When my kids were really little I had the hardest time with the idea of “self love.” I just could not find the balance in the idea, nor wrap my mind around practicing it in a way that did not feel selfish. Isn’t self love more the idea of focusing on yourself instead of others? Or, at least that’s how it felt.
I had it in my mind that if I took some time to myself, or told my children “no” to a game, or did not welcome them into the kitchen to cook with me every day that I was somehow neglecting them and harming them for life.
The imagery that was so often shared on social media at the time constantly promoted the ever-connected parental interaction. It gave no help for a person like me, who struggles with constant interaction and sometimes just needs a little time to myself.
I didn’t realize at the time that my struggles were greatly due to confusion about healthy boundaries. And due to my boundary confusion, I was often on the frontline of martyrdom in the name of “love.”
As I have continued my walk with the Lord, I have come to understand that self love is truly the beginning of loving others in a God-honoring way, with both Truth AND Spirit.
True Love, even with self love, is Rooted in Boundaries
When my children were very young, I struggled with trying to be “everything to everyone.” I had several children, all with different personalities and desires, and it often felt like I was going nowhere fast.
Burnout was a place I seemed to live in and yet the requirements and calls of “more” from my children never ceased.
In addition to their seemingly never satisfied emotional tanks, my emotional bank account seemed as a constant deficit of being overdrawn. I gave, gave, gave, but felt like I rarely, if ever, had anything deposited back in.
It was an especially difficult season.
As my children have gotten older, and I continued to have babies, I realized that something had to give. I am only one person and there is no way that I could continue to dish out everything I had within me at all times in order to keep everyone around me happy.
I had to make sure that I also took care of myself, or else I was going to crumble.
Last year, especially, I hit a wall. I was struggling with several children, in small spaces, and feeling like a complete failure when the kids also struggled.
In the midst of that struggle, I heard the Lord whisper to my soul.
It is not your job to keep everyone happy, but to speak the truth in love, and leave the results up to Me.”
WHAT? What does that mean?
This single concept led me down a path of revelation over the next six months as I realized that all of my efforts to “serve” were really just control issues hidden by good intentions.
[bctt tweet=”…all of my efforts to “serve” my family were really just control issues hidden by good intentions.” via=”no”]
I did not want to say no to my children, because I was scared that they would be upset and damaged. I was scared to allow myself protected time because I believed the voice of the child saying that I was “mean.”
One issue after another emerged as the Lord showed me where I was struggling and what lies had rooted deeply to create a cycle of chaos that only He could unwind.
And, unwind He did.
5 Ways to Embrace Self Love Today
Somewhere along the lines I learned that self love did not equal selfishness. In fact, the Golden Rule reveals a hidden and innate relationship between the way we love ourselves and the way we treat others.
One day the Lord spoke to me and said, “I have said My Law: ‘Treat others the way you want to be treated.’ But, there is more to this idea. The way that you treat yourself will inevitably emerge in the way that you treat others, especially when under pressure.”
There is an inverted truth to this concept that we must learn to embrace.
This idea stopped me in my tracks and revealed the reason WHY I had struggled with the concept of boundaries for so long.
For many years of my early life, it seemed to me that the Christian way to basically let other people walk all over you “in the name of Christ.” The flip side was surely not the way: divisive actions and speech to condemn and attempt to control others to make them submit to my own will.
As common as this method of living is today, it is incomplete and lacking in the fullness of explanation that it needs.
But, I had it in my head that this was the way. And it crippled and silenced me for years.
As I grew in my knowledge of scripture and familiarity with God’s Word, though, I began to see a completely different picture unfold. This way of love, found squarely in the middle of the two extremes I just mentioned, was one that truly embodied Love AND Truth.
Since I have began to practice (and I do say practice, because I totally am not perfect by any stretch) these things, I have never felt such freedom, empowerment (in the holiest of senses), and balance in my life.
#1 Speak the truth in LOVE
There was a time when I avoided speaking up for myself or my thoughts because I didn’t want to stir up contention. The problem was that my silence only served to fuel enablement and and imbalanced power struggles.
The Lord, however, began to show me that there was a middle ground of confrontation where I could speak the hard Truth WITHOUT hatred, condemnation, judgement or criticism of another, but rather simply with the facts.
It is my job to speak kindly, respectfully, directly, and honestly, even if the other person struggles with it.
#2 Hold the Line of Boundaries and Responsibility
Once I began to speak the Truth in a Loving Way, I had to face the fact that not everyone is receptive to Truth, even IF it is done in a loving way.
For a time this sent me spiraling yet again.
“Abba, I spoke, and it all blew up in my face! How is this better?!”
And He showed me that there are lines of responsibility that we all must remember. By me taking responsibility to try to make someone else not freak out or get angry or become sad or get hurt that I was stepping into the God Spot and attempting to be their Holy Spirit.
That also is not my place. It is His.
So, I had to begin to practice walking myself through the narrow valley of self-control, but also remembering that others are fully responsible for themselves and it is not my responsibility to keep them controlled. Period.
#3 Act Like You Are Engaging with Your Best Friend
As I began to better understand boundaries, I faced a time of internal crisis where I began to hear my inner self cry out for needs and things, and then struggle with actually validating the needs.
Somewhere inside of me was the same attempt to control my own spirit with a condemning reaction, rather than one of love.
During one of these times when I was exhausted, tired, and in need of help, I heard the Lord speak to my heart:
If your best friend was in need like you are, exhausted, tired, and overwhelmed, would you tell her to buck up and get over it? Would you encourage her to just deal with it or to keep quiet so that other people don’t have to get uncomfortable?”
My reaction was a quick, “NO! Of course, I wouldn’t! I’d encourage her to ask for help from those around her; family, friends, husband, children. I’d remind her that she can let the house go for a day and it won’t be the end of the world, or that cereal for dinner is not a crime, or that a a missed moment or time with the kids will not kill them but make them stronger. I’d support her taking time for herself, and encourage her to do so because it keeps her healthy AND encourages others to have the opportunity to show her love, too.”
BOOM. It hit me.
I would have freely given love and support to a dear friend in a season or time of struggle, but for some reason had the hardest time offering myself that same listening ear, open heart, and gentle support.
When I began to reach out in love to those around me, opening myself up with vulnerability and inclusion, my whole world began to change in the best way.
#4 Honor Yourself
Once I began to learn how to listen to my inner voice and the needs that I had to keep me centered and whole, I realized that this was the path of honor.
As I began to internalize the importance of self love, I also realized that understanding its importance ALSO freed me to be able to freely extend the same understanding to others when they too are in a difficult season.
Self love paves a way for Love in general when both self and others are nurtured from a place of wholeness, acceptance, and boundaries.
#5 Practice Patience with Yourself, too
As I continued to practice these lessons that the Lord was showing me, I also had to face the pressure I often feel to get things right quickly and immediately.
This pressure also transfers into the expectations I have on those around me, especially my kids.
The more I practiced speaking to myself like I was my own best friend, and honoring the needs that I had in order to keep myself healthy, I also found that this was the central component of practicing patience.
The biblical word for patience is “long-suffering,” which is a characteristic of Yahweh and His Love for us. This word denotes an uncomfortable middle ground of tension. It stands on the fence between an immature and childish struggle and one of maturity.
The more I had to practice patience with myself, the more I could see that my own struggles to “grow” were not found in my own laziness or greed or selfishness. Rather, they were simply the results of life in all its brokenness and trials taking the wind from my sails fairly regularly.
And, it was normal and okay for that cycle to occur as it was the result of simply following Him where He leads.
Walking with God is full of mountains and valleys, because He leads us into and out of trials in order to fortify and strengthen us more and more.
Trials and struggles are His tools for refinement, so patience is a must if we can internalize the lengthy nature of growth and maturity through trials.
True Love Includes Self Love
God is not a God of chaos where one element of life is placed as superior to another. He is the God of the middle ground, where balance, unity, connection, and understanding can be found in spades.
The enemy wants to put words around self love that attack with claws to condemn something beautiful. If you are struggling with that idea, rebuke it. Ask the Lord to help you to navigate His Loving Ways both for yourself AND others.
He will be SURE to respond.