When I visited her in the hospital, she couldn’t look me in the face. She was bowed down with shame. “God is fed up with me,” she whispered. “There’s no way God could forgive me for doing what I did.”
“That’s the way you feel,” I said, “but I’m happy that God views you differently.”
“Differently?” she asked.
“Yes. God focuses on our potential, not on our mistakes and failures.”
“I don’t understand.”
“When I was working in a small town in the South,” I told her, “I saw a little boy running along a dusty path. He fell and skinned his knees. Slowly he picked himself up, took one look at his bloody knees, and headed for one of the tiny row houses nearby. The little fellow was a mess—runny nose, dirt all over his face, and tears tracing muddy canals down his cheeks.
But there, running from the other direction, came his mother. The two met in the middle of the street, and the mother swept her boy into her arms and hugged and kissed him. She straightened his hair with her fingers, then wiped his dirty face and runny nose with her apron. Her first concern was to make her boy feel loved and safe. The dirty face and skinned knees were secondary because she knew what a little soap and water could do.”
“I think I know what you’re trying to say,” Pamela said slowly, “but tell me more.”
“Pamela, you fell all dirty and soiled after many failures and the overdose. You’re ashamed of yourself, but God knows what the apron of His love and forgiveness can do for you. He sees what you can become. His first concern is to take you in His arms and make you feel loved and safe. God sees what you can’t see right now.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“A beautiful person by the name of Pamela,” I smiled.
Tears filled her eyes. “Man, I don’t feel beautiful right now. I really don’t.”
“Thank God, it doesn’t depend on how you feel about yourself right now. It depends on how God feels about you.” I leaned back in my chair.
After a long silence, she looked up. “OK. Where do I go from here?”
“Pamela,” I began slowly, “every morning when you get out of bed, I want you to take a long look at yourself in the mirror—pin curlers, blurry eyes, the whole bit—and say, ‘Pamela, you are a beautiful person because God made you that way.’ ”
She looked at me in disbelief. “You’ve got to be putting me on!”
“No, I’m not putting you on, Pamela; I’m serious. You’re beautiful in God’s sight. You can trust His judgment: If He loves you right now, you can love yourself.” I put my hand on her shoulder and looked into her face. “Try it, Pamela—just for yourself.”
Two days later, she met me in the patient lounge. “Hey, Preach, I looked in the mirror this morning. I liked what I saw. It wasn’t half bad!”
Several months later, I was standing in the TV lounge when an arm slipped around my waist. Before I could turn to see who it was, I heard someone say, “I still like what I see! Thanks, Preach.” Pamela had come to the hospital that day to thank the people who had helped her love herself again.
Work It Out
Loving yourself is not vanity or pride. It’s God’s plan for you. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Again and again, the Bible tells us that we are very precious in God’s sight. In Luke 15, Jesus tells about a woman who lost a silver coin, a shepherd who lost a sheep, and a father who lost a son. Each of them placed great value on what they had lost. In their urgent way, each searched until the lost was found. Then restoration followed.
My favorite part of this chapter describes the emaciated son returning to his father. His clothes reek with the smell of the pigpen. His hair is matted and his body dirty, but the father wraps his robe around those drooping shoulders. He covers the shame of the son with his riches.
You may feel ashamed, just as the prodigal son did. Take heart! When you lift your voice to God and plead, “God, forgive me,” the robes of forgiveness and Jesus’ perfect life cover your shame. Because of Jesus’ attitude toward you, you can love yourself again.
Why Some People Don’t Love Themselves
Living a sinful life isn’t the only reason some people can’t love themselves.
- Trying to live up to the unrealistic expectations that others have of you (and that you have of yourself) can make you feel like a failure all the time.
- Some parents never praise their children. Approval never comes, despite the child’s best efforts.
- Physical affection is withheld from children or a spouse. Words of love are seldom heard, only toxic language. Little wonder that self-esteem takes a nosedive.
- Harsh and frequent punishment produces dispirited and self-hating adults. These feelings can carry over into the next generation in the form of child abuse or spouse abuse.
- Constant rejection and criticism are the breeding ground for a poor self-image.
If you find it challenging to recognize or accept your value as a person, maybe you’d like to use the approach of my 82-year-old friend. When she is having difficulty loving herself, she reads the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then she says to herself, Annie, look at the price God paid to rescue you and restore you. Why you’ve got to be worthwhile. Even if you were the only person in the whole world who needed to be restored, God would have paid the same price.
God Makes You Special
Some religious authors condemn the whole concept of loving yourself. They think it is self-centered. I see it as recognizing and rejoicing in God’s view of our worth. If I love the person God made me to be, then I can value and respect others.
My saddest experience of telling stories to children happened when several foster children sat on the floor in front of me. “I want you to know that you are very important,” I told them. “You are special because God made you special.”
A little girl shook her head in an emphatic no. I paused my story and said, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t special—don’t say that about yourself.”
Years later, I saw that little girl, now a happy teenager. I knew by the look on her face that she loved herself. I was overjoyed.
I invite you to look into the mirror of God’s love and grace. See your reflection in Calvary’s price tag, and you’ll be able to say, “I am a beautiful person. God made me that way.”
Loving yourself makes you a vessel for the aroma of God’s grace. The fragrance of your self-worth perfumes many lives, including your own.
I once read about a woman who bought an old vase at a used furniture store. On the way home, she stopped at another shop and purchased a small bottle of attar of roses. Rather than carry two parcels, she slipped the tiny bottle of fragrance inside her vase. On the way home, she stumbled. In her effort to keep from falling she jarred the vase, and the little bottle inside broke in half. “The aromatic liquid spilled on the inside of the vase. By the time she got home, the liquid had absorbed into the porous vase. She placed it on her mantel over the fireplace, and every guest who visited her home for the next dozen years smelled roses. They enjoyed sitting in her living room, where the fragrance of roses added to the pleasant conversation.
In the same way, God’s incomprehensible love permeates the lives of His children. When we value ourselves, that love is even more powerful as we associate with friends and family.
If you liked this, you might also like My Relationship With Myself | Self-Love: The Importance of Learning to Love Yourself
Larry Yeagley writes from Arkansas.
Sources of Additional Help:
Lewis B. Smedes, Shame and Grace (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1993).
Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning, Self-esteem (Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, 2000).
Nathaniel Brandon, The Power of Self-esteem (Deerfield, Fla.: Health Communications, 1992). ______________________________