Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of ‘love yourself’.
It seems to be a buzz-phrase. Something people feel they have to say to me because they know I’m a feminist or something. Things like, “You don’t need a man, just love yourself” and “Jesus is your boyfriend” are things I hear far too regularly, and frankly don’t know what to do with.
I hear it so frequently that I usually smile and nod and let it roll off my back. Whether I’ve been listening or not, as a single woman at a Christian university, ‘love yourself’ has been a mantra I’ve been hearing for 21 years.
A year ago I left Southern California to study humanities in the seclusion of a kids summer camp with 40 other students in the middle of the mountains near Yosemite. It’s a place where you’re constantly smelling trees and getting splinters in your toes and crying because the way that the sun kisses the mountains at 5pm is too pretty to not cry.
I pretty frequently say that living in the outdoors made me better, but I often neglect to remember the pain that accompanies growth. I forget the moments I felt I wasn’t enough. I forget the moments I told myself I wasn’t good enough for someone else. I forget the moments I felt completely incapable, and the moments when I didn’t love who I was.
It was through the mess, the moments of real honesty with those around me, and moments of looking face to face with the monster of self-doubt that I’ve grown most. I’ve hated the frequency of the words ‘love yourself’ because they meant nothing until I started to think of myself as something worthy of consciously choosing to love. I don’t think I even realized the importance of loving myself well until I started to do it.
It didn’t happen in some ah-ha moment. There was no moment of clarity where the heavens opened up and told me I was worthy. It was in the moments I felt vulnerable and weak.
Let me tell you about a friend of mine named Paige.
Paige loves people really well. Paige loves me, and she probably loves you. But the thing I like the best about Paige is that when she believes in you, she genuinely believes in who you are with every part of her. Paige doesn’t let you sulk. Paige doesn’t even let you feel stupid when you run really slow.
A year ago when we lived in this little mountain school someone somehow convinced us to run a half marathon. If you knew me at the time you knew running is not a thing I did. With that in mind, the scene is set—I’m on an 8 mile run. The longest I had ever run in my life. I’m 4 miles in, running as slow as a snail and thinking only negative thoughts of myself. ‘You’re slow’ ‘You can’t do this’ ‘You can’t do this’ ‘you can’t do this’ ‘You’re incapable’. At mile 4 I see Paige. We only pass for a moment, but she stops me. She could see my eyes welling up and hear the shaking in my voice. She could see me being defeated, and all she said was ‘You are capable’.
You are capable.
Those words rang in my head the next four miles. They weren’t easy or fast miles, but the words kept ringing—‘You are capable’. It was a little thing but it started to break me down. I was weak and someone chose to see value in me anyways.
For me, it’s been the most uncomfortable points that reap the most growth and joy in the end. It’s through understanding that the Lord wants to redeem us that we can best love our broken neighbors with Christ’s redemptive love. It’s through learning the ways the Lord wants to love us. For me, seeing my own self worth started at a kids summer camp with the trees and the splinters and the sun kissing the mountains.
I’ve often neglected loving myself in order to be strong and love others and give without wanting back, but I’ve realized that we’re no good if we aren’t letting ourselves be loved as well. This isn’t a call to a righteous pride, but rather to live in the knowledge that my God calls me worthy—and that changes things. Jesus tells us to pour out and simultaneously be poured into. I cannot pour if I am refusing to accept the Lord’s pouring—I am merely a vessel.
A lot of days I still find myself singing songs of doubt and self-deprecation, but more often than not I sing songs of grace and of who God tells me I am. I can sing hallelujah because though I am messy I am asking God to pour into me until I overflow. I wish someone had told me that while loving myself is about me loving me, it’s mostly about allowing God to love me. It’s about listening when someone tells you
‘you are capable.’