Sooo…I wasn’t initially going to write anything on this, but after cutting a pod earlier this week, I’m calling an audible.
‘Cause truth is: I’m surprised how much a feel good movie in ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ has me feeling, well, not that good.
While the film, in itself, is charming full of laugh out loud moments and clever wit, to say the film lacks irony would be an understatement.
For instance, when contrasting real life to rom coms, our protagonist is clear she hates happy endings since they hinge on plot convenience more than anything else.
The funny thing: This is exactly what ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ does on the issue of self-love which begs the question…
Does self-love actually exist?
To be fair, the answer can’t be addressed in a vacuum since real love can’t be compartmentalized. That said, while secular voices can only go so far in their quest not to offend, one must wonder if we, as a culture, are synonymizing love and esteem as much as we are love and tolerance.
This in mind, I want to tackle the question by un-blurring the lines between self-love/love and self-esteem/esteem. As for love versus tolerance, don’t worry. I’ll come back and do a ‘part 2’ once the right movie comes along.
Before we define any contrasts, let’s define some terms.
First, what is love?
For starters, the most central answer can be found in 1 Corinthians 13:
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love [for others growing out of God’s love for me], then I have become only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal [just an annoying distraction]. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy [and speak a new message from God to the people], and understand all mysteries, and [possess] all knowledge; and if I have all [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love [reaching out to others], I am nothing. 3 If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it does me no good at all.
4 Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. 5 It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. 6 It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. 7 Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening].
8 Love never fails [it never fades nor ends]. But as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for the gift of special knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part [for our knowledge is fragmentary and incomplete]. 10 But when that which is complete and perfect comes, that which is incomplete and partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]. 13 And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love.”
Granted, most are familiar with this passage; however, what’s often missed is the reason why we struggle grasping it.
Consider this great DC Talk chorus…
Hey, tell me haven’t ya heard? Love is a serious word. Hey, I think it’s time ya learned. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care care what ya heard. The word love, love is a verb.
…and while we’re at it, let’s hit the bridge as well…
Back in the day there was a man who stepped out of Heaven and he walked the land. He delivered to the people an eternal choice with a heart full of love and the truth in His voice. Gave up His life so that we may live. How much more love could the Son of God give? Here is the example that we oughta be matchin’ ‘cause love is a word that requires some action.
Yeah, yeah…I’m starting this exegesis with the most popular ‘love Scripture’ and one of the most iconic 90’s Christian rap songs ever. Nevertheless, the content is 100% certified truth; specifically, love isn’t love without action…without a transitive nature.
Speaking of which, allow me to get nerdy for just a second…
In math, the transitive property is expressed as the successive members of a sequence of at least three, where if A is larger than B, and B is larger than C, then A is larger than C. Interestingly, from a theological perspective, this confirms the existence of the Trinity (more on this in a future post).
In this case, let’s use the metaphor to compare us to ‘B’ with the people we love as ‘C’. If ‘B’ (love median) and ‘C’ (love recipient) are given, then who represents A?
In fewer words, God (i.e. love giver). But the big picture point is this: The reason love exists is because there has always been a giver and receiver for all of eternity. Thus, whenever we talk about self-love, it’s only fair to reference the concept as intransitive since the act is not only internal, but immobile.
But Cam…Matthew 22:39 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Certainly, self-love isn’t a bad thing?
And to that, I’d have to agree…wait for it…in a vacuum. But as mentioned, we can’t address this topic in a vacuum so let’s zoom out further and ask another question…
Is the self-love culture conveys the same as what Scripture describes?
‘Cause when we reference the Word, we find love, in every use, to be a direct response to receiving love. For example, before we can confess God as love (1 John 4:8), we must first believe the preceding verse: “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
1 John 4:19 paraphrases this in fewer words:
“We love because He first loved us.”
Therefore, the difference between self-love (culture) and loving yourself (Scripture) is one is contained and the other can’t be. One is restricted, the other depicted. One is incomplete, the other complete. One is achieved, the other received. One looks to preserve, the other looks to subserve. I could go on.
For now, let’s discuss esteem.
As Webster defines, esteem is a regard involving an admiration, adulation, and/or appreciation of another. A derivative of gratitude, esteem molds an ‘I respect you’ statement into an ‘I value you’ declaration.
Unfortunately, most learn esteem as self-esteem, taking that ‘I value you’ and reforming it into ‘I value me’. Again, this is appropriate in moderation; however, we must be careful not to abuse the practice as how we love. Reason being: like self-love/love, for self-esteem to exist, there must first be esteem and for esteem to exist, not only must there be a giving entity, but authentic community surrounding it. Put another way, the necessity of esteem isn’t rooted in feeling valuable, but in sharing praise.
As Hebrews 13:15 and Psalm 66:4 capture…
“Through Him, therefore, let us at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name.” (AMP)
“All the earth will [bow down to] worship You [in submissive wonder],
And will sing praises to You; they will praise Your name in song.” (AMP)
…for praise to have any purpose, it must be expressed as unrequited adoration. For if the affirmation of self is what focuses our esteem, then what we think is love is pride in disguise…or as I like to say, a vehicle for validation.
And it’s here where self-esteem goes off the rail for many people. Yes, self-esteem has a place, but can we say it has purpose when it’s narcissistically misappropriated? For example, we see in entertainment, politics, even health, the cultural message of self-esteem being a barometer to success and worth. Ironically, the same voices are also surprised when such pathways are met by insecurity, stress, and burnout. Keep going, they say. Don’t give up, they say.
Of course, Christ in us, we see how this is done the right way. In context, we tie esteem to love through the nature of God which then allows us to see anxiety as the bypassing of holy residence to feel significant. Sadly, for most, self-esteem is and will forever be detached from its Creator, leading many to strive for desirability through skillsets, passions, even status. How sad is it that many discover strengths without wondering or questioning how they got there in the first place? No wonder so many struggle with voids given they’re pursuing meaning without reason!
But getting back to the movie…
After our protagonist’s comatose catharsis, she finally comes to the pay off: While love is not a fairytale, it doesn’t mean you can’t love yourself. True, the happy ending might not exist, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. As long as you’re not depending on others for acceptance, you can love yourself to determine your destiny…and at least come close to a happy ever after.
Now…*cracks knuckles*…I have much to say to this moral discount morale boost.
But being I’m already near 1300 words, I’ll be short. The problem I have with this movie (and others like it) is how it conveys love as being stronger when it’s independent.
While I agree that our sense of value should be detached from what others think, if we’re constantly generating love out of self-preservation (i.e. an egotistic approach to void filling), there’s no way we can sustain love in any capacity.
Essentially, the movie’s tagline fits the “moral” of the story.
To love yourself, complete yourself. Don’t possess your emotions, numb them! To feel esteem, don’t rely on others to affirm it, provide it for yourself. Don’t just be indifferent to what others think, but be different to what others do. That way you can love you without the sensitivity to others’ needs getting in the way. After all, love isn’t given; it’s a personal choice.
*Sighs* *Sarcasm subsides*
I guess what I’m trying to say is…
The reason we love is because it has always existed.
The reason love has always existed not only points to the existence of God, but to the reality of a Godhead.
By this, we can accept the truth that though we were made for love, we weren’t made to ignite and sustain it by ourselves¹. Accordingly, as the object of love and not the subject, let’s be careful with any cultural messaging suggesting the contrary. In the same way we create because we’ve been created and design because we’ve been designed, we love because we were and are forever loved.
Again, God didn’t generate us; rather He formed and fashioned us uniquely with delicate precision before the beginning of time (see Isaiah 44:24, Isaiah 49:15, Psalm 71:6, Jeremiah 1:5, Galatians 1:15). And while we can’t possibly fathom the eternity of such love, we can accept its presence as constant sovereignty living and breathing outside ourselves.
How sweet is it to know we can experience the Gospel as the greatest romance in history:
We love because we were first loved and we love because it was first given.
Finally, we can answer our original question, ‘Does self-love exist?’
In short, outside of God, loving anyone or anything is impossible. Sure, we can admire, cherish, and enjoy the people in our path and the companies we keep. But if ‘our way’ is more important than any other, we can’t possibly know the origin and intricate delicacies that make love what it is. This doesn’t mean a lost concept of love and/or esteem can’t be based in self; it just means if what’s good for us is the gravity, the epicenter of perception and paradigm, the idea of crazy, crave-able love is a mirage via the transitive property.
If a) God is love, but b) God isn’t a part of our love, then c) is what we think is love really love at all?
Okay…enough preaching already; time for one last thought…
Next time you’re discouraged about a situation with no happy ending in sight, remember…
- You’re not alone…
- You’re not your own…
- Because of a + b, you don’t have to express how you feel to know your love is real.
- By our own means and terms
Photo creds: What’s on Netflix