The central metamessage in all Church curricula may be that the answers to life’s challenges are found in the scriptures and the counsel of modern prophets. All of our lessons are strongest when they are organized around key scriptural stories or teachings—especially the doctrinal speeches in the Book of Mormon. Yet some of our faulty cultural assumptions sneak into our classes and curricula.
While preparing a lesson from an older manual, I ran into a suggestion for cultivating charity. According to the lesson, we must “learn to love ourselves.” The suggestion seems entirely sensible in a culture that celebrates self-esteem. The American dogma is that we must love ourselves before we can love anyone else. Unfortunately the self-esteem movement is now in bad standing in the psychological community and the once-sensible suggestion is badly dated. More timeless suggestions might be taken from the scriptures.
The great Book of Mormon chapter on charity suggests that the preconditions for charity are meekness and lowliness of heart (Moroni 7:44). Further the Lord suggested that we must lose ourselves in order to find ourselves (Matthew 10:39; 16:25). This losing of ourselves is quite different from loving ourselves.
King Benjamin, Moses, and Ammon are united in testifying that we must believe in Christ rather than ourselves. We are nothing without the divine influence.
Charity is a focus on loving and blessing others; self-esteem is a focus on loving and blessing ourselves. The scriptures recommend the former and condemn the latter.
Some gospel scholars might argue that the ancient command to “love thy neighbors as thyself” justifies love of self. James Faulconer shows that the idea is at odds with the rest of scripture
( http://jamesfaulconer.byu.edu/selfimag.htm ) and is not defensible.
It is always wiser to trust the word of God than passing cultural fads.
Humbling ourselves in mighty prayer, admitting we are nothing and completely inept and that God is omnipotent and completely capable. Asking for forgiveness for the thoughts, emotions, words and acts in which we have faltered. Asking for His strength, guidance, His way. Continuing this process in our minds throughout the day as we pray always, keeping the tempting thoughts at bay (and without succumbing to negative thoughts, our feelings, words and actions will be okay). As we continually strive for God’s acceptance/approval and therefore feel of His matchless love for us, our self-assured self-esteem (love for ourselves) can’t be yanked on or even touched by mortal’s criticism or Satan’s power. In this way, we do love ourselves but not by focusing on ourselves. By being filled with God’s love, we feel capable and feel so much love for others that we want to serve others.
That’s how I understand the process by which we learn to love ourselves.
I do think that God blesses us with some peace/love if we provide services for others, but helping or rescuing others in order to gain that good feeling is not charity. That’s serving in order to get and love is completely selfless and therefore cannot be used to get something in return. We may go through the actions, but it is where our heart is that counts.
If we first turn to the Lord, our burdens will be light and the responsibilities we face will not seem overpowering but a worthwhile challenge.