Last week I wrote about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly and without our parents’ and our culture’s overlay. This week’s post is about how hard it is to feel, to accept God’s love for us in every cell in our body. We can “know” in our minds that God loves us and not feel it at all.
I am convinced that the hardest part of the spiritual journey in Christ is to love oneself. As I wrote last week, the lens through which we view ourselves is stained with a negative view of ourselves which we adopted as young children from our families and our culture. And we view everything through this very limited, cloudy lens. Even though Jesus promotes God as the God of love who loves and forgives us once we turn back to Him, we cannot accept that love because we do not feel lovable, even by God.
We cannot accept God’s love because everything in us is rejecting ourselves as we are. So when Jesus says, in The Message translation of the Two Great Commandments, “Love others as well as you love yourself,” it’s almost impossible for us to love ourselves, even when we know in our minds that God loves us. Take the errant son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He comes home after wasting away all of his inheritance expecting to be a servant in his father’s house. At least he’ll be home even if he has to feed the pigs at home, too. He is not expecting anything from his father because of all that he has done wrong.
But the father surprises him; he welcomes him home; he has been watching for and awaiting his return; he celebrates his return by killing the fatted calf. And most surprising of all, he restores him to his rightful place in the family.
The problem for us and the errant son is this: how can he even accept this warm and gracious welcome, given how sinfully he views himself for wasting away all that he was given. Even the other son, the “good” son, cannot feel his father’s love; he’s done everything expected of him and yet has never felt his father’s love for him. Both sons do not believe that the father could love him. The father tells the second son when he complains that he never got a fatted calf or anything else from his father, his father says that all this was his all along. But the 2nd son couldn’t see the love either.
Until we can love ourselves, just as we are, warts and all, I think we won’t be able to take in God’s love for us. Knowing in our minds that God loves us doesn’t translate to feeling that love. It takes, at first, an act of will—if God can love me, surely I can love myself. And as we practice this loving glance at ourselves, it will get easier and easier to feel God’s love. We look at what we suffered and its effect on us with loving eyes; we look at our own self-image and see the source of each element, again with loving eyes.
To be loved without pushing the love away is the great gift of being a disciple of Christ. No matter what we’ve done or said or no matter what was done to us, we are still all made in God’s image. We are His children; we are loved and forgiven by Him. This is the real benefit of loving God. As Jesus said, loving God with all of ourselves comes first. That is, loving him with our doubts and fears, our pain and suffering, our good points and bad, as well as our hearts and minds and souls and bodies. We may think that we love God with all of ourselves, but if we are not accepting His love for us, aren’t we holding something, maybe a lot of ourselves, back?
Still, like Paul, we can rejoice in our weakness, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul had prayed to have the thorn in his flesh removed, but Christ replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We do not have to be perfect to be loved. God can use us just as we are, when we are following Him. Every bit of pain and suffering we go through is designed to make us stronger and to have more to give back to God. So don’t resist the harder times. Don’t take them as a judgment on you. They are just a part of the school of learning here on this earth that would teach us how to love, how to accept God’s love, how to surrender our lives to Him, how to live fully.
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I able to love myself, or do I push any love away? Do I forgive what needs to be forgiven in me? Can I accept God’s forgiveness and love for me? Can I feel it throughout my body and psyche? Will I ask God’s help in loving myself? How can I love anyone else if I can’t love myself and feel God’s love for me?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who love ourselves as we are, warts and all. May we forgive ourselves and others for the pain we’ve endured. May we feel, really feel God’s love for us.
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Check out my other website, deepeningyourfaith.com, for information about spiritual practices and more writings about the spiritual life. New posts 2x a month. July 5th is titled “Come and find the quiet center.”
 Luke 15:11-32
 Matthew 22:37-40
 Luke 15:11-32
 2 Corinthians 12:10
 2 Corinthians 12:9