“Forgive yourself.” “Be kind to yourself.” “Love yourself.” And a common one I’ve often been guilty of in encouraging people: “Be gentle with yourself.” All well-meaning turns of phrase, but utterly empty in spiritual usefulness; the equivalent of high-GI sugary fast food.
Self-love is everywhere these days, not least in social media; even among those confessing faith in Jesus. Ever present throughout humanity, as much a part of our predilection to sin, in this day it’s inescapable and it permeates even (especially) the church, which should be well saved from a God-bypassing ‘love’.
Little wonder it does not work.
But, alas, we are human beings! We’re destined to try to fix ourselves! Why not add a little of our own pitiful strength to ourselves in our weakness?
Why not? Because, it does not work…
It’s in our weakness we are compelled to add more weakness in the vain hope it will make us strong. But strength only comes when we are honest with God about our need for God. Love cannot and does not come from ourselves for ourselves.
This age has sucked us in. Others do it so it gives us permission to sin a little. Whether it is grandiose self-absorption, social-media-worthy photos, family and other celebratory reveals (which present the image we’re superiourly blessed, which creates envy in others), or flaunting religious favour itself, matters little – celebrity is a common idolatry to engage in, celebrities are demigods, we are all fans of someone or some-thing, and it’s all a road to nowhere dressed up as heaven, and when so, utterly devoid of God.
All roads to nowhere are a journey to confusion and spiritual frustration because we strive for a meaning that can neither satisfy nor be mastered. And the worst of it all is the practice of a bold self-assurance that isn’t aware or does not care to change.
But… if we strive for the right thing, the best thing, the counter-intuitive thing, we will be satisfied.
There is a love that works!
I understand why the world is swept up in a romance over self-love. It seems so common sensical.
Why do we go for it? Simple. It’s the opposite direction to self-hate, which is literally sweeping the world in waves to the devil’s delight. Self-love is no match for those voices of self-loathing we all hear emanating from within ourselves from time to time. (Okay, it’s only those who will admit it.)
Self-love might fix the immediate craving, like a cigarette for a nicotine hit. But soon enough, that empty reality impresses itself again upon our consciousness. That existential grind! It won’t go away. We cannot fix this. There is a hole in us that is filled but one way.
There is one way of combatting this self-loathing that binds itself to our mind.
There is a way, but it isn’t what we expect. There is only one love that can help.
A love beyond every vain idol we would otherwise cling to.
It is first necessary to mention why self-love is ludicrous. How can a person who battles with self-loathing address it in and of themselves when they cannot control that self-loathing voice within themselves?
Self-love is used as an attempt to control something we have no control over.
We do not want to admit to ourselves that we’re out of control, or that we cannot control every iota of our lives. If we’re honest, that’s a scary thought. And we do not naturally want to give our remaining control over to God, which faith requires, which is trust, when we prefer self-reliance or other-reliance. Shudder the thought, many do think, to give whatever power we have to God!
But the supremacy of love exists in letting go of that which can only harm us.
We must trust ourselves to this love that is found only in allowing ourselves to be loved. Self-love cannot ever be a form of belovedness.
What a cosmic paradox it is: we must let go of our self-love to grasp how beloved we are.
The very use we make of self-love suggests we’re in denial. Self-love is used to combat its opposite. The use of self-love suggests we need it, because we engage in self-loathing. And because we engage in self-loathing, we must now agree that self-love is a journey in futility. It cannot work, because it comes from within us who engage in self-loathing. Follow the logic?
We can’t be loved by someone who loathes us.
If the love we love ourselves with is partly hate we truly don’t believe such a love really is love.
Somehow, deep down inside each one of us, we feel we’re unworthy of unconditional love. God must prove to us we are love-worthy. God did this on the cross.
We need a love that is external to us; that which is sourced beyond what our own resources can create.
A love that comes from within too often doubts its own sincerity.
And a broken love, a love from within brokenness itself, is destined to fail us most when we are feeling most broken.
The love we need is the love that is perfectly unconditional and eternally available – the truest, surest love known, which is also the only true and sure love. But this love is also commonest for rejection. We reject it because, again, we hate relying on what is external to us, and we think that trusting it is hard or ridiculous. It doesn’t feel safe. It feels like too much of a sacrifice.
External reliance is the relinquishment of control. We cannot control God, but we also cannot control life. And we cannot experience God’s love without letting go. Yet, it’s the best risk we can ever take. This wholly trustworthy love is 30, 60, 100-fold better than any love we can pretend to bestow on ourselves.
Self-love is a road to nowhere, but God’s unconditional love
is paved like a golden highway to the blood-drenched cross of Jesus Christ, and never apart from it.
To confess our poverty of spirit, to be emptied of our pride and sin, is to bear our cross with Christ, in identification with Jesus, trusting God knows best; and in this, the Holy Spirit fills us with the Father’s love, to the ends of peace, hope and joy.
The cross is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To know it is to know love; how God came down to raise us up; the bewildering depths of love in grace that forgives our guilt and sets us free to live as if we were already in heaven.