Faith journey Self-care

I love her… can you?

I have a slow awareness growing in me of the double standard I have lived when it comes to God’s commands to love our neighbours as ourselves

I get loving my neighbour.  I get giving grace, forgiveness, compassion and mercy in the name of love to those around me.

Yet somehow I’ve held myself to a different standard: one with recriminations, a do-better mentality, of self-rejection and denial and I thought it was holy. I had high expectations of myself, and not a lot of grace when I didn’t live up to them.

Somehow I’ve held myself to a different standard: one with recriminations and self-rejection that I thought it was holy.

Progress feels good

I’m finally seeing some fruit of all these years of hard work in getting healthy again.  My new self-care routine has seen a tremendous improvement in my mental health, our decision to work with a budget finally has us consumer debt-free (WOOHOO!) and I actually ran a half-marathon earlier this year, a crazy goal that has gotten me off the couch to a more energetic version of myself.  I like who I’m becoming.  I’ve learned some important lessons about boundaries, about being responsible for myself and letting others be responsible for their own choices as well.  It’s been a long and difficult journey and I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to see some progress in this season.

I ws recently looking at some photos – the first was a ridiculous one of me as a teenager, a huge smile on my face looking like I was ready to take on the world.  The future was so bright.

I loved that girl, I feel like I can hear God say and I can’t help but agree.  Her energy, enthusiasm for life, optimism and drive bring a smile to my face.

I flip through and find a recent photo of me.  I feel a sense of gratitude and, dare I say, relief that I have come so far in the past two years.  It’s been hard work and I am glad to be where I am today.

I love this girl, I hear God say.  I feel at peace with this knowledge.  I am proud of the determination and focus it has taken me to walk this journey, and I know where I am today is not the result of a quick fix, but a lot of hard work.  I rest for a moment in God’s love for me now.

I glance again and see a picture from a few years when it seemed like life was falling apart. I flip quickly past, not wanting any reminders of that dark season of life, but a voice stops me:

I love that girl, too.

I feel myself react.  It’s true of course.  God loves everyone, but I confess there’s not much loveable about that worn out woman.  At best, I can pity her.  If I’m honest, I’m running as far away from what that image represents as I can.  I never want to be that desperate, that lost, that helpless or lonely again.  I’m happy to be rid of her.

I love her, I sense God say.  Not for who she was or who she will be.  I love this woman that you are condemning.  I love her as she is. 

I have to pause.  God loves her as she is, not for who she was or who she will be.  I try to step out of my own skin for a moment and see this tired woman through the eyes of the Father.

Instead of frustration at how stuck she seems, I notice how every time she’s knocked down… she keeps getting back up.   Instead of contempt for her weakness, I see the strength it takes her to hold on to hope when she feels like she has nothing left.  Compassion begins to well up in me.

I begin to see her, not through my own lens of shame, but through the eyes of a loving God.  She is beautiful.  That tiny flare of hope she clings to is radiant.  That desperate determination is admirable.  She is lovely.

Shame colours everything. The irony is, I regularly talk to women who are in the same place now as I was then, and I admire their courage to seek help, their strength to admit things are not okay and their determination to take the next step. It’s easy for me to see them as the beloved of God and chosen by Him, yet in my own life the same issues I count as failure to live up to God’s standards. My shame won’t let me extend the same grace and forgiveness to myself that I so quickly give to others. This thought stops me in my tracks.

Can you love her, too? I sense God asking me, as I look again at that photo.

I don’t really want to.  If I’m honest, I want to forget this image and pretend she never existed.  I want to leap from that energetic teenager to my future healthier, more mature self.  I don’t want to linger in that broken state that picture represents

I love her, Kirsten.  I am asking you to love her to.  Will you do it?

I’m not sure, but I try out the words:  “I love this version of me as well.”

And it seems true.

As I am

The older I get, the more Jesus’ words to love your neighbour as yourself are becoming profound in my life. It’s that last part that keeps catching me up. If you’d asked me, I would have told you I do accept and live in God’s love.  I am happy with the journey I am on and I feel like I’m seeing some fruit of seeds that were planted long ago.  I’m (finally) in a season where I feel like progress is being made.

So why go back to that place where things were so bad?

I think it was important for God to remind me even this progress, these great feelings of moving forward, while motivating do not represent my worth. His love is not dependant on my versions of success. Truth is, I’m not always going to have this kind of success or progress and I need to have the confidence of God’s love and approval of me no matter what. Shame robs me of that peace. My achievements, my appearance, my acceptance from others, my success, my status… none of that represents my value or worth in Christ. None of it.

My achievements do not represent my worth.

I am loved if I’m financially responsible and successful.

I am loved if I’ve made a mess of my finances that I can’t get out of.

I am loved if I’m strong and competent.

I am loved if I’m a complete wreck.

I am loved if I’ve got things together.

I am loved if I’m broken and desperate.

I am loved when I feel beautiful, and when I don’t.

I am loved if I have a productive place in this world.

I am loved if I have nothing to give.

I am loved if I’m moving forward, making progress and full of motivation.

I am loved if I can’t pull myself off the ground.

I am loved by God in all circumstances and seasons.

God’s love is for all people and all seasons, and I can’t truly extend it to others if I can’t extend it to myself – not just to the best version of me but also to the worst.

As much as I am called to show compassion for others, I am also called to show compassion to myself – a concept I hadn’t considered much before.  God’s grace is for me, too.

So whether you’re walking strong this new year in 2020 or falling apart… God loves you.  Can you say the same?

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