The THREE R’s to Loving Yourself

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There’s an old story from the Polynesian Islands called Johnny Lingo and his 10 cow wife. It goes like this: In those days and in that part of the world, if a man wanted to marry a girl, it was necessary for him to pay her father a dowry. Usually the expected dowry was a single cow but depending on how badly the man wanted his bride, he might even go as high as 3 maybe 4 cows.

Now it just so happened that Johnny Lingo was in love with Mahanna, a young girl from the next island over – a woman, who, let’s just say all the villagers agreed, her father, Mokie, would be lucky to get even one cow for her. She was slouched and sallow and sullen, and when Johnny arrived to bargain for her, shrewd old Mokie asked for 3 cows because he thought at least that way, Johnny Lingo would have to offer at least 1 cow in return.

Johnny squinted his eyes for a minute and then he said, “Mokie, 3 cows is a lot but it’s not enough for my Mahanna. I’ll give you 10 cows for her hand in marriage.” Everyone was stunned. Mokie agreed before Johnny could change his mind. So Johnny paid 10 cows for poor sad Mahanna, and with all the villagers snickering behind his back, he went home with his bride.

It was some time before anyone heard from them again, but it so happened that one of the villagers was on a trading trip to Johnny’s island and so he popped in for a visit years later. When he arrived, this stunning young woman met him at the door. She stood tall and straight, face glowing and her eyes shining. Stammering, the villager asked for Johnny Lingo.

After they exchanged pleasantries, he asked Johnny, who was that beautiful woman, to which Johnny replied, “That was my Mahanna.” He could tell the villager was having difficulty lining up the beautiful woman he had just met with the memory of the ugly girl who had left the island so many years ago, so Johnny explained. “What girl can be truly beautiful if she believed that she was only worth 1 or 2 cows to her man? No, we’re as beautiful as we’re told we are, and a woman who’s told she’s worth 10 cows will become a 10 cow wife.”

So question for you: Do you see yourself as a 10 cow woman? How many of us see ourselves as worthy of God’s attention and love?

Because HOW you see yourself – your sense of worth and value – defines everything about your life: Your ability to withstand the hard knocks of life, to remain grounded and resilient when the storms come roaring around to knock you down. Your capacity to reach your God-sized dream, to take risks that will include failing, facing our fears, facing giants that oppose us. Your ability to love your neighbour as yourself.

And truthfully, even your ability to love God fully.

Because loving God means trusting him, and trusting him means feeling utterly and completely safe with him. And feeling safe with him means knowing with an unshakeable confidence that he loves you and has your back, no matter what.

Do you love yourself? I mean, really love yourself? Not in a “Wow, look at me, I’m so great” way but in a “Whoa, I am a Daughter of the Most High King”?

My sneaking suspicion is that the answer – for many of us – is a resounding NO.

When we’re born, we are born tabula rasa – without knowledge or understanding of ourselves, the world, others, and God. It’s our life experiences, especially with our primary caregivers, that begin to imprint our sense of our worth, as well as who we think we are.

Every newborn needs to answer two questions: 1) Are others reliable and trustworthy to love and protect me? and 2) Am I worthy of being loved?

Loving YourselfThe answer to these two questions form the basis of our attachment. Attachment is a system that explains the principles and emotions of relationship – how they work and how they don’t, how we feel when we’re with the ones we love. Our ability to love and connect with others is based on our attachment to our primary caregivers.

Picture a baby being born: her awareness of herself and of others is shaped by how her caregivers respond to her needs. Her brain is hardwired to learn, and her neural pathways are ready to be established based on her experiences.

Research now shows that our brain’s neural pathways are hardwired based on our attachment experiences. God has created us to be in relationship – with himself and with others, so our brains actually develop in the context of relationship experiences. We are discovering increasingly each day how dependent a child’s developing brain is on its mother’s sensitive, attuned and responsive care – these early experiences literally shape the chemical processes in the brain responsible for how we control our impulses and calm our strong emotions.

As a result, fear of abandonment is the fundamental human fear – it’s so basic and profound that it emerges even before we have a language to describe it – it’s so powerful that it activates the bodies autonomic nervous system and kicks in our fight or flight reaction if we fear we are going to be abandoned.

All of us have experienced rejection and broken trust – it is the reality of living in a broken world with broken people. But layer on top of that this reality – what happens if you grew up in an abusive home – where the very people who were supposed to love and protect were the source of injury? What does that teach you about love and relationships?

And even if we grew up with stable, attuned and loving parents, ALL of us have experienced attachment wounds – times when our parents couldn’t be there for us, times when in their humanity as parents, they made mistakes and forgot us, or were unnecessarily angry with us, or were too stressed or sick to really be there for us.

Remember a child doesn’t have the ability to think, “my mommy is stressed right now and that’s why she’s mad at me.” Instead, that child thinks she was a bad girl or it’s her fault that her mom was so upset. Can you see this?

Out of those experiences, we automatically begin to believe lies such as:

I’m a nuisance.

I’m bad.

I’m only loved if I’m good.

I’m on my own, no one is there for me.

People can’t be trusted.

There’s something wrong with me.

I’m only loved if I do something for others.

Oh, we know in our head that these aren’t true, but our hearts are still entrapped in responding to these lies as if they were true. We still struggle with deep insecurities about out worth and our love-able-ness. And these insecurities, my friends, will prevent us time and time again from loving ourselves. Because deep down we wonder if we really are worth loving. If you REALLY knew me…

My friends, we have to actively fight for our sense of worth and value. We need to take an offensive stance, not a defensive one. If we are in defensive mode, it means we have to spend all of our energies trying to fight off the arrows that others and the world sling at us, so we never take back any ground. We end up reacting time and time again, rather than proactively taking a stand and choosing to live out of the truth that we are God’s beloved.

I want to offer up 3 R’s for you to remember how to actively fight for your sense of worth:

  1. Reject the Lies of the Enemy

The Bible says in 1 Peter 5:8 that the enemy is prowling around like a roaring lion to devour us. We know this, but we often think of that more as “big bad wolf” maneuvers, like he’s going to take us down in one fell swoop.

The enemy is actually much more slick than that. He’s a master tactician. He studies us, knows our vulnerabilities, and he stages a steady campaign to devour us. If we saw him coming, we’d be all over it fighting him off. Instead, he gets inside our head, and feeds us a steady stream of subtle lies over a long period of time. He uses our experiences and our traumas and our fears, and whispers lies to us. The ones that are exquisitely designed to get inside our psyche and mess us up.

The most effective strategies in warfare (listen, I watch all these spy series on Netflix so I’m an expert) when you’re trying to break down an enemy during an interrogation is to get him to question what’s true and what’s not. Twist, twist, twist – take the truth and give it a spin to it so all of a sudden, it takes on a nefarious meaning.

One of the most effective counter-strategies is to use TRUTH as your weapon. When I get triggered and I’m struggling with feelings of shame or self-criticism, I will say “truth prayers” out loud to myself: “Thank you that I’m holy and blameless in your eyes. Thank you that there is now no condemnation because I am in Christ Jesus. Thank you that you delight in me and dance over me, etc”. I say these truth statements out loud because my brain thinks and also hears it, which helps reinforce them and overwrite the lies resounding in my head. But most importantly, I’m doing spiritual warfare like Jesus did when he was tempted in the desert by the devil, when he spoke Scripture out loud. I keep going until my feelings subside and I am feeling a sense of groundedness and peace once again.

  1. Resist the Standards of the World

My friends, you are not of this world and the things of this world are passing away. Remember who rules this world – and let me just tell you, he is not our friend. We know that, but why do we let ourselves be defined by the standards of this world?

Just look at the media and you can already see very quickly which standards rule – our looks, our successes, our material goods, who we know. Oh, and of course, what other people think about us. Because it’s all about how many followers we have on social media and how many likes we get for our posts.

Listen, I’m not pointing fingers. I spend waaaay too much time planning out my outfits, obsessing about my weight, watching the number of likes on my last post, and looking jealously at the successes and beauty of other women. Arghh… I wish I didn’t do that, but all of us get caught up in the world’s standards.

But the worse for me is how often I let other’s insecurities define me and tell me how I should act and who I am. I stew for far too long when I think someone doesn’t like me, or someone says something critical or judgemental about me. Arghhh…

My commitment to myself and to God is to track myself and to be intentional about what I choose to think about or look at. I ask God to regularly help me. These are the Scriptures I’ve been meditating on and praying back to God, “Open up before GOD, keep nothing back; he’ll do whatever needs to be done: He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day and stamp you with approval at high noon. Quiet down before GOD, be prayerful before him. Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder, who elbow their way to the top… Stalwart walks in step with GOD; [her] path blazed by GOD, [she’s] happy. If [she] stumbles, [she’s] not down for long; GOD has a grip on [her]hand.” (Psalm 37: 5-7; 23-24 MSG)

Can I just say… can we please celebrate and support each other as women, rather than tearing each other down in our insecurities and jealousy? We tend to compare ourselves with other women and see them as rivals. We struggle with feeling inadequate in the shadow of amazing women. And so we can be mean to each other. We can judge each other harshly. So let’s stop with that already, ok?

  1. Rest in Who You are as Gods Beloved Daughter

In my head, I KNOW that I am God’s beloved daughter and I know that I am of infinite value in his eyes. I hear that truth in my mind, and I even believe it at times, but all too often, I don’t live it in my life.  Why do we have a hard time believing this truth?

Since the Garden of Eden to today, when Eve took a bite of that apple, she left for us two legacies that still haunt us to this day. From the time Eve was tempted by the Serpent and she took that bite of the apple, she began to feel SHAME, and out of that shame, FEAR of being naked before God, and so, she hid herself.  Shame and fear began to control her and dictate to her what she should do, even forcing her to turn away from the only One who could free her and heal her.  Eve ran away from LOVE.

Eve ran away from the one thing she was designed to need, the one thing that would create safety for her – to be in relationship with God. Science now tells us what the Bible has been telling us for years: we are created for relationship – with each other and with God.

In fact, science tells us that relationships heal. But all of us have stories of relationship wounds, disappointments and betrayals. So life tells us that relationships hurt.

But here’s the ironic truth – the most natural and best place to heal from trauma is in relationship with someone you love – that kind of relationship heals. All of my skills as a psychologist cannot compare with the emotional cues from a safe attachment figure.

The most effective way to deal with distress is to turn to a trusted other. That means that as a Christ follower, God is the place we take your vulnerability to – God is the source of healing, safety, and connection.

Did you know that when you’re facing a traumatizing or painful situation, if you hear the voice of a trusted and safe person, it’ll access your emotional part of the brain? That’s why when we focus on God’s truths and hear his voice, it’ll calm us and help us deal with the situation. Proximity to an attachment figure tranquillizes the nervous system.

Don’t let the enemy lie to you about your infinite worth in God’s eyes. Don’t let shame and fear cause you to run away and hide from LOVE. Don’t let the pain of life mask God’s love for you, and his desire to be in intimate relationship with you.

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