I still struggle with self-love. I have a garden in my heart teeming with green seedlings, the result of hundreds of hours of steady watering, weeding, and the occasional emergency overhaul. My self-love is growing. But it’s still frail and small. Sometimes I still wonder if I’ve learned anything at all. But I trust the process, because it’s God’s process. He’s led me to places in my heart that I could not have imagined on my own.
The frustrating thing about learning to love oneself is that no one can teach you. I still haven’t really come to terms with that. I’m an information sponge. When I want to figure something out, I talk to knowledgeable people, read books and articles, and spend time synthesizing my thoughts with bulleted lists and elaborate diagrams. Self-love isn’t one of the things I can apply this process to…much to my disappointment. It’s just as much a heart thing as it is a head thing. And the heart goes about learning differently.
The pieces of the answer I hold now, I try to hold humbly, knowing that my grasp is not large enough for the whole Truth. What I am beginning to learn is this: I am not responsible for “fixing” myself. Note the key word here. We are all responsible for our words, our actions, and making the choice to be better people. But we can’t fix ourselves. Not alone.
On the day that I went to see a doctor, and was diagnosed with depression, I felt several conflicting emotions. I felt relieved that I finally had an explanation for the horrible pain I was experiencing. I felt scared that I might never get better. And I felt an intense drive to find a solution, a cure. I wanted to get better as soon as I possibly could. To get away from the voices in my head that were telling me to hate myself.
Fast-forward to one year later, and you would have seen a lot of progress. I had started seeing a counselor, added supplements to my diet, been to a psychiatrist, started exercising, and read a pile of self-help books. They all had a positive impact, but in my own mind, I wasn’t recovering fast enough. Hearing sad music still triggered fits of crying. If my roommate came home late, she would still find me curled up in the throes of a panic attack, worried that she had gotten into a car accident or been mugged. The voices of self-criticism often rose to a steady roar, and nothing except sleep would make them stop. The people that supported me began to show signs of frustration. I was exhausting myself from trying so hard. I took their frustration as a sign that I would really never get better, that I was a lost cause. That people would be better off without me.
God wasn’t done with me yet.
Each time I broke down, my best friend or my parents were there to hold me until I stopped crying. Despite her frustration and worry, my best friend told me that she would remind me as many times as I needed that she loved me and wasn’t going to leave. This kind of love was confusing to me. Who would want to love me like that? Was it really possible that no matter what I did, she would still be my friend?
Over time, my heart began to realize that my friend was showing me God’s love.
I still struggle with the urge to fix myself, two and a half years later. But, as Reverend Nancy Colier says in her article in Psychology Today,
“If we boil it down, we keep fixing ourselves in the hopes that we can, finally, just be as we actually are. Once we’re fixed, enough, worthy—whether that means more compassionate, more disciplined, or whatever shape our more’s have formed into—then we’ll be entitled to feel what we feel. We can think what we think, experience what we experience—in essence, be who we are. The fear that fuels our self-betterment mission is the belief that we are, at our core, not what we should be: We’re faulty, broken, unlovable, or some other version of not okay” (emphasis in original).
We don’t want to stay how we are sometimes, because it hurts. Pain in all its forms (physical, mental, emotional) is a signal to our bodies that something is wrong and needs to change. But we are not what’s wrong. That can be a really hard thing to accept. We are lovable, good, and beautiful right now. Yes, we do things that we regret. Yes, we have habits that we want to change. But we are, at our cores, the living dreams that God breathed into existence.
So, given our natural, inborn desire to improve and get better, how are we supposed to go about fixing ourselves?
We can’t. At least, not on our own, anyway. I used to think of spiritual growth as the quest for perfection, as a stretch of never-ending hurdles to clear on the way to heaven. Just thinking about it made me so tired that I wanted to cry. It was in a moment like that when I felt a tug in the back of my mind, which is how God sometimes talks to me. He said, That’s My job. All you have to do is rest in Me.
Rest in Him? I thought. That’s it? I remember entering a state of mild panic and confusion as the questions tumbled through my mind. But if I don’t constantly keep tabs on myself, won’t I turn into a horrible person? Aren’t we supposed to strive for perfection? What will happen when I stop trying to be better?
The thought echoed again through my cerebrum: That’s My job.
I rested for a while after that, and then went right back to trying to fix myself. Knowing that there was still something in me that was selfish and hurtful put me on edge, like knowing there was a wasp in the room without being able to see it. It took a few months of reflection for me to realize what Nancy Colier had already put forward in the above excerpt: I wanted to be myself, without fear that others would see me as I was and leave me because of it. It was then that I stopped. Instead of anxiety and mental self-lashing, a slow and gentle happiness found its way into my heart. I began to smile at myself in the mirror, for no other reason than that I didn’t have to try so hard anymore. I was okay.
When I do something I regret, and unearth yet another character flaw, it still stings. I get the urge to root the sucker out, and I suspect I always will. But God asks me to do something harder than trying to fix myself. He asks me to hold my heart open and leave the fixing to Him.
Colier, Nancy. “When Is It Time to Stop Trying to Fix Ourselves?” Psychology Today, 10 Feb. 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201602/when-is-it-time-stop-trying-fix-ourselves