Hard-won lessons: Love is a choice

Recently, I was visiting the church I had attended before meeting and marrying my husband. I left, not because I didn't feel like it was a place where I was loved and accepted, but because I believed that God chose my husband for me, and my husband was already a part of another congregation. It was a pride-struggle for me to choose to do what God had ordained, allowing my husband to be the spiritual leader, and going to a church that had not been my "choice".

During my visit, Pastor Doug was teaching on Finding True North, and getting a new job. The lesson wasn't intended to encourage us to leave our current workplaces. It was centered on changing our attitudes about the places we worked, the people we worked with, and on how we respond to them. Although I do not have a job (at least, not a paid one), there were lessons that Doug spoke of that were relevant to everyone, not just those working outside the home.

The lesson that was most impactful to me was this: We do not have to approve of what happens around us; we don't have the right to approve or disapprove. But we are called to accept those around us--as they are right now, and love them in spite of it, or in spite of ourselves.

The lesson comes down to this: Acceptance is love, love is acceptance. And we can choose to love anyone!

My heart rang out with his words, his encouragement to create a world of acceptance and not judgment. My own life is marred by moments of judgment and a sense of lacking approval and acceptance, often most brutally by my own inability to accept myself. At the heart of the matter is that when I can't accept myself, I put up walls around me that keep everyone else away. People who are kept at bay can't get in to love and accept us. This further compounds my fear of being rejected and despised.

I want to tell you that I love and accept others easily. But that would be a lie. I fear others--their opinions, their thoughts, their judgments--deeply. I would rather live a life alone in a vacuum than place myself in a position where someone could have even the slightest chance of hurting me. This is because I have learned that the world, even my family, can be hurtful and unaccepting. I have learned that acceptance won't come, and as such, I don't even accept myself most of the time.

Want a character assassination? I can kill my own personality and character faster than you can say Lollapalooza. I know my own faults, my own shortcomings, and my own fears. I know them too well. The part of me that was designed to be relational and intuitive also works to pick myself apart. There are so many good reasons why you shouldn't want to know me, shouldn't want to love me, shouldn't try to accept me. Want a list???

You see, at the heart of the matter is this: As long as I can point out all these faults, problems, insufficiencies within myself and embrace my title as "Unloveable", "Unworthy" I can easily find those same faults within you! Sigh. Yes, that's right. The same hyper-critical voice that keeps me from loving and accepting myself also keeps me from loving and accepting you. The walls that I build to protect myself from being found out--I don't want you to see my faults and notice them--is the same wall that keeps you from being able to get in and accept me anyways.

Before I can reach out to love and accept others, I must learn to love and accept myself so that I feel safe enough to tear down that wall. First, I must choose to love me--the good and the bad--and to accept that I am in process--not all that I will become just yet. I must choose to love me.

Ironically, it is easier in my mind to choose to love others. Or at least, it is easy for me to "play love" to others while casting judgment on them, whether silently in my head and heart. But because I have not yet learned to love me and to stop killing myself for my shortcomings, mistakes, and stumbles, I cannot really love others. And I want to love others. I want people to want to be near me because they feel safe to be themselves, because they feel encouraged to take the next step (not some step I have preordained for them, because that is not a part of love), and because they are drawn to the love of God shining within me.

First, I must feel safe to be me with me, be free to let others encourage me, and to let others see me how I am--even when it's flawed like it will always be on this earth. I must choose to love me before I can choose to love you.

So what does that mean? How do I choose to love me?

I look in the mirror and say, "You were created by a loving God for a purpose. You are neither too little or too much for that purpose. Anything that needs to be changed will be changed in the right time, and all that I HAVE to do is be open to that change when it comes. I'm not perfect and it's okay. I have value. I make mistakes. But I am okay. I matter to me, to God, and to others. That's more than I could have asked for."

Yes, you can see some of my shortcomings. Obviously, I would rather eat ice cream than to go running. I struggle with my weight. I struggle with my appearance. I struggle with smoking. But I know that in God's time, I will be able to let go of those things that I bind me.

I'm not making excuses for poor eating habits and a lack of exercise, or my choice to smoke. I dislike these things about myself deeply. But I am learning that I do these things more when I struggle with loving and accepting myself as I am. Once I arrive at the point where I love and accept myself as I am, I believe that these addictions will fade. Until then, my job is not to belittle myself further but to learn to accept and love me anyway.

When I choose to love me, my shortcomings are no longer that. They are a part of the beautiful tapestry that is who I am. All fabrics have flaws. But the beauty is in the care of the weaver to create the fabric, and I know that I was woven with love by a Father who wants me and loves me deeply. And He accepts the flaw; He doesn't throw me aside, or worse away!

"Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous--and how well I know it." ~Psalm 139:14 NLT

Father, you have made me unique and you have kept your hand upon me even in the darkest hours. Press down upon me with your love and acceptance as I learn to love myself, and then grant me the freedom to love others in the same way. As you show me my own imperfections balanced with the grace of your unconditional love, allow me to break free to accept and love others. Teach me to love with wreckless abandon just the same way that you love us enough to keep after us even when we hurt you. In Jesus' name, AMEN.


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