Stories have been around as long as humans. Psychologically, we understand why we think in stories. We are social beings. In consciousness research, they call the stream of thought that you construct the life story you tell yourself “stream of consciousness.” We think in stories. For much of human history, stories played an essential role than just entertainment (they still do today). They acted as bodies of stories that people centralized their identity around. Stories explained nature, human ethics, social hierarchies, and, most importantly, the unexplained. Stories embody a culture’s values and worldview. The stories your people told you were who you were, how this world works, and how you’re supposed to function. 

We haven’t changed how we use stories much. Joseph Campbell’s insights from A Hero with a Thousand Faces ( still apply. We still use Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, and Hollywood as a source of myth, a place to find ourselves. We still disappear from our own stories to live in books. We have more access to books than at any other time. The same is true also for music today. It used to be that the only way you could take music with is by making it yourself. Every song is essentially a micro-story. Stories of overcoming, love, community, redemption, justice, and the like are all undeniably human. Our fists clench during the final battle, and our hearts swoon when the couple finally gets their crap together. 


We get such pleasure out of the stories we engage with. It’s an example of freudenfreude, getting pleasure out of the pleasurable experiences of others. Freudenfreude is something we are meant to experience in our normal human interactions. Every human you and I have any contact with is a story with highs and lows, struggles and uncertainties, victories and defeats. However, our general stance towards other people’s stories is apathy at best, hostility at worst, and skepticism in the middle. Not freudenfreude

We now know that freudenfreude is essential to mental health and fostering relationships. We all know people in our lives who never seem happy for us. But do we do it ourselves? To really “rejoice with those who rejoice” requires a love for them that is not conditional on your circumstances. It requires choosing not to elevate yourself for attention and to allow someone else to have it. It means you sacrifice your egos, whatever ones want the attention so that you can see the other person as a person and understand why their story matters. It means, in some sense, to forget your own story for a moment and just be blessed to share in someone else’s moment. Those pesky demons of discontentment, unforgiveness, and insecurity must be caged and ignored if drowning them hasn’t worked yet. 

Jesus consistently engaged his crowds with the dichotomy of giving up your life to gain it while trying to gain would be you give up your life (John 3:3-7; Matthew 16:24–25; Mark 8:34–35). Jesus even went as far as to say that no person could be His follower if they did not give up their own lives (Luke 14:27). The Apostle Paul echoed it in (many places, including Galatians 2:20 and 5:24. To follow Christ means that some form of self-death dying. Throughout the sciences, human wisdom, and our own experiences, we are aware that we can wear a persona as if it were us but without it actually being us. This mode is default and subconscious. We have to default to these modes just to make our different roles and positions easy enough to function. 


The problem arises when we confuse these egos with our actual selves. We don’t need to point out examples of how people find their identity in things that are intrinsically not them: wealth, status, pleasure, causes, etc. We all know what it’s like to talk to someone who doesn’t know themselves. We tend to protect these egos and hide behind them. They are full of assumptions we would rather not have challenged. We get trapped in them and can quickly forget where our masks end and where we begin.

This “self” Jesus calls people to kill and be done with. He does it himself just to prove the point and remove excuses. By the way, God sacrificed His Ego (Logos) to fulfill His commands of loving His neighbors and enemies. It’s not pride (one of the many egos that need to die) specifically but rather your collection of egos and assumptions that you have walled yourself behind. It’s admitting your finitude and imperfections. It’s accepting what you don’t have control over and accepting what you do. It’s being comfortable with not knowing and being wrong. It’s living the way Jesus did. 

Jesus was convinced that we didn’t love each other enough. Loving others was central to His message and His behavior. In a world of selfishness and defensive egos, Jesus saw part of the solution to the human condition as loving others as you would yourself. Several human traditions have captured this Golden Rule with different words. Even Kant formed his categorical imperative as a central rule for human ethics without a god – that we wouldn’t treat someone as we wouldn’t want to be treated. 

We know what kind of people we want to be around, the kind of people we like to call when something good or bad happens. We also know the kind of people we don’t want to share our life with because they’re quick to criticize, belittle, demean, abuse, and make about them. Feeling other people’s positive experiences makes you less self-centered and more likable. People listen better and trust you more when you can sincerely emote them without making it about yourself or something else. And I have found it leaves me more grateful and connected. 

“as yourself”

Try honestly being happy for people and shutting out those other voices that bring up your trials and achievements when another person has the spotlight and their life has a story to share. Cheer for them in their own story. Hurt for them as you would Batman, Harry Potter, or Captain America when they’ve hit a setback. Understand them as you do your heroes and give them the empathy they need to figure out their story. They are a part of your story, and you a part of theirs. Our stories are never our own. Thank God.

Matthew 22:38-40 ESV
“This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Interestingly, “Love yourself” isn’t listed with the two greatest commands: to love God and your neighbor. There is a command to love all other humans, specifically those next to you (your “neighbor”), and a command to love the divine Creator. What of the person doing the loving? Practically every pastor has pointed out the contingency in the second commandment: “as yourself.” Many preach this as Jesus acknowledging our prideful self-worship of ourselves: this is more about survival than truly loving our true selves. However, Jesus’ word here is the agape as every other agape imperative. If Jesus wanted to suggest a different kind of love, He could have but didn’t. Jesus includes the assumption that we love ourselves but not perhaps because we already do.

From the time of Genesis 3, humanity has intrinsically struggled to love themselves, much other less other human beings. When we ate of the fruit and our eyes were opened, the first reality that we saw differently was our shame (“naked,” Genesis 3:7). Pre-fruit, we were naked, but the key difference is that we “were not ashamed.” Post-fruit, we immediately descended into hiding, covering, and blaming. In the next chapter, a brother kills his younger brother. The biblical narrative is full of individuals who didn’t truly love themselves, chaotic characters that frequently sabotage themselves while knowing better. 

I wonder if the imperative to love ourselves was replaced with the imperative to love others because, in so doing, we learn to love ourselves and to be loved by others. We reap what we sow, and by paying attention to our neighbors and loving them, we can experience what loving ourselves might look like by internalizing our outward behavior for ourselves. 

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