out how this can be done - loving your neighbor as yourself. And the focus we usually place in this verse is on loving our neighbors. But in order to love our neighbor properly, we have to know how to love ourselves properly. (Its interesting to note that in the passage, Jesus makes little distinction between the love of God, love of others, and of self. A true life of love is one where all three are in progress at the same time.)
We know how to practice self-love in improper ways - this much is clear, its built into our nature. But what is the right self-love that Jesus must have been referring to? Its a love that imitates the love that He had for us - a love of acceptance. Paul Tillich said that "faith is the courage to accept our acceptance."
"Well that's easy enough. I'm glad God accepts me."
Really? Has the complete acceptance of you, an imperfect and needy person, really changed your heart? Because that's no easy thing. Sooner or later everyone experiences some form of self-loathing: hating the way we look, or the things we've done that we wish we hadn't, plagued by our inabilities or short-comings. Those little unloveable parts of our lives that we haven't become totally convinced that God really accepts.
This is the kind of self-acceptance, the proper love of self, that we need to have - one that realizes our true identity in God's love - so that we can become in our own eyes what we already are in His - accepted. Valued not for what we can do or accomplish or bring to the table, but valued out of love.
There's a point in the movie Toy Story that Woody confronts Buzz Lightyear with the fact that he's not a real space ranger. It takes Buzz a while to pick up on it - but when he does - its rather earth-shattering for him. Woody, though, understood why Buzz still had value: "You must not be thinking clearly. Look, over in that house, there's a kid who thinks you're the greatest, and it's not because you're a space ranger, its because your his." Buzz began to realize that his identity, his purpose, came not from what he could do, or who he could be, but from who loved him.
When we can accept God's love like that, we'll be accepting ourselves in a way that allows us to truly love other people.