Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Examining Self-love

I wrote the following in response to a friend's comments on being taught in a church that we need to love ourselves before we can love others. She described how she felt rather creepy about this, saying that we already love ourselves too much and need to love others more. I think there's more to the story than that. This is far from complete, however.

I'd like you to reconsider self-love. I know the idea leaves a bad taste
in the mouth, but that's because it has been warped and over-emphasized to
the point of causing an instant nausea.

There is some truth to it. We're taught a lot about love but what we
learn has very little to do with the real thing. If you take God's love as
the standard then nearly everything people associate with love is wrong.
Intentionally so: how better for Satan to keep people from understanding
God than by warping our ideas of God's essence?

So... how many people have you known who, as soon as they do something
they perceive as wrong, start beating themselves up? "There is no judgement
for those who are in Christ Jesus." Self-love, I think, is just an
appropriate response to how God loves us. He has given us a very clear
statement on how much he values us. And yet a lot of us barely tolerate our
own presence. Some actively hate ourselves. We wtill wash the hair and go
to work and do the basic maintenance, but we're dying inside.

God gives us the choice. We can take his love and run away and hide, on
the assumption that it's like human love that changes with the weather. We
can accept it but still be hard-bitten and ascetic. Or we can simply throw
ourselves into Him, let his constant rain of love wash and erode the old
hard structures until we learn that we truly are valued. For some of us
this takes some time. Eventually I believe that if we just keep following
Jesus and listening to the Holy Spirit, we'll get so full of love that
it'll start slopping over. But some of us are very dry. Takes a lot of love
to reanimate a 52-year-old man who's never seen it before.

"Love your neighbor as yourself." This gets used as justification for
that syrupy stuck-in-mud kind of human love that's modelled after
somebody's idea of what God is like. The truth is that some of us do simply
hate ourselves. If I'd had the guts I'd have terminated my life years ago.
Tired of argument. The truth is much deeper. We are to love our
neighbors... but this doesn't mean we have to let them run amock and lay
waste the land. There are boundaries. Love is an essential part of building
boundaries: empathy, walking in others' shoes, identifying with their
troubles. It takes strength to make the right kind of boundaries, and
strength to love, and the only source of that kind of strength I know of is
God Himself.

Many people take a small idea of God and His love, and make that into the
whole thing. I believe the whole is much richer than we've been led to
believe. I believe that God teaches us to love ourselves through the
process of living with Him, and he has the audacity and faith in us to
assume that we'll stay with him for the whole rest of our lives. He's
willing to invest a lot in us because, eventually, we'll just start
throwing off sparks that we can't help. Shine like a beacon that even 28
baskets can't hide.

Now, I can't attest to the accuracy of my ideas, but they feel right and
square with my experience, that written up in some books, and other
sources. It's just like sand sculpture: make a plan, start it, if it fails
start over. (g) Better to fail with God than succeed anywhere else. At
least I know he loves me.
--Larry 2004 August 23

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