I spent most of my life not having confidence, feeling like I wasn't good enough, and not loving myself. The way I learned this was subtle. It wasn't usually someone just outright declaring how awful I was. It was little quips here and there. It was me making a mistake and being shown no grace for it, as if I had to be some extra-human person who never made mistakes. It was being rejected by those who should have loved me, never being good enough no matter what I did. It was doing something good and it being shrugged off as if it was nothing.
I eventually learned that if I wanted love, I had to work for it. I learned that I was liked when I did what others wanted and I wasn't liked when I didn't. So, I learned that I needed to work hard at doing whatever it was that everyone else wanted me to do so that I could earn their love.
I settled for meager, rationed, withheld types of love. I settled for attention over affection. I would take attention from anyone who would give it to me because at least it was something. I settled over and over again. I sold myself short, because I was afraid that it was all I could get. I chose to have fake love over no love at all.
Even inside church, it was all I heard. I was a wretched sinner and I would never be good enough. I deserved to burn in hell. And while that is true for all of us, I never got to hear the rest of that story, that for it is by grace that you are saved through faith, not of works, lest anyone should boast. I never got to hear how God loved me so much that He sent his only son to die for my sins, or that Jesus loved me so much that he laid down his life for me, at least not in the context of how I was redeemed and made spotless and worthy by the blood of the Lamb.
I spent so many years of my life thinking I was worthless and so I tried so hard to be good enough. I based my entire worth on my production until I was completely exhausted and spent before I was even thirty years old. I eventually realized that I was shooting for an unreachable goal and killing myself in the process.
But because of God, that all started changing when my kids were born. God truly knew what I needed when he sent me my boys. It took time. It wasn't immediate by any means. In fact, I spent most of my twenties and thirties (so far) continuing to learn and grow into myself.
But here I was, 26 years old, with these two little boys and I felt like I was failing them every single day and messing up with them constantly, and yet, they loved me, and it wasn't the kind of love I was used to. It wasn't self serving or half-hearted. It was so honest and pure. It was love so deep it hurt. It was real. It was the most real love I had ever experienced in my life, and it shook me to my core because I didn't know love like that existed until then. I had stopped believing it existed, until they came along. I didn't feel worthy of this kind of love, yet they kept loving me anyway, and that lit a tiny flame of doubt against the self loathing that I felt. Maybe, if my kids thought I was worth loving that way, just maybe there was some truth to it.
It wasn't until I knew the love of my children that I was finally able to understand the love of God. That was when I truly started understanding that I wasn't worthless or hopeless. But it wasn't some ground shaking revelation for me, but something I nurtured and grew within me slowly for years. I didn't wake up one day and it hit me. It grew like a flower would grow from a tiny seed.
There has been this negative backlash about self love lately, and I understand why. Self love is often thought of along the lines of ego or pride. As Christians, we are called to die to ourselves and we are told that we are sinners who fall short of God's glory, and that through the First Adam, we were all made sinners. But when we finish that verse, it is SO much more than that. By the First Adam's disobedience we were all made sinners, but by the obedience of the Second Adam, we were all made righteous. When you read through scripture, it is so uplifting and encouraging. It doesn't tear us down for being sinners. It's realistic in reminding us that yes, we are all sons and daughters of Adam, but we are also sons and daughters of the King of Kings! The Bible tells us that God knit each of us together in our Mother's womb. So, how could we possibly have a disdain for anything created by God's own hand and made in His own image, even ourselves? If Jesus loves me, then surely I am loveable. If His works are wonderful and I am His workmanship created in Christ Jesus, and if I hate myself, then I am hating the works of God.
Self love is about believing so much so that you were worthy of dignity and respect that you can hold comfortable boundaries with others. It's not about demanding or raging to get your way, but knowing what you expect and being okay with what happens when you stand firm in it.
It's not pridefully saying no or puffing up when you don't get your way. It's about not backing down because you're afraid someone may not like you if you don't. It's standing your ground on non-negotiables like your dignity and never letting someone take it from you. It's not letting the fear of rejection make you accept less than what you deserve.
It's about believing that you are a sinner, but finishing that sentence to say that you are a sinner saved by grace, and that Jesus thought that you were worth dying for. It's about knowing what Jesus loves, which is you, and loving it too.
Self love is protecting your own heart and your own mind and your own soul in the way that you would fiercely protect someone that you love.
Self love doesn't point out the sin in others while not noticing it in yourself. It's seeing it in others and yourself and working to rise above it and to pull others up with you. True self love does not harm others in the wake of its own actions. True self love is uplifting and empowering, not conceited or demeaning. Self love is the bullseye right in the middle, between narcissism and self loathing. It is neither narcissism or self loathing, but a simple understanding of who you are. Self love is the recognition of what Jesus died for and redeemed.