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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

Jesus Said to Love YourSELF

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

There is so much self-loathing in our culture and within the traditions of the church. Yes, we may have sinned. Yes, we may have made choices we aren’t proud of. Yes, we may have even imploded our lives; but it often seems that we are more inclined to hate ourselves than accept that there were probably underlying causes. These causes (usually childhood experiences) don’t excuse what we did, but they certainly contributed. Instead of hating the choice we made, we hate the one who made the choice.

When I read about the interactions Jesus had with those who had clearly made bad choices, I never see him hate the one who made the choice. Yes, he hated the choice because of the pain it caused them and others, but he never hated the person. Never.

If Jesus never hated the one who sinned, then why do we? Why do we hate the very one God created? We kind of get this when it comes to the "others," but not when it comes to the one we see in the mirror every morning. Why? Didn’t Jesus say to love yourSELF? When asked about what was really important he talked about loving God and then loving your neighbor as yourSELF.

Notice, I am saying yourSELF? In my thinking, writing the word in this particular way changes everything. Loving yourself has a knee jerk reaction in our society and the church. It conjures up the self-absorbed who are completely unaware. YourSELF provides a different perspective. It is the loving of the one God created. It is the core person who makes us uniquely us. It involves understanding what makes us tick. This includes those things that happened to us.

I don’t know how many sermons I have heard on leaving the past behind and putting away childish thinking. I love the new expression ‘adulting’. Adulting is rough. Sometimes we do need to set aside our own "wants" and do what is needed. That doesn’t mean we need to set ourSELF aside. It is also true that we can never leave our past behind until we are able to heal and view it from an adult perspective. We can’t change what happened, we can only change how we feel about it. Notice I didn’t say think? Changing our thinking doesn’t always change our feelings. Why not?

As much as we want to deny that an inner child still lives inside of us and is the core of who we are, it is the absolute truth. When I sneak into the kitchen and get a couple of Oreos before dinner, I sense the child inside of me. When I find myself running from the waves at the ocean, I am certainly not sixty-four. When I see a deer go by and run for my iPhone to take a picture, the child in me wants to treasure it forever. We all accept this, don’t we? We can even love those parts of us.

The problem we have is when we are suddenly plunged into emotional turmoil. We try to make this an adult problem. We hate this part of us that can’t live above the anger, fear (anxiety), or sadness. We have named our most intense episodes depression, but it is rooted in childhood (with possible genetic predispositions and changes in brain structure if we experienced depression in early childhood). I named my most intense days the dark cloud. I hated this "self" that landed me in bed. I loved the bright cheery part of me but hated this part, never understanding I was hating the small child inside of me.

We can never leave our past behind. We can heal the child who may have suffered, but the past is part of us. If we had happy memories as a child, we cherish the past and would never consider leaving it behind. We can look at our childhood pictures and love the child who looks at us from the photographs. The challenge for those who suffered trauma is to fall in love with the child who still cries out for help. Trauma never lets our inner child leave the pain in the past until it is resolved. This child who still lives in anguish every day becomes the focus for our self-loathing. The pain within our inner child influences our health and choices every single day.

Late last night, I had an unusual wakeful period (filled with some uneasiness that frustrated me) and I began scrolling my Facebook feed. One of my writing friends from England had posted a question: “What was the moment that you realised that you loved yourself unconditionally?”

The question jerked me back to my present place of healing and I realized my inner child was processing what I had been reading as I edited my book. This had taken me back to my long-gone wakeful and frustrated nights. We were both remembering the times when I truly hated her pain. The only time, I slowed down enough to hear her voice was in the night. She needed me to love her—not hate her.

I don’t think it is any coincidence that Jesus made it clear that children were to be treasured, that the ones who hurt them should have millstones tied around their necks and be drowned, or that he said we must become like them to enter the kingdom. What does this mean? It means we must un-layer.

At the deepest core, we remain the small child who was still un-layered by the pain and difficulties of life. Our emotions were not suppressed into the dark recesses of our soul. We were alive and trusting. The child in us was meant to be there always. It is the part of us that embraces the day, but when damaged, this child lives on, as he or she should, but in anguish. We grow to hate the child who should have been our joy. We run from the anguish instead of holding the child and finding healing.

How sad that it is easier to love our neighbor than ourSELF. Traditionally, the Christian community has scoffed at "self care" and called it selfishness. The idea of SELF-love has been equated with self-absorption—which is probably more like unhealthy self-protection. We have almost entirely missed the point that when we become comfortable with ourSELF, it is easier to love and serve others.

There is a reason the phrase, “Hurting people hurt people” has become popular. It is true. We just don’t understand the hurting people we see (or are hurt by) are actually hurting children in adult bodies. We also don’t understand that by ignoring the hurting child inside of us, we are only hurting ourSELF.

I end with my response to the prompt. As soon as I realized I had forgotten to care for this small child while I edited her story, we both curled up and fell asleep.

The day I loved myself unconditionally was the day I found my small abused child-self hiding in my soul. I had always called her confused and tortured mind the dark cloud. I feared and hated her until she told me her repressed story. Then I understood her triggers and emotional outbursts. I saw her as the beautiful small child she truly was. I understood she was the survivor inside me and I fell in love with her as we began to heal together. There was nothing to judge any longer. I loved her for all the ways she had learned to survive. I finally understood who I was at the very core and loved myself unconditionally.

God had always loved this self in me, but when I got on the same page, we both loved "me" unconditionally. It is exactly how Jesus said it should be. Love yourSELF.

#Faith #trauma #MentalHealth

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