(If you’ve stumbled across thist post, let me explain where you are. You have landed smack in the middle of one of my favorite series ever. We started some time ago by learning that God expects us to love ourselves. Now, we’re going through the definition of love in I Corinthians 13:4-7 to help us understand how we can love ourselves in a healthy way so can love others better. Go back to that first post to read the series from the beginning and to find an index of all the posts available. Enjoy today’s post as well.)
Don’t Be Rude, Love Yourself
At first glance, this one seems to be difficult to apply to ourselves. Obviously when we love others we won’t be rude to them. But what does this have to do with how we treat ourselves?
Some translations say love does not behave unseemly or inappropriately. But how does that change our quandary? I really struggled with this until I did some more searching on the web forum I quoted in our very first article. There I learned about one woman who so hated herself that she was looking for love anywhere she could get it. Actually, it wasn’t love. It was her distorted perception of love. She turned to committing sexual immorality with those she described as “dirty OLD men.”
That story could be repeated again and again and again with differing people and different sins. Many times, our sins are simply responses to or attempts to escape from the seemingly overwhelming burden of self-loathing. As we wrongly believe we are worthless, everything that happens to us seems to reinforce that message. Therefore we respond to even minor issues with overwhelming fear, depression, shame, anger. These emotions become chaotic and unbearable so we seek an escape. Along comes our favorite sin to take us out of the reality of our emotions, to numb the feelings. It might be sex, gluttony, drinking alcohol, gambling, drugs, pornography, outbursts of wrath, self-mutilation, or any other number of innappropriate behaviors.
Can you readily see the cyclical dilemma here? Using our sins to numb our feelings may get us out of reality for a few minutes, but once the sin is committed, then we have another reason to see ourselves as worthless. The emotions come back even worse and we need our escape even more strongly. The woman I spoke of above did not feel better about herself, her life, her circumstance after being with those men, she felt worse. But because of the cycle, that only led her to another man, then she felt worse, then another man, then felt worse…
We can break this cycle. We don’t have to behave inappropriately toward ourselves. Instead, we can remember God loves us and therefore love ourselves as He does. We can recognize that the “dirty Old men” don’t love us and we don’t have to give ourselves over to them. Instead, we can put ourselves in God’s hands. We can remember His Son on the cross. We can remember how much He loved us despite all our sins (Romans 5:6-8). We don’t have to view our most recent sins as reasons to run into more sin. Instead, we can view them as reasons to run into God’s loving arms. We can let His love fill us and hold us as we work through the reality of our situation and our feeling.
What are some appropriate behaviors when these feelings come crashing on us and we want to turn to our sins for comfort?
Take your feelings to God. Even if your feelings about God. A touchstone passage about this is Psalm 88. God is able to handle your emotions. Cry in His arms. Yell at Him. Rejoice with Him. Whatever is going on, just tell it to Him. Sin doesn’t have to be your rock. God can be.
2. Reaffirm God’s love for you with Scripture
Plan for this right now. Find Bible passages that express God’s love for you. I used Romans 5:6-8 above. Find some others. Learn where the accounts of Christ’s crucifixion are and read those. Remember that this is His sacrifice for you. Remember John 3:16. I don’t normally advocate messing with the text, but in this instance, I encourage you to quote it this way: “For God so loved the world, with me in it, that He gave His only begotten Son…” Or just, “For God so loved me…” Remind yourself that God did all this even when He knew what you would do and how you feel at this very moment.
3. Reaffirm God’s love for you in your life
One of the greatest tools I’ve learned about in helping me overcome fears and depressions is a gratitude list. We sing a song that encourages us to count our many blessings; actually do that. Why not do this right now? Pull out a sheet of paper and make a list of things you are thankful for. Start small. Come up with a list of 5 things. I bet pretty quickly that list will expand to 10, then 20, then 50. Remember James 1:17. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above…” These blessings are from God because He loves you. Acknowledge Him in all your ways and all your gratitude. Recognizing these blessings are great reminders that God is not picking on you. He loves you. If He loved you like this, you can love yourself right now. You don’t have to turn to your sin.
4. Find a friend who will love you healthfully
Perhaps the easiest way to experience God’s love is to experience it in relationship with one of God’s children. I once read that we will likely never accept ourselves until we experience the loving acceptance of who we are from someone else. Find that someone. Find someone you can share everything with who will still love you without shaming you or taking advantage of you. I know this seems a tall order, but there are people like this out there. There are friends who stick closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Some caveats on this. If your friend spends more time lecturing you about how you shouldn’t feel that way, find a different confidante. If your friend wants to take this intimacy to a physical level, find a different confidante (obviously, I’m not talking about hugging and shoulder crying). If your friend shares your secrets, find a different confidante. Find someone who will respect healthy boundaries, who will realize you are opening up because you want to do right, who humbling recognizes their own sinfulness and lack of ability to sit in judgment over you.
5. Sit in your feelings
This is hard. But instead of trying to escape your feelings, sit in them. It isn’t wrong to hurt, be sad, be angry, feel guilt and shame. These are all part of our lives. Instead of thinking you need to mask them, let them be. I know you probably can’t imagine this, but the feelings will pass if you let them run their course. We think that is not the case because they have lingered for so long. The issue is when we repress our feelings or try to escape our feelings, they actually just sit back and wait for an opportune time to come back. However, when we sit in them and figure out how to express them appropriately, they dissipate. Let me offer you a warning if you have continually and repeatedly turned to sins to numb these feelings. When you first try to sit in them they will seem infinitely worse than they ever have before. You’ve been numbing those pains like a surgery patient with a morphine pump. Take the pump away and the pain is amplified. Trust me, this will go away.
6. Identify the feeling and formulate a response
If you have repeatedly turned to sins to escape these feelings, you may not even be aware that you are feeling or what your feeling is. But one of the most appropriate things you can do is identify what is really going on in your heart. The eight core feelings are: gladness, sadness, hurt, anger, fear, shame, guilt, loneliness. Can you pinpoint one of those? Then ask yourself why you are feeling that way? Go beyond just, “So and so said such and such to me.” Ask yourself why their saying that is causing the emotion. For instance, you might say, “My boss didn’t approve my budget proposal for the coming year. He cut out several key parts saying they were frivolous and I should have known better.” But why is that causing you to feel hurt and sadness (if those are your feelings)? You might figure out, “This makes me feel hurt and sad because I believe I have to please everyone all the time to be a worthwhile person.” Now you’ve pinpointed something. You have a faulty belief. You don’t have to please everyone all the time to be a worthwhile person. God loves you just the way you are. God thought you were so worthwhile even though He knew you wouldn’t please your boss with this budget proposal that He sent Jesus to die for you anyway. You don’t need your boss’s approval to be worthwhile. Your appropriate response is to retool your belief about yourself and your relationships.
Or you may discover that you are angry because you saw your boss’s tone of voice and word choice as condescending, disrespectful, even hateful. How can you respond to that? Maybe you can recognize that this tone is your boss’s problem and not yours. Hateful people are so because of their own inner pain. They are trying to compensate for some weakness they see in themselves. Perhaps a good response for you is to feel compassion and sympathy for your boss’s pain and pray for him to find comfort in God for that pain. Or you may decide you need to express to your boss how that tone impacts you and establish a boundary. “Mr. Boss, I am very happy for the opportunity I have to work with you and for this company, but something has been bothering me and I think it will negatively impact my performance and production for you if I don’t talk to you about it. When would be a good time for us to talk about that?…When you critique me and use words like ‘frivolous’ and claim ‘I should have known better,’ that seems to be a condescending judgment against my motives. I want what is best for our company. This makes me fear for my job and question whether or not you approve of me working here…” Or that last sentence may have been about boundaries, “When you speak to me in that tone it seems to me that you are treating me more like a servant than an employee as if you are questioning my very worth as a worker in this company. I definitely want to hear what will help me be a better employee for you, but I’d like to have a boundary that says we both speak to each other with respect, even when we disagree with each other.”
Okay, this section is getting long and we could go on and on with numerous variables. But I hope you see the point. When you press pause, examine what you are feeling and why, then formulate an appropriate response, you’ll be amazed to see that you didn’t need the sin to deal with this at all.
The point is you do have healthy options. You don’t have to behave rudely to yourself (and you don’t have to put up with rude behavior from others). You don’t have to be inappropriate with yourself (and you don’t have to put up with inappropriate behavior from others). You don’t have to turn to your sin. Turn to God. Turn to His love. Let His love fill you. Love yourself as He loves you. Then you will be free to love others.
God loves you today. Love yourself today.
(Remember to come back next Monday and we’ll learn that love does not insist on its own way.)