This won’t be too long. I just have a thought that’s been sitting in the back of my mind for a while but I’ve only recently begun to feel its weight. I remember hearing it first on a Christian retreat when I was a senior in high school and I adamantly refused to agree with it. After opening up about a heartbreak (which I had no idea would serve as the first domino in a sea of self-doubt and fear. Yikes.) our group leader said something along the lines of, “You know, you will never be able to love someone fully if you haven’t learned to love yourself.”
And I struggled to believe her. “Can’t some wonderful guy teach me how to love myself?” I thought in high school. In college I moved on to, “Well of course he won’t be THE reason I love myself, be he can love pieces I haven’t learned to love yet. He can teach me what I can’t teach myself. Right?” And today, at age 23, I still wrestle with that so-called truth.
I do not love myself yet. It’s been a pretty rough battle, especially within the past few months. I’m seeing how this emptiness affects my relationships and work and well-being, but I know I won’t be able to reach self-love on my own. I know now, without a doubt, that (true, balanced, pure) love of self happens as I learn to love God and accept His (underserved) love for all of His children, including me. But I have a feeling I’ll struggle with this whole self-love thing for a while. I still think I’ll need people, good and gracious people, to point out the beautiful parts of me I’ve criticized until I can scarcely recognize them. Isn’t that why we’re all here? To breathe love and life into others who struggle to see it for themselves?
I’m really curious what you think about this truth: “You have to love yourself before you can love someone else.”
As always, please take your time. Sending light and love your way,
When I first moved to Atlanta I wanted to live in a loft. Come to think of it, I’ve always wanted to live in a loft with high ceilings and industrial-like beams standing in the middle of my apartment like inconvenient road work, serving no true purpose but to look chic and edgy.
I triumphantly announced to my best friend that I would in a loft when I got to Atlanta. She proposed that I try out a house instead so that I would not be isolated. After a year spent living in a house with a roommate that had no dishwasher or running washing machine and dryer, I told my friend I would finally move into a loft. She proposed I give a house another try.
At the time I did not understand why she was persistently squelching my lofty dreams (no pun intended). I wanted a loft where everything would be taken care of for me and she kept proposing houses that demanded time, energy, and yard guys. It didn’t add up.
I live in a house where sometimes there are ants. We have a big backyard but it constantly needs moral support in the form of a lawn mower and a weed wacker. I am learning that steam from the shower leaves drippy stains on the wall and the best solution to get rid of the steam stains is a sketchy bottle of concentrated solution they only sell at the dollar store. This stuff gets out any stain. Blood. Wine. Whatever. I call it “clean the crime scene” juice. It’s legit like that.
The washing machine overflows sometimes. Cracks in the ceilings need to be taken care of or else they will turn into a bigger mess. Sometimes I fall asleep to the sound of the house whining like a needy girlfriend, “Take care of me. Please take care of me.”
Houses are unruly. They require constant care and upkeep. Living in a house is process that is never done, never through. One thing gets solved and another problem shows up by morning.
The process of taking care of something— be it a house or a body or a relationship or a thought process— overwhelms me. I would avoid it on every account if I didn’t think the daily upkeep of people and things molds me into a better human, slowly but surely.
My roommate is a few years older me. She is much better at managing the household than I am. She tells me it took her until she was 30 to get her life together and start to become a responsible adult who knew how to clean her own bathroom and own dishes. She gave me lessons on cleaning the bathroom while I bit back the urge to cry into the broom and dustpan. She tells me this is just life. You learn as you go. I give myself another handful of grace and go back to the dollar store for more “clean the crime scene” juice.
Learning to love yourself is like moving into a house you are forced to take care of for the first time, A.
I think it’s even harder because we are living in loft times, A. I say “loft times” meaning we are living in an age where we get told on the regular that everything worth getting can be gotten quickly. The “bikini body” comes in 8 weeks. The clean house comes in 4 “easy” steps. You snag “the one” in 30 days. It’s all these mathematical solutions that rarely ever work and yet it is all we ever get fed. We are hungry for the instant. It’s like being fed french fries for six months that you never have to wait more than 10 minutes for and then being introduced to the concept of cooking your own food. It’s jarring to step inside of a role where you must use your hands and do the hard work for yourself. It’s easier to watch someone else. It’s easier to expect the french fries than to start peeling the potatoes yourself.
I don’t have to wonder why everyone is so enamored by the show “Fixer Upper.” I’ve never even seen it but I know how much we crave turning something ugly into beautiful. To watch someone else have their ugly turned into beautiful leaves us hopeful our turn is coming soon.
A house— ugly or beautiful— is your responsibility and that is two parts terrifying and one part beautiful. You will learn the good and bad of that house. The fixable and the not-so-fixable. You will know the cracks and the maintenance required. It’s where you keep your suitcases and bobby pins, your love notes and party dresses. It’s where you park your car and cry over your losses and rest your weary body at the end of a day. It’s where you clean the dirt of the day off your skin. It’s where your care packages show up and where eggs get cooked and community happens on the wood floor. It’s where love finds you, where love shows up at the door with flowers.
Most of all, it’s yours. Take off your shoes.
A, I hope you won’t hate me for doing this but I am going to stop the letter here and come back on Monday. Hold me to coming back on Monday and continuing. I think this idea of “loving yourself” can’t be unpacked in 700 words. It needs time, prayer, discernment and space. I’ll start part two on Monday and we will take the world by storm from there.