Friday, March 24, 2017

...We also ought to love ourselves.

"God help me to accept the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is." When I saw that little printed poster in the bookstore at a women's retreat center, I knew I had to have it. It's framed and hanging in my office at the church. 

I know I'm too hard on myself. It's been a lifelong struggle. Some would call it a self-esteem issue. I've come to the conclusion that it's deeper than that. It's a spiritual issue that affects all the relationships in my life, including the relationship I have with God.

A few months after I was divorced, my brother asked me to officiate at his daughter’s wedding. I was happy to do it, but then on the day of the wedding I almost had a melt down. 

I looked out over the congregation that had assembled, and I saw both of my older brothers with their wives; each of them had married his childhood sweetheart. I remember going to their weddings when I was just a kid. After all these years, they were still married in solid relationships. I also saw my younger sister sitting beside her husband; the two of them had an extraordinary relationship that I had always envied. And there I was, standing before them, giving a wedding homily about how to have a happy marriage. I felt like they were looking at me naked, with everything exposed that I tried so hard to hide.  

From the wedding ceremony we went on to the reception, where all the couples were dancing and I wanted to disappear. I can’t recall ever feeling like such a failure in all my life. That moment seemed to reinforce every negative thing I had carried around about myself for as long as I could remember. Particularly, that I wasn't worthy of the love another.

The irony was that, as much as I was feeling judged in that moment, none of my siblings had judged me. They were kind and loving and did everything they could to help me through the day. My judgment had come from within.

If you’re anything like me, the most difficult person to forgive may be yourself. I have a hard time letting go of my past mistakes, particularly those times when I may have hurt someone I care about. In fact, I'm able to accept the forgiveness of God more easily than I can forgive myself. 

Do you know how arrogant it is to refuse to forgive yourself? It’s like saying, God doesn’t really know much, because I know best and I know who is and isn’t worth forgiving. So it’s my pride that keeps me from forgiving myself. And, come to think of it, it's my pride that keeps me from forgiving other people who have wronged me as well. If God forgives, who am I to think I know better than God? 

Over the past decade or so, I've tried to make it a daily practice to forgive myself. I know that it's traditional for Christians to confess their sins and seek God's forgiveness, and that's cool. But I never have a problem with that--the God forgiving me part. My difficulty is in forgiving myself.

When I'm all caught up in my crankiness...when I find fault with pretty much everyone around me...when I'm resentful or wallowing in self-pity, underneath it all is the problem I'm having with forgiving myself. That's why the practice of self-forgiveness has become so important for me.

I suspect I'm not alone. For many of us, the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. The good news is that although it may feel like this self-destructive viewpoint is holding us captive, by the grace of God, we are free. It's a matter of seeing ourselves through the eyes of the God who loves us. And here's the real kicker. In those times when it's all too much, and we fail miserably at loving ourselves, God forgives us even for that.

1 John 4:11 says, "Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another." For myself and other people like me, consider a bit of a twist on the text. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love ourselves.

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