Loving ourselves as God loves us

Jesus gave us two commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself; with the idea that we love as God loves us. But built into those things is a third commandment: that we must love ourselves as God loves us.

There’s a line in the bible which always annoyed me, it says “no man ever hated his body,” or something along those lines. But in this day and age that isn’t true. I know it certainly hasn’t been true in my own life. Stepping into the fullness of God’s promises must first start with an understanding of how God loves us, each individually, not just en masse. To do that we can look at two things: our unique creation, and Christ.

When I think of God’s love for me, I recall how I felt towards my babies while they were still in the womb, as they grew inside me. I didn’t know what they would be like, I didn’t know what they would look like, what their personality or natural talents would be, I didn’t know who or what they would grow up to become, I didn’t even know their sex and whether people would insist on giving us blue or pink gifts.

But I didn’t even care about any of that, none of that mattered because I was already in love, and nothing was going to change that love. Whoever I birthed, to me they were already beautiful and marvelous and absolutely fascinating, and I already wanted the best for them, whatever that looked like.

God has that kind of love for us, and yet more and deeper. And God’s love is not clouded by the mystery of who and what we are, because God is the one who formed us, shaping nose and limb, adding quirk to personality, seeding abilities and dreams. God knew exactly what She was doing as She put you together in your mother’s womb, knew which sperm to use and which egg, knew how to draw forth different traits from your DNA. She knew the best time and place for you to be alive. None of this is a mystery to God. Our God is the Master Creator, and She delights in our creation. To see our uniqueness is a joy to God.

But it doesn’t stop there.

God’s love for us can also be seen through Christ.

In Christ, God has set aside His fullness, becoming limited in human flesh. God was willing to set aside his God-ness for a while, and participate in this world like one of the created. And God did this for us, each of us.

Jesus, although being fully God, was wholly reliant on frail humanity, just as any baby, any child is. God entrusted himself into the hands of humanity. What a risk! And what a glorious victory, to use humanity in the process of destroying sin and death!

Jesus came, in the first place, because of love for me, for you, for us. He lived, wrestling with the ways life was lived in that time and place, trying to show a better way, trying to show a life in unison with God, trying to show a way of love and freedom.

Our God lived in obscurity for decades, waiting for the right time to bring His kingdom forth. Yet it was always there, underlying everything. Prophets spoke of it long before his birth, Anna the prophetess spoke of it when he was a naught but a newborn babe. How could she see the glory radiating from this baby?! But she knew. Here, in this child, God breathes, God is waiting to pour forth.

The Jesus-man, our God in human flesh, willingly took the steps to the cross (though not without trying to seek another way first – a true human response if ever there was one).

Christ, willingly took the pain and suffering to give us freedom. Christ endured, so that we might not have to.

And the power of sin and death was broken in his death and resurrection. Our freedom from their burden was secured. And not just freedom from our sin and the consequences of it, but the shackles of our sin-nature were broken. The habits of our sin-nature no longer bind us, for we are set free in Christ.

This is love in action. Bearing our burdens so we don’t have to, bearing hardship so we might live in freedom.

Like a parent who says they weren’t really hungry on discovery of the food not being quite enough to go around. Like a parent carrying both their child’s backpack and their child on the way home from school when they are both so very tired. Like a sister who gives her favourites because they she knows they are her sibling’s favourites too. Like a stranger sharing their lunch because they meet someone who has none, even though it means neither of them get a full meal.

This is sacrificial love. This is the love of Christ for us.

The shackles of our sin-nature no longer bind us, for we are set free in Christ.

Original photo by Ander Burdain.

We are called to love like Christ, but how can we be sacrificial to ourselves? How can we seek our own good over ourselves? Perhaps it comes down to seeking our good, our godly purpose, over our own wants and desires. Perhaps it is seeking God’s ways in our lives, even when our own being clamors for its desires to be met. It is easy to get caught in seeking our own short-term good, finding comfort here, a shortcut there, but that doesn’t always lead us towards the long-term good, it often doesn’t bring us to our personal goals, or those God has for us.

To seek our own good is to seek the self God desires us to be, to learn how to live in that fullness. It is to place our trust in who God says we are, not the world or our own minds. It is to live grounded in God, planting our feet in the River of Life, and letting it shape our very being, our ways of being, our habits, our moment-to-moment choices.

When we love God, we trust what God says – to us and about us.

To live a life loving as God loves means we are to love ourselves as God loves us, to stand in wonder and awe at how we have been made, to cherish the parts of ourselves we deem less desirable, to welcome every part of our being and to strive to conform to Christ. We cannot hate ourselves into being better, we can only do that through love. And when we are planted in the Love which is Life, when we live by the Spirit, freedom wells up and better begins to flow naturally.

When we experience love, we want to be better, to do better. When we love ourselves as God loves us, the fruit of the Spirit form as natural outworkings of our life, the steps to maturity Peter outlines become a natural progression. The path becomes level, the way straight. The yoke is light on our shoulders, and the confidence comes with easy peace.

To live a life loving as God loves means we are to love ourselves as God loves us.

Original photo by Joanna Konsinska.

Words from a song echo in my head, burrowing into my bones:

So go ahead and live like you’re loved
It’s okay to act like you’ve been set free
His love has made you more than enough
So go ahead and be who he made you to be.

 

Go, be, love yourself as God first loved you, and LIVE in fullness.

Words for my daughters, on Mothers Day

This year for Mothers Day, I wrote a letter to my daughters, trying to answer the question, “What is one thing I want my daughters to know?” Maybe you need this answer too.


My beloved daughters,

When I first held each of you, fresh from my womb, I marveled at how God had made you. So perfect and so unique. I wondered at what abilities and passions and ways of being God had stored up in you, and I have been marveling ever since, far more often than I would have thought possible, as you bring these things forth, showing me wonders I never dreamed of.

You, my daughters, inspire me to be a better person, to live out the dreams I hold for you, so you can see it happen, not just hear my encouragement. You spurred me to live bravely, to hold my strength, to step into the fullness of who God designed me to be, to dare to chase God-dreams. And that is my hope for you too: that you would know the fullness of your being, that you would live in it boldly and without apology.

This is what I want for you: that you might live in the fullness God has created in you, that has become your in Christ.

Original photo by Michel Catalisano

To be blunt, I don’t much care what that is, what your life ends up looking like, but I don’t want you to squash yourselves down, not for any reason. God made us the way we are deliberately, on purpose. It wasn’t an accident which formed you the way you are. God put together your makeup and passions and dreams on purpose, and to live in them fully, unabashedly, delights God, and gives God glory.

Yes, the world can teach us that our natural ways of functioning are wrong or unhealthy or useless, but God is greater than that. It feels amazingly good to live in your natural ways of being, trust me, I lived for many years squashed into shapes that were uncomfortable. There is joy and meaning in being fully yourself, even when the rest of life seems lacking in joy and meaning. There is sense of meaning in just being who and how you were made to be. Being your true self gives a peace that is unattainable in any other way.

But that takes faith, trust. Trust that this is good. And that it is a possible and fruitful way of life, that good and godly works can come from it, that it will be the healthiest way for you to live. It takes faith to belief that the Body of Christ needs who and how you naturally are in order to mirror God’s fullness, to have all the body parts and functions in their fullness. Yes, you read that right, the church needs you to be You, all the other roles are taken.

By not living in your fullness, you are not just limiting and hurting/squashing yourself, you are limiting and squashing others, limiting the church and God. When we each use our natural ways of functioning together it makes a beautiful harmony, it makes a beautiful rainbow.

Remember, unity is not sameness, it is togetherness. Your being, your ways of functioning matter, they are important. We, as the church, as a society, need them.

To continually squash them down, to attempt to ignore them, twists your attitude towards those ways of functioning. One grows cynical that they are real or useful or functional in the world; one grows bitter, and it becomes easy to lose faith that those ways will ever work for you and that it would be easier to just leave things alone and continue as you are, to put it off until a better time, maybe retirement, it’s only a few more years, isn’t it? But this world needs you to come alive, to have the passion of being which comes when you are operating out of your true self. The world needs the differentness you can bring when you don’t follow the pattern of ‘normal’ and ‘right’ that have been set for us, but live in the fullness of who God made you.

For years I wondered why some people could have God’s joy just by existing, but not me. I seemed to be depressed just by existing, my very life felt worthless and pointless. But as I have been leaning into the fullness God has given me, and has promised you too, as I have been living in the ways God formed me to naturally function, as I have been stepping into the dreams and desires of my heart (rather than what I “should” be doing), I have been able to take joy in who I am, to take delight in how I function. And I feel God delighting in me doing so.

This is what I want for you, daughters: that you might live in the fullness God has created in you, that has become yours in Christ. You were made for more than just existing. There is an abundance inside you, if you stop long enough to look, if you shut out the voices of the world for a moment, you’ll hear your inner self and how it longs to be active in the world, you’ll hear God’s voice inviting you into that fullness.

This is my dream for each of you. And I am here to help you figure it out, here to support you as you step boldly forward, here to be brave with you when it feels too much and too hard. If seeing me live into this fullness of my own life has in any small way encouraged you to do the same, then all my efforts will be worth it.

You are beautiful and amazing and so very capable. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Breathe deeply, step forward boldly. You are enough.

with all my heart,

Mum.

Breathe deeply, step forward boldly. YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Original photo by David Law.

Bringing the Dawn

Lord, I see the dawn lightening the sky behind the treetops, slowly shifting the dark grey sky a shade lighter. And I feel it, Your coming; I sense you just over the horizon, readying Yourself to stride forth.

“Maranatha,” the voices cry, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

And I long for You too, but this world is not ready for You yet. Any action is twisted into hate and violence; this world has turned cynical and untrusting. The people cry out their lament, great wails echo around the Twitterverse, great moans of anguish fill the newspapers. Oh, this world needs its Saviour.

It would be so easy to stride in, triumphant, tossing hierarchies, scattering armies, overturning the internet forums, emptying hollow churches and football stadiums. But the image of You coming as a warrior, a dominating king, forcing the world to conform or be destroyed, that is an image You have already refused.

Palm Sunday saw You riding a donkey, not a proud warhorse, and the road was strewn with branches and cloaks, not bloody carcasses and broken weapons. Why do we think You will change, O our unchanging God, the same yesterday, today, and forever? Why do we think Your second coming will be so different to Your first? Why do we insist on forging weapons out of our religion, when You have told us to make instruments of peace and provision?

Even Your disciples thought You would be the warrior king, the new ruler dominating their world through power. Their ideas of who and what the Messiah was fell broken around them when You died on the cross, and they were lost.

Slowly, slowly, the dawn creeps in. Suddenly I notice that leaves are visible in what was only a shadow, the grain of the wooden fence clarifies, and it is more light than darkness.

But it wasn’t a sudden bursting forth, it wasn’t the flick of a switch and darkness is banished, it wasn’t a thick curtain ripped violently asunder. This light comes slowly, nibbling at the edges, until the whole world is consumed, further than our eyes can see.

Why don’t we see our God working like that too? Why don’t we see Christ’s second coming in the way His Body works: a small effort here, a weeding project there, a leaning in at the grassroots level, feet on the ground. Not casting our vision from afar, not forcing the world around us to conform to our ways of being.

And as we lean into our small works, we see God more clearly in the faces we meet, the hands we hold, slowly the dawn steals over us too.

So often we think of doing big “Things For Jesus”, as if our small efforts aren’t good enough, aren’t holy enough. We want to go out on a mission to save the world, change the world, convert the heathens, and so our back garden appears so dull and mundane.

But our lives are built in the small things: a smile here, a hand reached out there, a few minutes writing a word of encouragement squeezed in before we dash out the door. These things count, these things are transforming the world. And they are transforming us.

And so the dawn comes, as we see light reflected off another leaf, and then another, until our whole world is alight with Christ and our street lamps can sputter out, unneeded.

Christ's coming wasn't a sudden bursting forth, it wasn't the flick of a switch and darkness is banished. This light comes slowly, nibbling at the edges, until the whole world is consumed. So why don't we see our work as Christ's Body in the same way?

Original picture by Chris Barbalis

“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.” — Mother Teresa

 

What small thing can you do to shift the world towards lightness today? Which face can you look into anew and see God reflected back where before you have only seen darkness? I’d love to hear where you are choosing to focus.

Living into fullness

I’ve been sitting on this piece all week, wanting not to write it, and then wanting not to edit it up into a post, longing to find something else, anything else, to post instead. But sometimes you know the piece is right simply by your resistance to it. So here goes. I’m leaning into the discomfort.


I have been trying to make sense of, or at least put into words, my sense of fullness/flatness in my ways of being. I think it’s only been able to come about because I am finally finding peace in myself. I’ve chipped away enough of the non-me that’s been caked on for decades, and I’ve stopped fighting myself, my natural tendencies and my “flaws” (read: ways of doing things that isn’t the “right” way).

And it’s from this peace, this self-contentedness, that I can be sure in and of myself, I can be confident in myself and my actions. It’s as I lean in to my natural ways of being (not the ways I was long taught I ‘should’ be), that I get back affirming echoes. And as I repeat and deepen into my own ways of being, these echoes repeat too, reverberating into a fullness of sound, like a full orchestra in crescendo, where before I had only heard a reedy recorder played poorly and with the sound half-carried-away by the wind.

What I was being told was right and what my own being thrums with have been in discord. But slowly I have been tuning out the “supposed-to-be”s and deliberately privileging the voice of my own inner self over the words of the world, and even over the echoing voices of loving parents who only knew what worked well for them and what fitted their priorities.

I am allowed to differ. I am allowed to listen to the song playing in the depths of my heart. I am allowed to stand up and open my mouth and sing it for all the world to hear. I’m not going to shatter myself or the world by singing at a different pitch, because what is needed in this world is not another person singing a discordant song, out of tune and step with themselves and those around them, what this world needs is me singing, true and pure, the song which bubbles up when I stop and sit in peace, when I listen to the depths of my being.

There’s a song we used to sing at church when I was a small child, I haven’t heard in years, about Jesus coming and singing love/peace/hope, living singing love/peace/hope, and dying singing love/peace/hope. But then the pattern stops. “He arose in silence,” says the song, “for the love/peace/hope to go on we must make it our song, you and I be the singers.”

The song which bubbles up when I am most at peace with myself, most loving of myself, freely bearing hope for myself and that world around me, the song I find when I am most fully me, just as God made me to be, it is that song, that way of being which can best speak God into this world, best show God through me to the people around me. The song which echoes in my chamber of being, which sets up reverb, between who I am and how I live, until it embodies a great fullness of song… that is me when I am being most fully me, being who God made me to be in all its fullness.

For years I have felt flat. I would enter a space and observe from a corner until I could figure out what was expected of me and then fit myself into a cut-out of that shape. It was sterile and bland, trying not to upset anyone (including myself – after all, being not liked as a caricature of the “supposed-to-be” was fine, but being disliked when I was being myself? Ouch. That one hurt. And I had enough experience of showing a bit of the real me and it being laughed at to know better). That flat persona lacked depth, it lacked freedom, it lacked life.

The last few years I have been pondering again and again on the freedom we are promised in Christ, the abundant life and fullness of God promised, and what that was supposed to look like. Because I certainly wasn’t living it.

Life was easily categorized into right/wrong, should/shouldn’t, and if I stepped over a line my own head provided plenty of scathing criticism. This world had taught me well that the real me was not welcome, that I could only be approved of if I played the game to perfection. And despite knowing that perfection was impossible from eight-years-old (I distinctly remember arguing about the ‘practice makes perfect’ catch-phrase with my piano teacher), I still tried to play the game, even knowing I could never hope to win.

But in learning to let that go, to seek out nourishing and live-giving things for me and my ways, not ‘right’ as an absolute, I have felt myself fleshing out, becoming more three-dimensional. Rather than questioning how I will fit or what is expected, I now notice myself carrying a fullness of being. It feels like an aura; I don’t know how else to label it. It is not a self-protective bubble; I used to have that, it was strong and heavy and armoured, I know the difference. Rather, this is permeable, soft, affirming of myself and others, yet it carries presence, power.

That word makes me shiver, ‘power‘. I’ve always avoided it, my own or others, willingly following the rules or stepping right outside them so I didn’t hit power head on and have to see if I could stay standing (the answer always seemed an obvious ‘no’, I was the weaker, the lesser). I’m the one who, in a post-graduate class on social constructionism and language, asked if analysis of language had to include looking at power, I wanted that much to avoid it. (The answer is yes, yes it does; power and language cannot be separated.) As I write my PhD, I am against faced with it, this ‘power‘, in language and how we position ourselves and others, and so I am finding the need face it in my own life as well, to no longer let it find me afraid.

But this feels like a stepping into myself. I am happy and confident to move in the power that comes from it because it is an extension of me, and I am sure of me now (at least, most of the time). And I can assess whether I am acting in my natural ways of being, or in tune with God, or simply out of fear, based on whether I have a sense of fullness of being, or if I feel flat, squashed, unaffirmed. It also helps me know when I am kicking back against this fullness being squashed by others or systems, and so be able to act constructively, gracefully, patiently, rather than lashing out in fear or retaliation. This sensing of fullness is also helping me discover and lean into natural and spiritual gifts, and it is opening up new ways to act on long-held desires.

It sort of feels like the difference between reverential-, awe-Fear and terror-, frightening-Fear. One expands, one flattens. One we want to open ourselves to, the other we want to run away from. It is almost an awe of who and how God has made me, to be seeing it as clearly and openly as I now can sometimes blows my mind. And it is giving me confidence I could never find or muster. It is a confidence which comes in peace and comes from God. It’s a quiet confidence that I don’t need to cling to or shore up, but that can restfully be, without competition or challenge, because it is based on me and God, not anyone or anything else.

I’m still learning to sing this song, to sing in-tune with my soul, but it is already more fulfilling than I ever dreamed was possible. And it just inspires me to lean in more – I can’t wait to see what I am capable of as I live as God made me.

 

“The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” – Saint Irenaeus.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman.

full

Original picture by Cristy Zinn.