One of our most basic human needs is to love and be loved.
I have never had a problem with that first part. I have always given love freely. But I still struggle being on the receiving end of love. There is something about being loved that just doesn’t seem right.
In my recovery journey, I have discovered that this is especially common for those who grew up deprived of a parent’s love. A child who had a parent or parents who were absent, addicted, or emotionally distant often go through life believing love is something that must be earned.
I spent my entire childhood on that treadmill. Trying to prove myself worthy of my father’s love. Telling myself that if only I did better — if only I were a better student, a better athlete, better behaved — then my dad would quit drinking and give me the love I needed.
My personal story happened to have a happy ending. Before I got married, after years of desperate prayers, my dad was delivered from his addiction. He was a new man. I was not.
Dad’s sobriety — as miraculous as it was — didn’t change my core belief that I didn’t and never would measure up to the expectations of others. The hopelessness of the situation with my father as a child had infiltrated my adult relationships. I continued to operate out of two deeply entrenched core beliefs:
1. I cannot be loved by others if I’m not good enough.
2. I will never be good enough.
I discovered that if my heart would ever be in a condition to receive love, I needed to do something that I was taught from the time I was a toddler was not only selfish, but downright sinful. I needed to learn how to love myself.
I grew up believing that loving yourself was prideful — a message that was not only drilled into my head at home but was strongly reinforced in the church. Good Christians, after all, put their personal needs aside. The Bible teaches, does it not, that Christianity is all about denying yourself, turning the other cheek, and going the extra mile? I mean, this is what Jesus wants, isn’t it?
I remember learning the little acronym JOY in Sunday School. Jesus first. Others second. Yourself third. But I was taught through many unspoken but clear messages that you could earn brownie points with God and others if you dropped the “Y” entirely. (This is why churches never offer support groups for overcoming codependency. Many see it as a spiritual gift.)
But here’s the truth of the matter. Jesus knew a little something about love. And when He was asked one day by the religious leaders, “Which is the greatest commandment?”, He didn’t hesitate. He said, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Not above yourself. Not instead of yourself. We are to love others, Jesus taught, as we love ourselves.
Loving ourselves is a prerequisite to fully receiving and experiencing the love of others — God included. We cannot accept the love of others if we have a core belief that we are not worth loving.
The first step in learning to love ourself is to begin seeing ourself through God’s eyes. For way too much of my life, when I looked in the mirror, I saw myself as unworthy, undesirable and unlovable. What a revelation it was when I came to understand that my Heavenly Father sees me very differently. He sees me as a child who is worth loving, who He desires to spend time with, who loves me so much He thinks I am worth dying for.
Brendan Manning puts it succinctly: “We unwittingly project onto God our own attitudes and feelings toward ourselves. But we cannot assume that He feels about us the way we feel about ourselves—unless we love ourselves compassionately, intensely, and freely.”
Did you get that? God loves passionately. What’s more, God loves you passionately. His love for you is not just fervent, but fierce. And, what’s more, His love for you has no strings attached. He loves you just the way you are–with all your faults, failures, and insecurities.
Someone once said life is a mirror of what we believe about God and ourselves. If we believe — truly believe — not just that God loves us compassionately, intensely, and freely, but that we are worthy of that love, we will not only increase our capacity to be loved, but to love.
By Dan Kuiper
Dan completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2009. He is an author and speaker and leads a ministry called, Finding Father’s Love which helps wounded souls find love, healing, and grace in relationship with the Heavenly Father. Dan’s first book, When Father is a Bad Word, illustrates the parallels between our relationship with our earthly father and our perception of our Heavenly Father. Dan leads Finding Father’s Love seminars across the country, offering hope and healing to those who have experienced brokenness from dysfunctional family relationships. More information can be found on Dan’s website: www.dankuiper.com
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