When Jesus responded to the question regarding the greatest commandment, he states in Matthew 22:39, “And the second is equally important, love your neighbor as yourself.” This verse puzzled me, yet it had a profound impact on my life for years to come.
It was a typical Sunday. My family, all dressed in our Sunday best, piled into our pale green station wagon and headed down the washboard worn dirt road in central Minnesota. Our destination was a small Baptist church in the heart of our small town.
We lived in what was a typical rural Minnesota community. It had a K-12 school, a volunteer fire department, and several churches. The main street held two small grocery stores, a bank, a cafe, and a hardware store.
I was the youngest of four and as a result I was constantly the target of every opportunity the older siblings could find to tease, belittle, and insult my very existence. A favorite tale one of my brothers enjoyed telling me was that I wasn’t really part of the family—Mom and Dad had found me in a trash can. My sister, nine years older than me, came at me from a different angle. She made it clear that my presence, including in the bedroom we shared, was an invasion of her personal space and a situation she tolerated but resented.
My parents were kind and hardworking raised in a time when children were to be seen and not heard, each dealing with their own childhood challenges. Under the guidance of the then popular Dr. Benjamin Spock’s approach to child rearing, they did little to nurture, encourage or guide their offspring. I was well fed, taken care of, and provided a healthy middle class life style for mid-Minnesota. Although I knew I was loved I did not feel valued.
The day I heard Matthew 22:39 now seems so long ago. I was in the basement of the Pillager Baptist Church sitting in a child size pew near the back of the small Children’s Church area. At the tender age of eight, I heard that verse as the leader read, “… love your neighbor as yourself.”
I looked at the Bible I shared with the child sitting next to me. I read it again. Did it really say that? I pulled the Bible closer, leaned in and read the verse yet again. I thought to myself, hmm, that’s easy. Yet it seemed so not Biblical. I read it again. Sure enough that’s what said. My next thought was, if that is what it says, I am to love others as I loved myself, then I don’t have to like anyone. I don’t even need to be nice to anyone. After all, I hated myself.
There’s a popular song played on Christian radio in which the songwriter/singer wonders about having a conversation of with his younger self and if he could, would he? He imagines he could warn himself of all the mistakes he would make that could then be avoided. He could make his life less painful, easier. Then he wonders if that’s such a great idea or not. After all it’s those mistakes that made him the man he is today.
Just a this songwriter ponders this idea, I too think about it. I wonder how my life could have been different if I could have embraced the truth behind Matthew 22:39. Instead, the words of Jesus became twisted and used by Satan to cause my life to be so misdirected.
There was choice after choice I made that were from a place of self hatred. I continued to attend church and Bible camp; read books, including the Bible, from cover to cover; tackled group and individual studies; and I had even attended Christian University.
The message my mind spoke to me daily never changed - “You’re worthless. God loves the world sure, but not you. He can’t forgive you, you have done too many horrible things.” I had heard these messages for years, from the time I was a small child well into my adult life. I appeared to be normal and well adjusted. No one new of my transgression or the battle within my mind. I was afraid to tell anyone any of the pieces. I knew others would be shocked and appalled at my behavior. No one would ever be able to accept me.
A few years into my adult life, the leadership at the church I’d been attending occasionally had a change. At one point they posted a sign at the front door that said, “No Perfect People Allowed”. Finally, I fit in! If anyone was imperfect it was me. Even so, I still couldn’t overcome that internal voice and I continued to make horrible choices. I’d pray for forgiveness vow to stop only to find myself repeating this ritual again and again. The secrets were getting too big for me. I couldn’t handle the anxiety and the pain they created knocking on my heart all day long.
Everyone has heard that confession is good for the soul. The thought of confessing this to someone else scared me. It created it’s own anxiety, putting pit in my stomach every time I thought about it. God then opened a door to someone willing to listen. Knowing the conversation would be confidential, I made arrangements to meet. As I blurted out my history the expression on the recipient’s face never changed. No looks of condemnation, no utterance of “you’ve got to be kidding”, no expulsion from the office. Instead there were kind words of support with a list of Bible verses to read as often as the words from Satan saturated my thoughts. These verses made it clear that I am an adopted member of God’s family. He loves me and forgives me of everything and anything.
I also I found that my sins were no different than many of those around me including the leadership within our church. This lead me to believe that if they were forgiven I could be too. I also discovered my value through God’s eyes. I am loved by a Father who is love. Over time I began to understand this value and God’s view of me. It changed how I saw and accepted myself and others. It gradually affected every aspect of my life.
It’s been a long journey from reading that set of verses 10-20 times a day to today when I have moved to reading other verses. I am traveling closer to Jesus day by day. Is it over? Am I cured? No, the struggle is real and I expect to be at battle until I meet Christ face to face. Until then, I continually remind myself that I am God’s child, I am fully forgiven, I am immensely loved, and I am greatly valued.
If I could have that conversation with my younger self, would I? I think so. What would I say? I would tell myself the truth behind Matthew 22:39. The truth that is laid out clearly throughout the Bible and the message of Jesus. I would tell me to let the truth that you are truly loved sink deeply into you. Finally, I would say to never forget you are God’s child making you more than loved, you are valued.
If you are dealing with issues of low self worth, know that you are valuable beyond measure in Jesus. Here are some verses to help you take those negative thoughts captive and meditate on who God says you are.
Romans 6:6-8 New Living Translation (NLT)
6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. 8 And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him.
Romans 8:14-17 New Living Translation (NLT)
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
John 1:12-13 New Living Translation (NLT)
12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
1 Corinthians 10:12-13 New Living Translation (NLT)
12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
Galatians 3:26-28 New Living Translation (NLT)
26 For you are all children[a] of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.[b] 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[c] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 4:6-7 New Living Translation (NLT)
6 And because we[a] are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”[b] 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.[c] And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
Ephesians 1:3-4 New Living Translation (NLT)
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.
Ephesians 1:7-8 New Living Translation (NLT)
7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.