Recently a friend challenged me regarding my self-esteem, questioning why it was low. It caught me a bit off guard. I've known my struggles with low self-esteem and even come up with explanations for it. But this time, instead of going to my easy excuses, I actually wondered about it myself. Why do I sometimes think that I'm not worthy of other peoples' love? So I asked God. Faithful as ever, He revealed a few messages I've latched on to and falsehoods I've adopted into my identity. Interestingly, He's used the whole process to work on other things in me as well.
The first has to do with trust and control. A different friend and I were talking about these issues and how it seems that control is often a struggle for women. I know it certainly is for me. I would like to control my life, at least in the sense of minimizing pain. This desire for control manifests itself in the things about which I worry, the career and financial decisions I make, and, primarily, in how I go about relating to others. For instance, if I sense that someone doesn't care about me, I'm likely to feel the urge to not care about them first. Sometimes I pretend I am just "guarding my heart." But, let's be honest, I'm protecting myself because I don't trust God to. The Bible is replete with reminders of God's love. Paul writes to the Romans, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:31-32). How is it that I trust God for salvation — to have actually come to earth, taken on the limitations of humanity, experienced the complete reality of our fallen lives, taken on the full burden of my sin, then invited me to accept His free gift of grace, all without me doing anything to earn it or maintain it but simply because He is God and He is jealous for me — and then not trust Him with my heart in daily matters? The sillier thing is that I have been through difficult circumstances before. I have experienced rejection and heartache. And God has brought me through it, even redeemed the situations and worked them for my good (Romans 8:28). I can honestly attest to many things that were hard or seemed horrible at the time for which I am now truly grateful. But when the opportunity to risk my heart comes again, I sometimes default to panic. I have thrilled to the exhilaration of knowing God's growth and being part of His adventure; yet when He invites me to another adventure, I shy away. It seems crazy, but I know I'm not the only one who struggles with this. And I know God is reminding me that He is in control. He knows the plans. He loves me. He is going to bring me Home (Philippians 1:6). It might hurt sometimes, but He's the one who guards my heart. He's the one who comforts and purifies and strengthens and protects and grows. So, yes, I am worth being loved because I am a beloved daughter of God (not to mention the fact that all humans are worthy of love by virtue of being created in the image of God, loved by Him, and being those whom He desires to save). And it is worth risking my heart because, really, my heart is only secure in God anyway. My protective measures just keep me from experiencing real life.
The other thing God has been working on is my own treatment of others. While He shows me that I am worth loving, He's showing me that other people are too. You see, when you think that maybe all you're really going to get or are really worthy of are scraps of love, you tend to want to only give scraps to everyone else. When you're busy protecting your own heart, you don't have any heart to give away. When you're drawn into your own efforts to earn love, you have no energy left to really love. Rejecting others first seems safer than being rejected. Thinking that other people are only going to give me the leftovers makes me want to hoard my own love. If I give it away, I fear nothing will be left for me. If I show my own vulnerability, I fear I'll end up embarrassed, exposed as the fool, hurt. I admit I have treated other people the way I've expected to be treated. I have failed to pause and really listen to them. I have not valued or respected their time. I have acted as if I am too busy or too cool to really invest in them because I think I need to present myself as something other than who I really am. That's just wrong.
First, it's unfair even from a worldly perspective; these other people love me well. They treat me with great care and as someone who is lovable. God has provided several friends and family members that image His love and demonstrate the worth He has bestowed on me. Honestly, sometimes it surprises me. These people expose the old lies I've believed and tangibly remind me of the truth of God. But, from a godly perspective, regardless of how others treat me, I should be loving them with His love. God loved us while we were still sinners, while we actually deserved the exact opposite of love (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:19). God commands us to love others (John 13:34-35) and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Luke 6:31). As I begin to accept love from other people — not the leftover kind or the earned kind but the kind that affirms my worth — I realize I really like it. And I want to value them just as much.
Practically speaking, what is there to lose in loving others? We don't love just because God commands us to, but because that is the natural response of being well loved. When I am fully accepting God's love for me and fully trusting Him with my heart, the only thing to do is give it away. If I actually trust God, then I'm not so wrapped up in controlling my own life. And when I'm not so distracted by control, I don't need to self-protect. And when I'm not self-protecting, I can lean into God and follow Him. I can discover who He's made me to be and revel in who He is. I can get filled up on His love. And when my heart is that full and that free, loving others is going to be a result.
Even more than that, when I really understand who I am to God, I can begin to see who others are to Him as well. God's love is so deep and intentional, and yet also expansive. When one of us has had a particularly good day or something has gone our way, my family sometimes jokes that "I'm God's favorite." The thing is, we're all God's favorite. I am of inestimable worth. So are you. God looks at you and sees a beautiful masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). We may be a bit marred — as one pastor illustrated it, like a Rembrandt painting covered in mud in the process of being restored — but we're made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). We are intricately woven together and planned on well before our birth (Psalm 139). God is completing us and making us fully into His likeness (Romans 8:29). When I see other people, I should be in awe of the God who created them and delicate with them. If others really are a masterpiece, I should be treating them with care and respect.
Admittedly, this is more of a realization than a consistent practice as yet. But I am praying that as God continues to show and remind me of His love, sovereignty, and trustworthiness, that I'll not only more easily receive love, but that I'll more easily love. As I give my heart more fully over to the only One who can truly protect and nurture it, I'm praying He'll take me on another wild adventure in which love gets real. It will be messy. It will be surprising. It will feel wonderful and right. It will feel scary. It will hurt. But it will be worth it, because He'll be there, unveiling the masterpiece with His perfect craftsmanship and inexhaustible love.