When Jesus sums up the commandments of what it means to follow him, he says it like this “Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself.” While this is a very simple statement, it’s a very loaded one as well. For Jesus, loving God was built upon loving your neighbor (after all, most of the commandments are socially and relationally driven). But, loving your neighbor was predicated by loving yourself. This is at the heart of why I believe Christianity has a bad name, why spiritual growth is so minimal and people cannot receive the love of God (because they find themselves unlovable). If we cannot love ourselves, then we cannot love our neighbor. And, if we cannot love our neighbor then things like forgiveness, community and other social implications are not possible. This remains the torture of the individual because they cannot stand either the presence of themselves or the community. The great Henri Nouwen puts it like this-
“You must avoid not only blaming others but also blaming yourself. You are inclined to blame yourself for the difficulties you experience in relationships. But self-blame is not a form of humility. [oops … thought I was a little holy with all the self-bashing.] It is a form of self-rejection in which you ignore or deny your own goodness and beauty.
When a friendship does not blossom, when a word is not received, do not blame it on yourself. This is both untrue and hurtful. Every time you reject yourself, you idealize others. You want to be with those whom you consider better, stronger, more intelligent, more gifted than yourself. Thus you make yourself emotionally dependent, leading others to feel unable to fulfill your expectations and causing them to withdraw from you. This makes you blame yourself even more, and you enter a dangerous spiral of self-rejection and neediness.
Avoid all forms of self-rejection. Acknowledge your limitations, but claim your unique gifts and thereby live as an equal among equals. That will set you free from your obsessive and possessive needs and enable you to give and receive true affection and friendship. “
What good is God’s praise of us when we cannot receive it ourselves? Do we laugh it off and say to God “Oh you’re so silly”. Or could we believe for one moment believe that maybe God could actually be telling us the truth. That I am lovable. That I can love myself. That I can let others love me. That I could even be worthy of this love.
Everyone I know that has experienced even glimpses of this love cannot contain it themselves. This is why the imagery of the overflowing cup is so true. A glass can only spill what it contains. But, God wants to give us more love than we can contain. This is the freedom of love. Love frees me up to love myself. It frees me up to love others. It frees me up to love God. When I can experience this love, I also begin to intimately know the heart of God.
This is why I agree with Brennan Manning when he says “”My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” When allow that to be our identity, that I am the beloved Child of God, then we begin walking in the ways of Jesus.