Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39) we are told. This is the second greatest commandment. What does loving yourself look like? The answer lies in the first (Matthew 22:37), “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
I realized very quickly that I could not love myself by my own strength. I needed to look beyond myself and my neighbors. My journey towards self-acceptance began in a dark place during my adolescent years.
I was bullied for being short, quiet and more plain-looking than the other kids. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up so I didn’t have the newest, most up-to-date clothes and technology that it seemed everyone else had. You know what they say– “the kids in middle school can be so cruel!” But what was more cruel were the things that I heard in the silence of my own thoughts. I was that 13-year-old girl who buried herself between the pages of Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was a heartbreaking way of coping with the teen angst–you knew that most kids had to endure and attempt to master the awful art of fitting in, yet you felt like nobody could possibly have it worse than you.
The older I got, the more and more I disliked who I was, outside and inside. I was achingly awkward and always treated as a doormat among my “friend” group. I was the last and the least among my peers. I stayed up at night wishing that I could wake up one day and be a completely different person. I didn’t understand why God had made me this way, especially feeling like the fact that I didn’t look like my peers was a punishment of sorts. I hoped and prayed that one day I would get my turn as the heroic female lead. That I would be feminine enough. That I would be strong-willed and fearless. That someday someone else would love me.
At 17 years old I entered into a relationship with someone who showed me that love was…conditional. That loving someone meant you had to compromise your dignity. The idea that “if you give me what I want, or if you measure up, then I’ll love you.” Sadly, I am one of many girls who share this experience of attaining love, whether it be from a boyfriend, friend, or family member.
Because I was young and this relationship was not Christ-centred, I had no idea how to love someone else. I had lost my self-respect, settling for giving my all to someone else in order to prove myself useful and worthy. Sometimes I wonder why God didn’t wake me up from this bad dream. Why didn’t he reveal himself to me as, putting it lightly, the man I had been searching for all my life.
All this time I was looking to be noticed by God, He was really waiting for me to notice Him first. My insecurities broke me from the inside, enough for God to find His way in. He didn’t embrace me like a heavy storm, but like a soft, gentle rainfall. Often, only through tears did I see Him.
I truly believe that these painful growing experiences really do show you what you are made of. Our brokenness is an offering that brings us closer to God, and ultimately who we are meant to be (Psalm 51:17). It’s like starting life from taking your first steps, finding out which things are stable enough to hold onto, versus the things that falter when you lean on them. I think we often end up choosing the weaker, more unsteady foundations. Like that child, what we need is someone to take our hand and carry us. We are lost sheep, in need of guidance. (Isaiah 40:10-11).
Today, I still have times when I don’t love who I am. Loving myself was never about seeing myself as a new person healed from all the hurts of the past. Loving God showed me that my brokenness had a purpose. It’s about seeing yourself as God sees you, even with the cuts and bruises of our sin. What does loving yourself look like? It looks like mercy. Our journey towards holiness is learning how to love as the Father loves. This doesn’t mean we will be able to love perfectly, but we know that we aren’t able to love ourselves fully without knowing and loving God first.