“I just cannot love parts of myself.”
A friend and I were talking about her struggles with depression. She openly spoke of the parts of herself that she hated. She just felt that those parts of her were unlovable. At the same time, she knew that she wasn’t unlovable objectively and that it was all in her mind. This disconnect, however, did not change her feelings about herself. She just kept hating herself.
She is not the only one. I came home that day and asked myself what I hated about myself. There is a growing list. Believe me. There are so many things about me that I hate. These things that I hate come up most clearly when I feel a specific way about myself: when I love myself a lot.
I love myself so much that I hate myself.
It’s like this. I truly love chai, Indian tea. However, every so often, I have a cup of chai that is just awful! I don’t know what went wrong in making the tea but it just doesn’t live up to my expectations of something that I loved so much! So, I hate that tea more than I would hate any other drink that I would taste.
I find the same to be true about my love for myself. Many times I find that I am impressed by myself. I see some achievement, no matter how small, and think I must be pretty amazing. Ultimately, this love turns into hate once I mess up. And, let’s be honest. We all mess up way too often. So, what do we do then?
The answer is not to hate ourselves. If we were to hate, we would be back in the loop of hating then loving and then hating again. It’s not enough just to “love ourselves” though. We must do more.
If we shift our focus from ourselves to God, then and only then can we love ourselves truly. Not in an idolatrous way but in one filled with understanding of the deep love of the great God of the universe for us.
1. We can give up our images
A picture is worth a thousand words. In one shot, a picture seemingly shows you everything. However, here is the problem. The picture isn’t always right. We don’t get the “whole picture” from any picture. A picture only shows us what the artist wants us to see.
That is exactly the same as what happens with images. We all have an image of ourselves that we see and want others to see. We want to be viewed in some specific way depending on how we present ourselves. Maybe as the funny one. Or the smart one. Or the humble one. Whatever it is, this image is the one we often let dictate our lives.
We do what the image necessitates that we do. We think, act, and speak as the image dictates all with the hopes that we can somehow become the image ourselves. We worship these images. Sound familiar? Yes, these images are our idols.
When we hear about idols in the Bible, they are often called images or graven images. There is a reason for this. We have a tendency to let what we aim for be confined to what we can see or understand. Life is easy that way because we are still greater than what we worship. We are in control of what image is made by our minds and by our hands. We are ultimately just crazy control freaks.
Then imagine the Being. Over all things. In all things. The God. The King. The Lord. Our Father. Our Savior. Our advocate.
Everything changes. If we truly grasp His greatness, then the images must be burned. Not just because He tells us so. But also because He consumes our lives so everything that we do it think is only for Him. We are freed by the great God who has reached down to us.
2. We are loved as Hosea loved Gomer.
One of my favorite illustrations from the Bible is from the book of Hosea. God tells Hosea to marry Gomer, a woman who comes from a dark past. He follows God and marries her. She is unfaithful to Him and continues to go back to her old lovers who continually mistreat her. Hosea forgives her multiple times but she continues to go back to their cheap gifts. Finally, when she loses everything, Hosea again goes to her and they are united.
It is a beautiful picture. Not because it is happy. But because it is so true. I am loved by God. However, I chase after the lame things in the world that I think will satisfy me. In the end, I am left with nothing. God still somehow loves me through Christ and forgives me.
How can we hate ourselves? God, the Creator of the world, loves us that much. He is the Creator, Ruler, and Savior. And yet, He somehow loves me and you. How can we love ourselves? He is more than us and we are the ones running after minuscule things. So, we don’t hate or love ourselves. We must learn to slowly love this God who is in the process of redeeming us.
3. We are freed to love others and ourselves
So, we are broken but loved. The crazy images we build for ourselves that are filled with love sometimes and hate at other times are burnt. Now, we are free. Free to love. Not the way that we do but the way that God wants us to.
God tells us to love Him first and then to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is because God knows that we love ourselves selfishly as we go through the loving-hating cycle. He doesn’t want us to continue to love ourselves that way though. He wants us to be loved by Him. Beloved. That’s who we are to Him.
He then wants us to stop loving ourselves in that self-centered way that we used to and begin loving those around us. This love is only possible as we embrace our freedom that is only found in Christ. Then, we can stop being selfish, stop being vain, and love truly.
It isn’t easy. We don’t get it in a second. It takes a lifetime. However, we are now empowered to not love or hate ourselves. We are now freed to be loved and to love freely.