It doesn’t take long to feel like a loser. It doesn’t take long to become aware of our inadequacies and failures. Often this comes as we look at others who are beyond where we want to be. We look at celebrities with better bodies, we look at friends on Instagram with better families or vacations, we look at people in our same profession who are where we thought we would be. And so, we feel shame. We feel guilt. We feel like we are not enough for the standards of others or even our own. Often we are aware of this. We know it’s destructive. We hate that we do it. We are sick of it. We are not trying to commit to beating ourselves up but regardless it’s a reality. We want to be able to move beyond this. To get to a place where we are comfortable in our own skin as they say. We want to be able to be content with our life and who we are.
Is there a way this can happen? A way to contentment and away from comparison? The answer we often gravitate towards is loving ourselves more. You hear it in the world and you hear it in the church. It is the great cure for our feelings of low self-worth, self-image, and self-esteem. It is great prize that people strive to achieve “self-love”. Demi Levato has a recent single out (and she by no means is alone in this call) saying “I wonder when ‘I love me’ is enough”. It is a song that describes well the pain of shame and the solution of self-love. And this makes sense.
If we experience others pointing out our failures:
It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you – it matters what you think of you – Love yourself.
If we keep expecting others to be the ones that love us and tell us how great we are but feel disappointed when they don’t: Move on. Levato says “Why am I always looking for a ride or die? ‘Cause mines the only heart I’m gonna have for life”. - Love yourself.
If we experience shame as we compare ourselves to others:
Stop comparing. Stop focusing on what you are not and instead love yourself. Levato says, “I’m my own worst critic. But I’m a ten out of ten even when I forget”. - Love yourself.
Others may not give us the love and affirmation we want but we can love ourselves. In the middle of shame and comparison and disappointment in others the call is to lean into the only reliable source, the only reliable voice, the only reliable love – Self. The problem is if we are honest this doesn’t really work. We can understand the desire for a more stable love but the problem is that in reality our self-love is just as unreliable as the love of others. Levato hints at as much in that she is asking when will it be enough. She knows it’s not right now. When will it be? It won’t. Ever. Why?
First, we may say it doesn’t matter what others think yet it is in fact the voice of others we need to keep telling us this. It is ironic that some of the best-selling authors are self-help authors, assuring you that all you need is yourself. And millions of copies are sold, millions of views racked up. I need someone else to keep telling me that I don’t need anyone to tell me anything. I need songs, books, movies, that are created by others to help me believe I don’t need others. We need voices outside of ourselves to affirm us. If I write a song about loving myself and no one listens I will not feel good. If I share a post about how much I don’t need others and no one hearts it, likes it, or shares it – it will not be enough. We can’t do it alone. Hugging myself is not a replacement for human touch, talking to myself in a mirror is not a replacement for soul level conversation, and loving myself can never replace the love I long for from others. If I love myself but no one else loves me I will not be fulfilled.
Second, we actually do have shortcomings and failures. If we are honest we are not a ten at everything. We can’t simply keep telling ourselves that our career, marriage, parenting, image, character, etc. is a ten. We know it’s not. The path to self-love is often self-deception but this doesn’t make for a solid feeling of worth and value. This is why we are often our own worst critics; because we know ourselves the best. If we want to get rid of feelings of shame the solution has to be more than pretending. So, what do I when I feel a need for love but know the loves around me and the love from me doesn’t work to satisfy? What do I do when I feel the sting of shame and the pain of comparison? I need a love outside of me because my inner voice is not enough. But I need a love that is gracious because I do indeed have faults. And this is what Jesus brings. Paul writes about this kind of love saying, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:6-8). When we are united to Jesus we have a love that we cannot be separated from. He knows us. He sees all the sins. He sees all the imperfections. He sees all the foolishness. And he says we are not defined by it. He loves still. And he says “You are mine”. What do we do when we are tempted to compare, tempted to despair? We don’t double down on loving ourselves. We remind ourselves that I have someone that totally knows me (failures and all) and still tells me he loves me. He knows our grasp of this is fickle. That’s why he wanted to prove it to us. It’s not enough for him only to say it he wants to prove it. Because we struggle to believe, to receive. This is part of why we go to self-love. He says no, no, no look I loved you when you were unlovable, ungodly, still a sinner. This is what we need. We must remind ourselves and ask him to remind us and open our eyes again to his love for us. This gives me the strength I need; this give me the joy I need; this gives me the freedom I need. This is always enough.