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There’s a wonderful documentary in theatres now (Won’t You Be My Neighbor), about Mr. Rogers, an American TV icon whose accepting voice is familiar to millions. His expression of loving “just the way you are” resonated and warmed hearts for decades.
Many didn’t know that Fred Rogers was an ordained minister, and his faith in God guided his program and its message. He saw loving others as a godly act and once said, “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing–that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.”
It’s a beautiful quote, and rings true. We know God loves his children, and when we can muster that generosity of spirit and that level of charity, we see the good in those around us. But what if you removed the word, “with”? Now it would read, “…when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time.”
In a person we happen to be at the moment. Here we are, filled with flaws and weaknesses, so far from what we wish we were. Our potential hangs above us like a chandelier that’s out of reach. It sparkles with perfect symmetry and beauty, but we are far below it, and can’t even touch it if we jump.
For many, that quest to be better is a quest of great frustration. We beat ourselves up when we err—which is daily—and we feel like failures. It seems as if we are making mistakes constantly, especially in our relationships. We fail to keep the commandments as flawlessly as we wish we could. We blow it. We stumble. We sin.
We forget to love ourselves how we happen to be at the moment. Maybe we’re waiting for improvement, for real evidence that we should be lovable. This is the adversary’s pitch, a logical suggestion that until we earn it, we shouldn’t be loved. But God never said we must jump through hoops to qualify for his love. He simply loves us.
Satan, however, has an arsenal of convincing arguments. The last thing he wants is for us to love ourselves, because if we did, we wouldn’t fall for his tactics as easily. Let’s look at his smorgasbord: He hangs the world’s definition of success in prominent view, a constant reminder that we are falling short. He wants us to compare ourselves to others, a hopeless endeavor in which we will always seem lacking.
He also encourages us to have unrealistic expectations, disguised as worthy goals and even virtues we should possess. Of course, Satan wants us to feel we should have hit these goals long ago, not still be striving and struggling.
He makes us question our standards. Are we old-fashioned? Close-minded? Out of step? He fans the flames of our need for acceptance, and turns us to the approval of man instead of the approval of God.
He makes us hang onto guilt for sins repented of long ago. Millions of people find they can forgive others, but not themselves.
And he tells us self love is arrogant, the proof of conceit—how can we be truly humble if we think highly of ourselves? Satan is a busy guy.
We’re all familiar with the passage in Matthew 22:36-39 where Jesus says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And many of us gloss over “as thyself.” We decide we love ourselves in a kind of general way, but we’d be much more loveable if we weren’t so flawed.
We forget to love who we happen to be at the moment. We reserve that love for the future when we’ll be new and improved. But think about it: If we can only love perfect things, we’ll never love anybody else, either. Imperfect beings are all there is.
In a 2011 General Conference talk, President Uchtdorf said “… the Lord uses a scale very different from the world’s to weigh the worth of a soul.” We mustn’t judge ourselves through the world’s glasses. We need to see ourselves as actual children of God, “children of a king,” as the Called to Serve hymn goes. We need to remember that Christ gave his life for us. Yet another reason to regularly take the Sacrament and think deeply and seriously about that.
Years ago Elder L. Tom Perry said, “One of the greatest weaknesses in most of us is our lack of faith in ourselves. One of our common failings is to depreciate our tremendous worth.”
Only when we truly love ourselves can we confidently make good moral choices, refuse to accept mistreatment, and even value our bodies enough to make wise health decisions. When we know we have intrinsic value as a child of God, we take better care of ourselves. We forgive ourselves. We delight in the good soul we are, and the good intentions we have. We might even look in the mirror from time to time, and honestly be able to say, “I like you just the way you are.”
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.