Four Way Faith
Part Five – In: God’s Gift of Self
This post is part of a series introducing the concept of a Four Way Faith. A balanced and healthy life involved loving relationships in four directions; Up with God, In with Self, Out with Neighbours, and Down with Creation. Each has two elements – the gift of each relationship to us and our obligations to each relationship.
Do you love yourself?
I don’t mean in a boastful, proud kind of a way, I mean in the caring compassionate way that you would consider love of another. It is sometimes easy to look at creation and fall in love with a view, a place or the companionship of an animal. If we consider family and friends we know we love them and want the best for them. When we think of God we will sing songs speaking of adoration. When you think of yourself do you know that you are a gift.
There’s an activity that I love to do with groups encouraging them to tell one another what they like and admire about each individual. There are usual smiles and laughter from everyone in the group as they speak or perhaps write about what they like about others. However, when it comes to reading or hearing the things people like about us the individual receiving the praise becomes uncomfortable, eye contact is lost, cheeks may glow red and we find it hard to accept the kind words that people share about us.
The relationship we have inwardly with ourself is important.
In all but one of the Bible verses that say “love your neighbour” the second part of the instruction is “as yourself” (Lev 19:18; Matt 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; Jam 2:8). The only outlier is Matthew 5:43-44 which reads ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…’
Loving others allows us to love ourselves and to be loved by others allows us to learn to love ourselves.
The problem many of us have is that we have heard messages from parents, siblings, school, TV, magazines, media, social media that somehow we are not good enough, we are not loveable. Even those of us with wonderfully loving parents and families feel rejection at one time of another from someone we thought loved us or who didn’t show love in the way that we recognised and therefore we convince ourselves that we are not loveable and we should not love ourselves. The message we all need to hear is that you are a gift, we are a gift, I am a gift. Are you able to own that statement for yourself, can you say about yourself “I am a gift.”
I have had the honour of spending time with a whole range of people, hearing their life’s story and being trusted with some of the most personal details. One of the greatest privileges I have is to be a safe and trusted person for others to open up to. I have heard confessions of those carry decades of guilt. I have listened as survivors have spoken for the first time of abuse. I have heard the stories of those who appear healthy, wealthy and successful in the eyes of the world but who feel like failures because of what they have not done or the relationships lost. In all such circumstances I have discovered the words that people need to hear but find the hardest to accept are that they are loved, they have worth and they are a gift.
Scripture tells us that God doesn’t love us for who we could be or because of the words we say or the actions we take but because of who we are, as we are. Romans 5:8 tells us “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” It does not say God demanded that we change who we are, to do more good works and make ourselves somehow more worthy and acceptable and then he love us, no, God is willing to lay down his life for our sake because God is love and God loves you. In response to God’s love we may well be transformed, we may well change, we may well alter our words and actions, not in order to gain God’s approval but because we find ourselves transformed by the power of love and because we want to reciprocate such love.
Have you ever witnessed someone falling in love? It’s fun to watch as they go giddy when the phone rings and they think it may be their love, they walk around with a silly smile on their face and can face all the typically mundane tasks of life with a song because they are transformed by love. It is one thing to fall in love with another but quite another to learn that you too are loved. To accept the love of another is to be willing to open your heart and your life to them, to become vulnerable, and without any demands, without any instructions, but as a response to love to allow ourselves to transformed. We don’t become someone else, we become a version of ourselves who knows the gift of love. As we accept the love of another, we have to learn to love ourselves. One of the hardest things accept is that we are worthy of being loved, that we are worthy of being loved by others, by God and even to love ourselves.
God loves as we are, is willing to lay down his life for us, calls us his children (1 John 3:2) and expects to see himself reflected in us (just as children reflect their parents).
How we love ourselves is reflected in how we love others and how we love God. This is part of the four-dimensional relationships the Bible speaks of (God, Ourselves, Our Neighbours, Creation) and shouldn’t be taken in solitary. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 warns against self-lovers in the sense of looking only after our own wants and needs, it warns against becoming “lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” When I speak of the gift of self and loving ourselves this is not to become selfish but to know that we are precious and worthy of love, so that we can accept the love of God and our neighbours and in turn generously and selflessly poor out love to God and other. I hope that you know that know these truths, you are loved, you are lovable and you are gift.
There is a true story of a youth pastor who would visit schools, speaking and teaching what he believed about the gospel. On one occasion he was visiting a school and there was a girl who took herself off away from the session and away from her peers. The youth pastor took himself over to the bench on which the girl was sat and he sat beside her. It turned out this girl had a challenging upbringing. She had experienced a lot of pain, rejection and loss, including living in the care system. This had resulted in her hardening herself to the world, and to save herself from further pain she rejected others.
As they sat on the bench the youth pastor said “God loves you” to which the girl replied, “So-what? God loves everyone, that doesn’t make me special.”
Refusing to give up the youth pastor said “Well, I love you.”
Of course, this surprised the girl, she responded along the lines of “don’t be stupid, you don’t love me. How can you love me? You don’t even know me.”
The youth pastor calmly replied, “I choose to love you, it is my choice to love you. You cannot do anything about it. You cannot tell me who I can and cannot love, and I choose to love you. So, I love you.”
Somewhat flummoxed, the girl was silent for a moment. She was processing the words of this crazy youth pastor who thought he could break through her hardened exterior, her appearance that was designed to keep people away. The she said, “Prove it.”
With that the youth pastor said that he would open up his home, that she could come and live with him, his wife and family and that they give her a home and family.
She thought he was lying, she thought he was just saying things to get her to open up, she thought he was raising her hope unfairly and unnecessarily.
He hadn’t consulted with his wife or family but that youth pastor knew what they would say. He knew how the system worked. He went away and made the arrangements and that hardened, broken teenage girl learned that she was loved, she is loved, she is loveable. She had a tougher journey ahead, she had to learn to love herself.
The most important thing you can hear today is that you are a gift.
You are a gift to God; a gift worth dying for.
You are a gift to me.
You are a gift to the world.
You are a gift to yourself.