In her 1985 debut album, a young Whitney Houston sang, “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”
I’ve often connected those words with Christ’s invitation to love God, our neighbor, and the implicit message to also love ourselves. Mark 12:30-31. It’s great to aspire to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves. It’s the law of love that Christ summarized and lived.
But could Whitney have known that learning to loving ourselves would be the biggest challenge of her life and ours?
Joseph Rosenfeld writes in his article, “Lessons From Whitney: Learning to Love Yourself Is the Greatest Love of All”, what happened to Whitney happens to many of us. “Self-doubt, not accepting one’s self in the moment, not loving one’s self is truly toxic.” And if we lose touch with our “goodness” we can lose touch with our very lives.
Where Did Thinking “You’re Bad” Come From?
I admit, sometimes I don’t like myself. I don’t like my thinning gray hair, my middle-aged potbelly, and my anxious impatience. That’s just for starters. Somewhere, somehow, I began to believe that I am bad. Broken.
I know we’re made in the image and likeness of God, but my divine image gets tarnished when I reflect on my many shortcomings. In my mind, I don’t measure up to my expectations. I wonder if God’s disappointed with me too.
As I get older, I realize many people walk around with a bag full of unhealthy guilt like me. It often feels like shame—feeling I’m inadequate as a person. There’s always something that needs fixing in me.
I went on a venture to figure out where those feelings of not-feeling-the-love for myself come from and more important, how we can learn to love ourselves. Here’s what I am discovering.
Original Shame vs Original Blessing
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says that many of us Christians were taught a theology of “original shame.” We’re told Adam and Eve stained humanity with original sin by eating an apple. Now, we’re all broken and need divine fixing. As a result, we live in shame and don’t know how to escape it.
Rohr suggests we need to re-think our shame-filled theology and replace it with the truth we are God’s “original blessing.”
“I think a much truer description of Adam and Eve’s experience would be ‘original shame.’ They hide when God comes looking for them, and when God asks why, they say they feel naked. Then God asks Adam and Eve, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ The implication is, ‘I sure didn’t.’ A few verses later, we see a very nurturing image of God as seamstress, sewing garments and covering the two humans to protect them from their shame (see Genesis 3).”
Rohr suggests we might not suffer from the I’m-bad-and-need-fixing syndrome if instead of viewing God as the eternal punisher ready to condemn people to hell when they mess up, we instead saw the Adam and Eve story as revealing the deep mystery of transformation: God even uses our shame and pain to lead us closer to God’s loving heart.
We Are God’s Original Blessing
When we embrace the truth that our “core” is good, loving, and blessed by the Creator, we’re more inclined to like ourselves again. We let go of shame. We let ourselves be who we already are. And we’re more open to letting others be who they already are. We cooperate with the divine task of letting God pull back and remove our false layers and beliefs.
The truth is the God of love created you and me in the divine likeness. We are sacred to the Creator—loved as we are—loved how we are.
A Life-Long Journey
Sure, we pick up layers of ego and self-protection over time, which creates a false self. And it’s those layers of ego we need to identify so we can cooperate with God’s grace to remove them. That’s the inner work we’re invited to do over a lifetime.
In her reflection, We Are Already Whole, author Joan Borysenko echoes being God’s original blessing with these words:
“The message that underlies healing is simple yet radical: We are already whole. . . . Underneath our fears and worries, unaffected by the many layers of our conditioning and actions, is a peaceful core. The work of healing is peeling away the barriers of fear that keep us unaware of our true nature of love, peace, and rich interconnection with the web of life. Healing is the rediscovery of who we are and who we have always been.”
Simple Tools for Inner Work
In her book, Spirituality for Dummies, Sharon Janis says that when we take the human love we want for ourselves and others, uplift it to a higher spiritual love—the love of God—our love moves beyond the realm of conditional human or intellectual love. It’s a love that comes from and resonates with the power of true unconditional love.
Her words make sense, but I have to take her theory and move it into a practice, so it becomes real within me.
It may sound simplistic or silly, but here’s a practical way the Creator’s been inviting me to open my heart and learn how to love myself better:
Ask for grace.
I ask God for the grace to love myself unconditionally; to let go of self-doubt and embrace self-love as a gift from the Creator. I am God’s original blessing.
Choose a mantra.
I practice saying to myself, “I love me.” I use those words or similar ones during my Quiet Time with God each morning and throughout the day.
Notice your body and emotions.
I notice what it feels like to love myself. Where in my body do I experience self-love when I say, “I love me?” What emotions rise in me? How does loving myself in a healthy way feel on the inside?
Allow the mind to sink into the heart.
I don’t focus on the intellectual concept of who I am or what makes me good. I let my mind sink into my heart noticing how that feels in my body as I name the emotions that arise.
Replace self-doubt with self-love.
I return to my phrase, “I love me,” whenever self-doubt or negative thoughts come. And I am patient with this new practice, trusting God is doing the work in me as I cooperate with his grace.
When we love ourselves, we’re filled with more unconditional love to give away. We continue the inner work of learning how to love God, others, and ourselves. We live from our Authentic Self. And in many ways, isn’t that our deepest desire—to live from the heart of who we already are?
Whitney was right: learning to love ourselves is the greatest love of all because it invites us to remember that we are God’s Original Blessing. And our core—our Authentic Self—is someone we can not only like, but someone we can also love and celebrate with God.
—brian j plachta
More Resources for You to Find Inner Peace, Balance, and Wholeness
Are you looking for more ways to get into the Divine Flow and restore your inner peace? Check out these resources:
Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts in the Second Half of Life
How can you discern what you are invited to do with your life after your 9-5 job ends, the kids are raised, or you retire or want to retire?
How does discovering your spiritual gifts provide a roadmap to living the second half of life with joy, purpose, and fulfillment?
Join us via Zoom or in-person for this interactive workshop where you’ll have an opportunity to take a Spiritual Gifts Inventory and discover how you can use your gifts in life-giving ways. Download the free Spiritual Gifts Inventory with this link: Spiritual Gifts Inventory.
Click the link to learn more and register: October Workshop/Webinar
Spiritual Reading: Are You Ready to Get Into the Flow?
Finding Flow–Spiritual Practices to Reclaim Inner Peace, Balance, and Wholeness provides you with the tools you need for your spiritual toolbox. Here’s what people are saying about the book:
“Finding Flow shares the simplicity of spiritual practice in so many varied, longstanding, and proven ways that you will find yourself asking the question: Why haven’t I included such approaches to God in my life before? Then, as you move further along through the chapters you will find yourself building your own tailored “rule of prayer”. As in the case of the fourth century Abbas and Ammas of the desert did, you will slowly move to develop a center of prayer within. This will set your spiritual life in motion so daily life turn can into a true pilgrimage marked by the resilience, inner peace, and compassion that only can come from a real relationship with God.”
Podcast—Listen to this Podcast Conversation with Brian Bosely and myself about how the tough times in your life can be transformed into a “Stroke of Luck.” Click the Podcast Link below to download and listen.