To love one’s self is extremely hard, to love others genuinely is one of the hardest things in this world! Unfortunately, too, because we have used the word “love” too much that it loses its effect and often becomes placebo-like. It seems like we love everything and everyone, from pizza to a person, from a hamburger to our enemies, that the word loses its meaning and purpose. We use the word so much that we do not even know what it really means to truly love, much less the real love of one’s self and those around us. Nevertheless, we have been taught what it means to love by the One who loves us; therefore, we do have a concrete example from the Savior Himself and numerous more from those who had chosen to follow His footsteps throughout the centuries.
The first and hardest love is actually the love of ourselves as we are! This is extremely hard. We often stay either on the extreme of being afraid that we are letting God down or worrying about what other people think of us. Yet, these are often self-created dilemma and problems projected toward the Creator and others because we cannot simply love ourselves for who we really are. We try so hard to be someone else that we think would be more successful, attractive, influential, powerful, or lovable than our own very self. We often hate to look at ourselves honestly because we rather like to project ourselves to be someone bigger or more acceptable than who we truly are!
Yet, this fear, hiding, and escape of our very self make us become more occupied and anxious because we worry too much about being someone else in order to be loved! We have seen other people, and even ourselves either becoming pompous and outspoken (controlling and vocal) or disheartened and down-beaten (depressed or purposeless). We make ourselves think that we are only good for something and life is worth living when we are able to do something or be needed by others while beating ourselves up when we feel like we are failing, ignored, or forgotten. Since the true image and reality of the ego is small, it hates itself when it cannot be portrayed as bigger than it really is. The saddest paradox is that while we like to do many self-centered things, we do not want to see ourselves as we truly are because we do not want to accept its fragility, limitations, and brokenness.
This anxiety to be noticed, needed, or accepted, make us become restless and anxious because we occupy our lives with what we think we need to be instead of being comfortable in our own skins. When we ignore ourselves, we try so hard to pretend, become, or project ourselves to be someone else than who we truly are. We either try too hard to be everything else for everyone or simply shut down and isolate ourselves because it is too overwhelming. We often move from one extreme to the other, trying too hard or just give up when it is too much to bear. We have, in many ways, allowed ourselves to become objectified as well as objectifying others in order to get what we want.
If we treat relationships and people simply as pieces in the chess game, we will simply lose the focus on the dignity and needed respect for people. If we simply treat people with contempt and see them only as utilitarian means to get what we want, we will end up having no problem in manipulating them, making them into scapegoats of our problems, projecting our dilemma upon them, making them “pay” or hurt them whenever they failed, crossed, or do something not up to our standards. When we objectify ourselves and others, we will do our best to put ourselves on a pedestal, pretending to be someone desirable, while treating other people and subjecting them to our self-centered, subjective, or manipulative standards.
The people who live this lifestyle do not see the problem with themselves, they transfer their problems to others, blaming and scapegoating to people around them for what is happening or had happened to them. They become hypocritical because they expect and hold people to a ridiculous or manipulative set of standards but what they set for others do not apply to them. When people hold themselves on a high pedestal and think that everything revolves around them, everyone is simply an object, a utility, or piece of the puzzle to be used — unfortunately, at times, too, this includes themselves. However, the biggest irony has always been, when one objectify others, they will end up being objectified, be used, or taken controlled by someone else who can outdo them at their own game. Power and manipulation are limited and finite. Even though they can seem overwhelming and hard to bear at times, especially when we are under the yoke of wrongdoings, lies, manipulations, and objectification, history has told us those once-powerful people who thought they had everything and can control everyone crumbled at some point.
Furthermore, the people who objectified others often end up being objectified by someone else in one way or another. The cutthroat game of manipulation makes those who are controllers always restless, doubtful, anxious, and hateful toward others. Those who want to control, power, or influence cannot be at peace because they are always worried about other people crossing them or not having things their ways. We are restless because we allow ourselves to always have our fingers in everything. We cannot be at peace because we do not know how to trust and allow God to be in control. We are always on our feet because we always have to “strategize” of how things need to be now or the future as to be in control.
It is also sad to say that the objectification of people and one’s self is not only applicable to controlling people. It also affects those who simply want to be loved, needed, or accepted. These people often get stuck in their own created hell of self-pity because they are so uncomfortable of loving themselves as they are, because they think that they are unlovable. Unlike the manipulative type, they externalize and objective matters in order to simply captivate others and to find the objective self-worth in being accepted by others. They just want to feel like they are needed and contribute or do something right! Nevertheless, this understanding of self-worth does not come from the outside. True love of one’s self has to come from within ourselves, by accepting and loving ourselves as we are — broken but filled with His grace.
At the end of the day, we can only accept who we are in all of our blessings and limitations, gifts and struggles, treasures as well as broken hurts and pains. Yet, the most beautiful mystery that contains within everything that we have is that God loves us and wills our good. Our life of faith invites us to seek, discover, love, and become the people that the Almighty wants us to be, created in His image and likeness, formed out of love and for love, meant for higher, transcendental goods that are beyond this world. This personalized love of ourselves helps us to personalize our relationship with others around us as well. We are not perfect people! We are works in progress and He is still working in us to heal and transform us with His grace. We all have our brokenness and its desire to be someone else than who we are not. We all have the temptations to make ourselves more important and use others to get what we want.
This is not easy, because when we personalize the relationship, we cannot just use others as we like or excuse ourselves from what is not truthful. When we accept who we truly are from our intimate and personal relationship with the One who created us out of love and continues to love us in spite of our imperfection, we will be able (even though at times, challenging) to love and discern all things with patience to love those who are still struggling in loving themselves as they are. It is extremely hard because, let us admit that, even with our best intentions, we can still fail or hurt one another because of our blind spots or brokenness. It is hard to move beyond the sentimental or emotional reactions as to love, forgive, be compassionate and merciful to those who failed or wronged us. It is hard for us not to magnify the problem as to condemn, scapegoat, or treat someone with pure retribution or manipulation. It is hard not to be held back by hatred, pettiness, or selfishness. All of these challenges are oftentimes not naturally “incentive” or appealing to us based on hedonistic standards. Yet, they are present, called, and invited by the Lord Jesus Christ for us, only possible to achieve with supernatural grace and the personal desires to respond with real virtues.
When we understand who we are on the personal and intimate level, especially in light of the One who created us out of love, we are able to personalize our relationship with others according to their dignity, made in the image and likeness of God. While the world seems to tell us that it is perfectly fine to objectify in order to maximize our hedonistic outcome, we are called to personalize the love we have for God through the love of one another. While the world is telling us to do all that we can to maximize our appeal level and influence in order to feel worthy, needed, and loved, we can choose to love others, even if it means to respect, forgive, and will their goods when they do not care, are indifferent, or even try to hurt us. This is who we are, not because it is popular with this world, but it is who God calls us to be! Therefore, let us personalize His love for us by receiving Him fully within ourselves and give to others what we ourselves have received. Even when we failed and relapsed at times, let us learn to love, especially to will, respect, and desire the good of others, as He has loved us in all of our brokenness and imperfections.