Last week I told you a little about my life journey from childhood abuse and the self-hatred I developed in response to it, to my present, still in process journey to a life of peace and acceptance of who I am that flows out of an increasing awareness of who God is and how much He unconditionally loves me. I’m cautious about sharing my journey because although I believe completely in the truth of what I’m sharing I’m aware that God works in us all differently. Exactly how He is working these truths through in my heart is unique to me but I’m praying that something here will be used by God to bring healing and encouragement to any other wounded hearts out there.
Although I had been seeking to love and accept myself for many years I was truly spinning my wheels and getting nowhere fast. No matter what I did I still hated myself and felt imprisoned by these feelings. I felt hopeless; like I would forever feel like I did and never find freedom… until God graciously used an earthquake to begin to break my adult world apart. God loved that abused, hurting little girl and wanted me to know true freedom and love but He also knew I never would until my desperate, sinful hold on my own life loosened. My number one priority, God began to show me, was to stay in control and live for myself. I didn’t want to admit that what I wanted most was beyond my control. I didn’t want to face my feelings so I buried them. I felt performance pressure from within me all the time because I believed this gave me something to work on, to maintain my illusion of control and give me the hope that, by becoming better, I could finally get the love and approval I so desperately wanted. At the core of all this was a proud heart, a heart that said God had already proven Himself not to be good so I must look out for myself. Humanly this sound so reasonable, doesn’t it?
The journey to freedom had to begin with a shift at a basic, quantum level… from self-preoccupation to God-preoccupation. From a self-obsessed preoccupation with me; how much I hated myself, what other people thought of me, and what I thought I had to have in order to survive, to a focus on who God was, His character and His love. Self-preoccupation caused me to relate to others in ways designed to encourage them to make me feel better about myself but God was calling me to a much higher calling. He was calling me, as He is calling you who have been saved by the blood of Jesus, to live in ways designed to bring Him glory and reveal His loving heart to others by the ways we interact with them. At that point my number one goal in life was not to glorify God as it should’ve been, instead, it was to learn to love myself! I even interacted with God so that He might make me feel better about me and give me what I thought I needed. Yes, it was all about Julie!
Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to love ourselves. As a matter of fact, many places in God’s Word command us to love God with all of our heart and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves, assuming that we already love ourselves to begin with. Whether we think we are better than other people or whether we hate who we are, the same selfish energy fuels both… What’s another word for self-preoccupation? Pride!
That earthquake I mentioned earlier? It took the form of a loving friend challenging me by saying that my bad self-image was actually chosen by me, that it was something I hung onto because it insulated me from being hurt by others. Oh, I got SO angry at his insensitivity but God was patiently working with me and after a few very miserable days I knew that my friend was absolutely right! I hated feeling this way about myself all the time and oh, how much I thought I wanted to be rid of it but in reality I slowly came to see that although it didn’t feel like a conscious choice at all, internally my self-hatred was useful to me because it helped me avoid having to admit that I couldn’t control things and get what I demanded that I need. Blaming myself and hating myself helped me to survive a world that was unpredictable, disappointing, and painful. It gave me both an explanation as to why I wasn’t being loved as well as an excuse not to trust God and open my heart to love others. This earthquake proved to be the most painful moment of self-realization I have ever come to and, at the same time, the most liberating moment of self-realization I have ever come to. God was so good to me to help me own the truth of this so He could get me off that hamster wheel!
God revealed this to me in bits and pieces, so patiently moving me from one step to the other. As I was facing the selfishness of my own heart, what that precious little girl did in response to the pain heaped on her as a child, I had a choice now as an adult. I could either continue imprisoned in my self-hatred, internally justifying spending the rest of my life relating to God and others to get what small shreds of attention and love I could find, or I could admit to God that I was completely out of control of my life and was spending it in a selfish pursuit of me and not for His glory. Because of His enabling, I chose the latter. It continues to be a long process of slowly facing how much I’ve used my own pain to justify manipulating other people for my own needs, instead of loving them for their good as Christ has commanded. And step by step, I’ve also had to honestly face the terror inside, the damage done to me by others. I mean, honestly admit it. Without excusing it or exaggerating it. Each time I release the next wounded, tender part of my heart to God and let Him love me, He slowly brings me more healing and peace.
In addition to my difficult childhood, for almost 48 years now God has allowed infertility, health struggles, damage by other Christians, shattered dreams, chronic physical pain, and more to touch my life. Although extremely difficult, these are the things He has used, and still is patiently using, to work on my self-sufficient, proud heart to force me to face the ongoing reality that life just doesn’t work like I want it to and that I’ve been built only for Him. They are very effective teachers at showing me how to trust God’s good heart toward me. As I continue to release my hold on my life, God is enabling me to find it after all. It’s exciting when I see Him loving others through me and the more I admit my failures and receive His forgiveness the more I’m blown away by the fact that He still loves me, and always will, no matter what. I live with a deepening sense of gratitude for Who He is, how completely He loves me, and I want others to experience that same love.
As I continue to choose faith and not fear, my self-hatred, shame, and internal performance pressure is slowly melting away. God’s love and forgiveness is freeing me from the terror that somebody’s going to find out how ugly and terrible I am and reject me because I know He sees all of who I am and loves me completely. I’m definitely far from perfect but I’m accepting the ongoing process because I know that God loves me and is at work, patiently forming the character of Jesus in me.
So, whether you struggle with self-image or something equally as painful, allow it to drive you to God because He loves you more than I have the words to describe. Allow Him to free you from your sin and remove the chains of your past… as well as the shame of your present. God has proven His love by pursuing you in the best way possible: through Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. His pursuit of you is where you will finally find your value. Come to God on His terms and you’ll find forgiveness, love and freedom.
Finder’s weepers, loser’s keepers.