How do you love others? Are you generous with your time? Do you look for opportunities to serve? Do you really love others as much as you love yourself? What would that be like? How about pointing them to the fountain of happiness? That’s how Augustine refers to our Savior:
For He is the fountain of our happiness, He the end of all our desires. Being attached to Him, or rather let me say, re-attached—for we had detached ourselves and lost hold of Him—being, I say, re-attached to Him, we tend towards Him by love, that we may rest in Him, and find our blessedness by attaining that end. For our good, about which philosophers have so keenly contended, is nothing else than to be united to God. It is, if I may say so, by spiritually embracing Him that the intellectual soul is filled and impregnated with true virtues. We are enjoined to love this good with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength. To this good we ought to be led by those who love us, and to lead those we love. Thus are filled those two commandments on which we hang all the law and the prophets: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul;” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” For, that man might be intelligent in his self-love, there was appointed for him an end to which he might refer all his actions, that he might be blessed. For he who loves himself wishes nothing else than this. And the end set before him is “to draw near to God.” And so, when one who has this intelligent self-love is commanded to love his neighbor as himself, what else is enjoined than that he shall do all in his power to commend to him the love of God? This is the worship of God, this is true religion, this is right piety, this is the service due to God only. If any immortal power, then, no matter with what virtue endowed, loves us as himself, he must desire that we find our happiness by submitting ourselves to Him, in submission to whom he himself finds happiness (306-307).
Just yesterday I heard a beautiful, young woman on TV talk about how important it is to love yourself. She had lost over 200 pounds and now felt like she truly loved herself as she took better care of her body. We tend to confuse pride with intelligent self-love. C.S. Lewis points out the sinful danger of delighting wholly in yourself in Mere Christianity. Our culture teaches that our goal is to find our delight in our ability to please ourselves. We are told that our goal is to not care what others think about us; most important is what we think of ourselves. That is partially true. It is important what we think of ourselves. But if we have an intelligent self-love, we know that we cannot find our delight in ourselves. It matters what one other Person thinks of us above all. That is, of course the One who created us.
We all love ourselves. It just might not be intelligent self-love. Even a person with so-called low self-esteem has self-love. They want happiness for themselves. They want to be blessed. Lewis explains that we don’t love ourselves because there’s anything in us especially worth loving. We may be disgusted with ourselves, but we still wish our own good. Using Lewis’s logic, the very reason this beautiful, young lady on TV hated her behavior that led to obesity was because she loved herself. She didn’t want to be that person. She just didn’t have what Augustine calls intelligent self-love. Although, she could be in the best shape of her life and still not have intelligent self-love.
Intelligent self-love is knowing that we cannot find our joy within ourselves, or in anything other than Christ. He is the fountain of our happiness, the end of all our desires. And if we truly love our neighbors as we love ourselves (intelligently), we will point them to this abundantly flowing fountain where they will become impregnated with true virtue.