Friday, April 3, 2015

On learning the art of self love (#fmf)

A friend wrote this week about the hardness, the goodness, of remembering where we've been.

I want to remember - and I don’t - the feeling of my own frailty when I held my leg in my hands as if it were the torn wing of a butterfly. As if it were somehow detached from my body. I held it lightly and struggled under the weight of its brokenness.

It was almost three years ago. I had just returned home from the doctor. The visit where my cast was cut apart, after more than a month of seeing my leg post surgery, and I came home with a walking boot I wasn’t allowed to walk in yet. No, walking wouldn’t come for another three months, and that, ever so slowly, like a baby. I came home, gathered courage and strength to shower, and sat cradling my leg as tears spilled down.

I’d never felt or seen myself so fragile.

I didn’t know it then, but this was the beginning of a gradual journey I'm on toward loving myself. All my life, I’d been primed to offer compassion and love to others; I really had no foundation for how to extend the same kindness to myself.

* * * * *

Christian culture, in general, is very good at preaching (though not always acting on) love for others. The Greatest Commandment has been summed up in this, many a time: "Love God first. Love others."  All good things, except it completely cuts out the last phrase of the commandment: as you love yourself. We love ourselves too much, this is the message I’ve heard taught and written and spoken in a million different versions. Self love is the root of pride, the root of most sins, after all (or so I've been told), and so we’re never taught it. Or, at best, we hear the last words of the commandment mumbled quickly, as if to say, Don’t linger here. It’s dangerous ground. 

But how can we have made it this far cutting off the legs of the vehicle through which we know love and learn how to love others, modifying Jesus’ words into something we think he meant?

How are we to love others if we do not know how, have not even received permission, to love ourselves? How have we so confused selfishness with having a self?

I don't know. But I can say, it is no easy task unlearning a lifetime of teachings.

I know we cannot cut ourselves out of the picture and say, “Well, God is love. We love others with God’s love, not our own.” We don’t need a self, in essence, we say. God is all we need to love.

And I say, we have strangled and buried our selves for far too long in the soil of this dangerous ground.  

Love must start here, in our own skin, and permeate from the inside out.

* * * *

On my walk from work to my weekly counseling appointment this week, nerves gnawed at my stomach. I knew a hard session awaited me, for I’d felt it growing the past few days, pushing up below the surface. I dreaded the spilling of pain and longed for the safe outlet for it, all in one. And I wished for a close friend walking beside me, walking me there.

But then I realized, I have everything I need to be that friend to myself.

So I imagined myself, walking alongside me. An arm laced through my arm, tucking in close in solidarity, not saying much. Not saying everything was going to be ok. Not changing the subject. Not berating me for being consumed in the pain of all that’s been pressing in, for feeling weary and overwhelmed and withdrawn . Just walking, gently telling me to breathe deep. Reminding me I can do hard things, that we’ll get through this one step at a time, that I'm brave.

I walked myself to the office and sat down, breathing deep, trying to wrap myself in compassion. And I got through the appointment, breath by breath.

When I stepped on a crowded bus with headphones in my ears after my appointment, holding onto a rail to keep from swaying too far, my eyes were shot through with the same look I often have when I catch the bus home from this appointment. The whites a hazy red. My emotions raw and spent.

I nearly hopped off the bus as it crawled through downtown traffic, wishing for a corner to hide in instead of this group of strangers, as the music swelled their notes of peace in my ears. It was almost my undoing, right there on the bus. Until I had the sense of - Jesus - hanging onto the rail opposite me. He wasn’t there physically, of course, but in my mind he was. I imagined him traveling home with me, not saying a word, his presence saying all I needed to hear.

And it said something like this: We’re ok, you and I. We’re on this journey together, and I’m not going anywhere you aren’t.

I nudged myself to awareness, Did you hear that? Hold onto this, Self. This is good.

And so I stayed on that bus, receiving great compassion from God, from me, until we made it all the way home.

Joining Kate and the Five-minute Friday community with so much more than five minutes worth of reflection on today's word, "Good."


  1. We talked about that verse in our Bible study this year and I shared a piece of my heart that I hadn't share for awhile. I questioned how one knows to love others when has such hatred for self...and its there. I'm steeped in self loathing and do strive to love others but can't begin to love others as I love myself because there isn't anything in the well to draw on. my friend said that as she prayed for me she had a vision of God holding me lovely in His nail scarred hand and me fighting to get our of his embrace because I just didn't want to spend. another minute in that love

    1. Oh friend. That is some hard and sacred ground to come into that awareness. I know what you speak of here - "there isn't anything in the well to draw on." Yes, how I know this, too. And I know the fighting, the squirming, in the presence of that love. May you have great compassion, truly, for yourself in that fighting, as Jesus does ... for as more healing comes to those deep places, the easier it will get, I think, to gradually rest in the embrace. Thank you for this offering tonight, of your words.

  2. Yes, I find it so hard to love myself, because I know my every flaw and weakness. I loved this post and viepourcettetemp comment so encouraging. Here is to really soaking in God's love for us, and really grasping how wide and deep his love is for each of us. "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10

    1. Yes, that is the challenge, isn't it? We know those flawed places so well; and yet we rarely see them through clear eyes of love and compassion. As God does. I'm grateful this post and the comment above spoke to you. And yes, may we grasp more of the (limitless) dimensions of God's love.

  3. That's a lot of deep thinking for five minutes.... I want to hear more of this story.

    1. Oh goodness. This was certainly not a five minute post. The story is still rough and messy in its unfolding, but I hope to tell it more with time. Thank you for being here, Jody.

  4. yes, yes and yes. How did we miss the second half. You are learning this a lot younger than I am, but i get it. i do.

  5. This is beautiful, Amber - love of self is no easy lesson. And thanks so much for the shout out!

  6. Beautiful post and challenge! We need to cultivate that love for ourselves and others. Thanks for sharing!