We hear a lot of messages telling us to “Love yourself!” or “Be who you are!” Yet, what do all of those messages mean? I think it is easy to say to love one’s self and not be afraid to be who one is, but it is hard to truly know who we truly are. It is easy to talk about self-care, but it is extremely hard to truly care and accept one’s true blessings and brokenness as they are. Reality shows us that too many people are lost within themselves. Too many people cannot love themselves as they are because they are too scared of seeing themselves in all their brokenness and hurts.
For better or worst, who we are today is the product of our past with all its complications. Our family of origin, what happened in the past, what was recognized, understood, or not even understood made up who we are today. Only a rare few had a perfect past (yet they struggle in other ways, too) while many of us have some pains, hurts, or sufferings that made us broken. Some hold on to resentments, others become oversensitive; some developed a false sense of perfectionism, others learned to (healthily or unhealthily) cope with what they have now or had at the time; some created their own self-medicative methods, others came to a dangerous sense of self-loathing. Each person deals with the past differently; while some might be more “successful” or better than others in dealing with what happened, many of us still bear the marks of the past in our present-day struggles.
It is easy to ignore the past or try to make it into something rosy or false than what it really was. It is easy to let do of what hurt us or made us into who we are today instead of looking back, learning and accepting our true selves as we are. We talk much about loving ourselves, but I think we all get held back in loving a different version of ourselves as we want us to be instead of who we really are. We talk much about accepting ourselves as we are but too many just stop at the point of accepting themselves as they see fit, what is appealing and good for them, what the ego wants, what is powerful in their eyes. Many books, writers, and inspirational speakers talked about self-love and empowerment. However, I believe many of those versions are simply brushing off the reality of really seeing the true, raw, honest, and transparent picture and understanding of one’s self. Those people talk much but hardly walk the path of truly loving themselves without the need to create or hold on to something that they think is perfect or good in their eyes. It is easy to talk about loving one’s self until we have to be brutally and soberly genuine, transparent, and honest with ourselves! As a matter of fact, to love ourselves as we truly are, without any self-made justification, pretension, or excuse is very hard. It is hard for us to look at ourselves in all of our vulnerabilities, hurts, sufferings, and pains.
First, we have to admit that we have all done a good job of putting on facades and layers of self-created protections to make ourselves bigger, better, and more loveable than we truly are deep from within. We had spent a lot of time creating either a different and more loving or a powerful and in-control persona than who we truly are. Nevertheless, there is a sense of self-loathing and a real fear of looking at one’s true brokenness. We are so scared of stripping ourselves naked from all of the defensive mechanisms and “important” matters that we had created and put on top of our vulnerable, fragile self that is actually littler than what we would like to be. We are genuinely scared of being ourselves! That is why we try everything available to silence the brokenness, pains, and hurts deep from within. We are scared of the interior and spiritual silence and solitude because we know we do not want to feel helpless and out of control.
It is easier to deal with things that can be calculated, manipulated, and controlled because we have learned to cope and manage those matters through normal social interactions and adaptations. Yet, to simply be and to be loved in our true self is hard because we cannot accept this lesser, real, and raw version. Many people run away from God and the life of faith because it requires just that! Many attacked faith and the existence of God because they do not want to truly love themselves as they are — broken — or be told of something outside of their control and manipulation. “This God has no power over me because He isn’t real! He can’t tell me who I am because He’s just a figment of my imagination or a projection of human desires and fears.” Similar arguments are nothing but fears that our little selves put in defense of its desire to change and face the truth. We want the ability to identify ourselves, pave our own path, and create our own future because they make us look bigger and more powerful. Yet, to accept and to see ourselves in its original, finite, and limited size and abilities really hurt the ego. It is easier to be named as the creators of our own destinies instead of conforming and becoming what we were originally meant to be. It is hard to say that we are not in control and there is a higher power that creates us for something more. However, this is the only way that will set us free!
Many of you know (and I joked about it from time to time) that I am a recovering perfectionist. Due to my cultural and personal upbringing, I learned to cope and lived with a false sense of perfectionism for a long time. As the first child and an immigrant, a lot was expected and needed to be done. I did not want to get disciplined for making mistakes so I sought to become a perfectionist simply just to avoid getting in trouble. There were times that I was borderline scrupulous and OCD-like, double, triple-checking myself and my every action, worrying about how things need to be in order to have them perfected (or so they will not be screwed up). I lived with this self-created image of myself for the longest time ever, but I could never understand why I am never happy. I was so critical of others and thought that they were lazy because “they could’ve done better” or because “I’m doing more work than them!” I was easily angry when I had to deal with people who had different outlooks, viewpoints, and perspectives of life. I was not pleasant to be around because I became demanding and belittled people who I deemed to be lazy, lacking, or not good enough. Yet, this self-formulated resentment and frustrating lifestyle held me captive for the longest time ever since this was the only way I knew how to exist and cope with reality. I was never happy, always wanted more, desired someone’s else life and the likes, but I did not know why or even know who I am. I was lonely and sad because I isolated and closed myself off from everyone. It seemed to be easier to accept the persona and the version of myself being in control, because I at least know how to handle it, than to let go and learn something new… But, I also knew that this was not really the solution because I was not happy. There needed to be something more!
Through providence, I went on a spiritual renewal journey and my spiritual directors at those programs and retreats helped me to love myself as it is. To be honest, it was very hard because I made a lot of excuses not to do so! Yet, through their wisdom, patience, prudence, and persistence, they called me out and helped me dig deep into my past to see my true self, hidden and buried underneath all the lesser things and false security layers that I had built over the years. I had to strip and let go of all of my insecurities and made-up stuff in order to look at myself as it is. It was scary! I was vulnerable. I had nothing to hold on to. For the first time in my life, I had to stand naked and genuine before God without trying to make up any excuses or try to be in control. I was helpless. It was hard! Yet, I finally found who I am, all broken and hurt by life, in need of healing. I finally found who I am, and I was not pretty, but I found out that God loves me.
I, then, had to unapologetically love myself as I was meant to be. With that unpretentious self-love, I began to let go, forgive, and love those who were and are in my life, too. My spiritual directors taught me to love those who are also hurt because each and every one of us has our own core wound that we bear and carry. I was taught to love the person beyond the words and actions they could subconsciously or defensively do in order to protect their fragile ego. This does not mean that everything is going to be rosy and all nice! I still struggle in trying to love others, yet I have learned that there is a big difference between love and like. While I might not like or find this person’s attitudes or actions, sometimes to a high degree, but I have learned not to let my raw emotions and feelings dictate and turn me into a vengeful person. While I might struggle to respond and be kind in the presence of such people and to love them humanly speaking, my true love for them never stopped since it never ends. I have to personally and intentionally choose to love, even though the natural temptations and tendencies are to seek retribution, beginning in prayers and small creative steps to embrace (the person) and let go (the hurts or things beyond control).
As a matter of fact, Jesus taught you and I this valuable lesson! He knew that His love will not be received and responded by all, yet He chose to die for the love of us. God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — love us beyond our brokenness and wants to heal us deep from within, but we have to have enough courage to let go and accept His love. It is scary to let go of our false sense of security and what we had built for ourselves. Nevertheless, unless we let go, we can never have the freedom to open ourselves up to receive something greater than what we can comprehend or see at this moment. It is hard to be vulnerable, genuine, and transparent with ourselves and to love ourselves in its brokenness and all its imperfections. Yet, unless we do this, we will never know who we are except to continue to lie and dupe ourselves into loving a different version of who we think we are or what we would like to be. The Lord taught us to love by the selfless, genuine, and personal gift of ourselves in loving others. He taught us to love, and to continue to love, even when others want to hurt us or had hurt us. He gave us the ultimate answer to all of this world’s evils and hurts by overcoming evil with Him! Instead of doing what would seem to be natural and human by taking things into our own hands and dealing with matters that would be comfortable to us, we are called to discern, reflect, pray, and take the route of the self-donation way of love that the Lord Jesus had chosen to save the world. As you can see from this reflection’s featured image that, “Jesus died for you and me, knowing that we might never love Him back!” That is true love.
Therefore, let us not be afraid to run to His love. Let us not be afraid to trust and give ourselves wholeheartedly in response to His everlasting love. Whoever we had made ourselves to be or whatever we think we think are, do not be afraid to lay them all down at His feet. Do not be afraid to shed our false persona and self-made image as we come to Him. Do not be afraid to love ourselves as we are, in all its grace-filled brokenness and imperfections, so that we can truly give and offer the gift of ourselves as we are to those who are around us. This is the hard way, but this is the only way that we can truly be free and genuine with who we are. We are loved; and by His grace, we will overcome every lie that tells us that who we are not or as someone else except as God‘s beloved.
He loves us not because we are perfect or in control (or in whatever terms you and I would like to identify ourselves) but because He has made us out of love and for love. Hence, only in loving Him wholeheartedly, humbly accepting our brokenness and imperfections, can we learn how to love others as they are. Love is the only way and the only answer to what this world can never give to us, for true love is only found in Him who first loved us and showed us how to truly love! Therefore, let us dare to love ourselves and gift that genuine gift to others as we truly are.