Learning How to Love Myself
By Sarah Hardy
November 30, 1999
I think I met someone special. He made me laugh and caused me to float home on clouds fit for a princess more than once. He challenged me and even introduced me to the ideas of honesty and courage when it came to navigating the muddy and turbulent waters of relationships (You see, I had this idea in the past that honest communication was overrated…). And last but not least, he taught me about love.
Soon after I met him, God impressed 1 Corinthians 13 on my heart and it became my mission in life to conquer the noble actions this chapter described. I hoped that through repetition, the words of patience and perseverance might somehow sink into my mind and that this newly absorbed knowledge would help me to love him perfectly.
True to my overachieving personality, I really wanted to set the standard for what it meant to have patience, love and forgiving compassion in our relationship; I wanted to be the perfect one. But jealousy, insecurity and skepticism snuck in while I was too busy standing guard against any actions that would discredit my image as the perfect girlfriend.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize my mistake until it was too late. I had good intentions, but my do-it-yourself attitude caused me to miss the entire point. While I was concentrating so hard on trying to love him by the book, I was ignoring the core issue of my struggle. For my entire life, I had refused to learn how to love myself or allow myself to accept love from others.
Then, I had the worst revelation of all: my prideful desire to love him perfectly had prevented me from truly loving him in the first place. Apparently, love could not be boiled down to a simple formula, and I couldn’t pull off the image of someone who had this whole love and forgiveness thing conquered. The thought had never entered my mind that maybe this verse was meant to show me how to love myself.
I will admit that I was a typical church kid from the time I was in diapers. Because my family moved around a lot, we spent a lot of time at different churches. My Sunday School teachers taught me endless lessons with colorful felt figures about how important it was to love and serve your neighbors, how all of the children surrounding me were unique and it was the noblest goal to strive to listen to others, to serve them and to love them.
But the Church never told me that I was worth being loved. When the Church said that God loved me, it was expressed in a way that made me believe that God was always frustrated and ready to give up on me because I just didn’t “get it.” I just couldn’t conquer my fears and doubts, and therefore God loved me because He had to, not because He always wanted to. And spending time learning how to love myself was out of the question; that was selfish and I needed to be out serving others. How ironic that hundreds of church services later, I just couldn’t love myself or even like who I was. After all, somehow that felt selfish.
So instead, I judged my worth by all of my leadership positions, how low my weight could go, or how many times my cell phone rang with people wanting my company. I continued to maintain the image of the perfect Christian girl, all the while feeling that my true self was so unworthy, and so…unloved.
Fast forward a few months, and I’m sitting in a silent living room, feeling so lost and alone as my relationship (and my heart) is falling apart. As I stared into his eyes, I was shocked to see them full of hurt because I just couldn’t give him my trust or allow him into my heart; the truth was because I feared he wouldn’t like what he found. After all, I carried the burdens of guilt and fear from years of legalism. I felt caught and backed into a corner having lost all delusions of control. The image of the perfect girl I had labored so hard to construct was gone; only my tears and hurt helplessness remained. I never thought that in working so hard to protect myself, I was only hurting him further. And in working so hard to love everyone but myself, I wasn’t even capable of truly loving in the first place.
Revelations continue to come, as I realize that I have refused to accept God’s love and grace for so long now that I don’t know any other way of living. I realize that if I long for true intimacy, it will be messy and I will have to tear down my pride, be truly vulnerable, and know that I can survive heartbreak. These may seem like elementary concepts to some people, but for me, these are new revelations that come with taking a step toward living in the freedom of grace. It’s terrifying to come face to face with all facets of myself; even the deep dark secrets I have swept under the rug for years.
Because if I do, I have two choices: to sink deeper into a depression of guilt and defeat, or to lift my heavy head to the light, hold out my weary hand and accept the grace I always believed I was too good for. Maybe the very core of my being really is worth loving simply because God has called me Beloved. After all, if I can’t love myself, how can I even attempt to love someone else?
I’m learning as I stumble through this life, and I hope to have a second chance one day to love someone and to let them love me in return. And maybe God will grant that desire because, as I’m slowly learning, love is about grace and second chances.
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