This is the final part of a multi-part series. You can find the first part here, or the entire series here. I hope you enjoy our discussion.
But I hate myself
Some people suffer from a deliberating sense of low self-esteem. They lack self-worth, confidence, and a sense of being loved, lovable, and lovely. Some have sought to combat this problem with a renewed effort at self-love, but does such efforts hold any real hope as a remedy for our problem? Yes, we might find temporary relief, but can increased self-love really produce a lasting qualitative change in our lives? I believe the answer is “No!” So how do we overcome feelings of inferiority, worthlessness, and even self-loathing? The answer is three-fold.
The first step at becoming comfortable in our own skin is to die. Dead people never compare themselves with others. They never think about how others love them and whether or not they love themselves. They have no feelings associated with their own existential existence. Their death has freed them from all forms of self-incrimination, self-deprecation, and self-loathing. Paul understood that he had died to this life and his old way of living. He wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Having died in Christ, Paul was no longer bound by his former life or the troubles and constraints of his old self. He was now free to live life without worry and care for himself. In like manner, Paul counsels us, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3) Self-love keeps us bound to the things of this Earth and clouds our view of things that are heavenly and eternal. By embracing our death in Christ, we are freed from self-love and empowered to direct our mind, attention, and affections on things above.
The second step in overcoming self-hatred is learning to be loved. We all have a need to be loved by others. Self-love, no matter how great, can never fill this need. If we are to come to peace with who we are, then we will need to learn to experience love from others and, especially, from God. While the love of mankind is often fickle, the love of God is constant and eternal. Jesus declared his love for us when he said, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9) Jesus came, not only to show us the way to the Father but to also reveal to us the love of the Father. Jesus replied to the Father, “I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26) If we are loved by God, then what need do we have for self-love? What more of love could be wanting when we have the eternal and infinite love of God?
For the love of God to be effective in our lives, it must be both experienced and believed. John says that “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.” (1 John 4:16) We need to experience the Love of God; to feel in a visceral way the reality of God’s love for us. However, as we grow in Christ, God often calls us to grow in our belief in his love. Times will come when we do not “feel” his love, but these are the times we need to learn to believe in his love. God’s love is real and powerful, even when we don’t feel it. We must come to a place where our enjoyment of God’s love is not dependent upon a feeling or an emotion but is grounded and sustained by our faith in God and his declaration of love over us.
Finally, to arrive at a sense where we can love ourselves, we must learn to love others. It is said of Jesus, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2) The joy that was set before Jesus was the joy of seeing others come into the same relationship with the Father that he had. It was the joy of seeing many brethren reconciled to God and made sons and daughters of the Father. What enabled Jesus to endure difficult times was his focus on other people. His joy was not a joy that accrued to himself, but a joy in seeing others brought into peace and felicity with God. Self-love will always leave us lacking. However, if we learn to be other-focused, learn to love others rather than ourselves, then we will find the love we seek for ourselves and our desire for emotional fulfillment will become complete. Paul reminds us that, “He who loves his own wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:28) We can spend our whole life trying to love ourselves only to end up empty and distant from our goal. However, if, instead, we choose to love others, then that which we sought through self-love will be ours through our love for others. We all have a need to be loved, but we also have a need to love. When we learn to love others, then we will find the love we desire for ourselves.