Here’s a typical conversation that comes up fairly often in my office:
Me: “What would it be like to believe that you are worthy and good, no matter what, regardless of your actions?”
Answer A: “That doesn’t sound right. Yeah, God loves me, but I’m supposed to love him back. I have to show him through my actions that I’m worthy of his love.”
Answer B: “That feels selfish. I shouldn’t be focusing on myself so much.
Answer C: Pause. Softens. “Could that really be true?”
Most of us in Christian circles grow up hearing the message of God loves you! from stickers we’re given at religious education classes, songs we sing at Vacation Bible School, or the happy posters in the hallways of a Christian school. Usually, somewhere along the way in our adolescent or young adult years, we have an encounter with God that allows us to truly experience his real love. Then we start to see and believe, Oh, God loves me.
But then something else happens. Me? God loves me? But he just loves everybody. That’s his job. He died for me, but who else wouldn’t give up their life to save all of humanity?
Our first experience of love typically comes from our parents. Our parents are human beings, which means they are imperfect. They come with their own special set of flaws, wounds, and failings, which means that no one comes out of childhood unscathed. We will all incur wounds of some kind. The imperfect love of our parents has various impacts. Sometimes that comes out in being affirmed for our actions (I’m proud of you because you did xyz; You’re such a good girl because you did this thing), giving us the message that we are not simply good on our own. This leads us to believe that our worth equals our actions. Sometimes that imperfect love tries to “encourage” us with threats or accusations (You’re so dramatic/lazy/dumb; Why can’t you be like your siblings?). This can lead us to internalize and believe the accusations thrown at us, or to live our lives trying to prove that we’re not what that accusation says. Sometimes parents can’t handle our negative feelings, so they try to fix them (Just get over it; Here’s some ice cream or a new toy if you stop crying; You should be grateful things aren’t worse). From this we learn that our feelings don’t matter or are in fact bad. Or that we are bad.
These messages can come from anyone that we care about: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, coaches, teachers, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, siblings, mentors, bosses, coworkers. Our mind clings to these messages, creating a barrier to receiving the truth of our identity, which is that we are good, we are worthy, and we are loved, regardless of our actions.
It makes sense if this is difficult to comprehend. We can’t just think our way into believing in our worth. It is something that must be received, which means we have to let go of the messages we cling to and open our hands. Opening our hands means acknowledging that we have been hurt. Many people struggle with feeling guilty for admitting that people, particularly our parents, have hurt us. Often we feel that we are being ungrateful for all the good that our parents have done for us if we take time to reflect on the things they did that weren’t so good. We can be grateful and we can acknowledge our pain at the same time.
As human beings, we also struggle with comparative suffering. This is when we feel guilty for focusing on our own struggles because we think others have it worse than us. It’s as if we believe that having compassion on ourselves will take away from the compassion that others who may have gone through more intense suffering can receive. What actually happens when we have compassion on ourselves is we strengthen our ability to have compassion on others, thereby increasing the compassion in the world. People’s actions sometimes have a negative impact on us that bring up negative feelings in us, regardless of the person’s intentions. Those negative feelings are there whether we admit it or not. So we can choose to ignore the feelings (which will create problems) or acknowledge the feelings.
Do you believe that you are worthy and loved, regardless of your actions? If not, what messages are you believing about yourself that stand in the way of receiving God’s love? Where do these messages come from?
Healing begins when we bring the pain to the light. God wants to heal your wounds. You have to be willing to acknowledge the wounds before you can surrender them to the Healer.