One of my most favorite of quotes from a book comes from Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. Its at almost the very beginning, and he says: “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.” The first time I read this, I’m pretty sure I reread it over and over at least seven times. The sentiment was so perfect. Donald Miller was exactly right. There have been many times where something (an activity, a type of book, a type of music) just really didn’t do anything for me. I wasn’t a fan… Until I listened to someone else share their passion, their love of that book or artist with me. I could hear the love in their voice, see the passion in their eyes. I wanted to experience that love for myself. and I began to look at that activity or subject differently. I began to see how someone could love it, and I began to love it myself.
It is easy for us to love things. In many ways, society has programmed us to fall in love instantly with the consumer products they throw at us. Ours is a society that believes in love at first sight (a sentiment we don’t limit to falling for a person). We throw around the word ‘love’ with ease, loving everyone and everything around us. Part of this is probably the fault of the English language. We have a rather large gap between liking and loving something or someone. I remember being in middle school, talking with my friends about our crushes. The main question was “But do you like him like him?” To just like him wasn’t enough, but even our sixth grade selves knew that love was too strong a word. So we love without pause, and often without care. Yet deep down, I believe we all know and long for that ultimate love, the perfect love, but I believe in many ways we just don’t know how to love the way we long for.
While its easy for me to say that I love my books or I love my shoes, its harder for me to say that I love myself. Most women, I feel, would agree with this. Many days, we look into the mirror and struggle with not hating ourselves. We see our reflection, and we see a woman who is tired, a woman who is having a bad hair day, a woman whose makeup won’t cover up those red bumps on her chin, a woman who is a far cry from the woman we imagine ourselves to be. Women are rarely satisfied. We are always searching for that new diet, that new miracle make up, that fantastic pair of jeans that makes us look thinner, that new hair cut and color to make us into someone new. Earlier today, while I was ironically working at a clothing retail store, I realized how very few men come into the store, let alone ask for help, and that my usual customer is a woman. Men go shopping for appliances, electronics, movies; things that are big, shiny, and make lots of noise. (There is nothing wrong with this, guys. I need you to answer my questions about such things.) Women shop for things that make them feel beautiful. And we need reassurance. We rarely shop alone, afraid of making the wrong choice, and if we venture out without a dutiful friend, we ask the store employees for suggestions and ideas. We don’t trust ourselves. And the worst part is, we will take all of our new purchases home, try them all on (for probably the fiftieth time), and decide we hate them. They look terrible. We don’t love them, and we don’t love ourselves in them.
I can honestly say there has only been one time, so far, in my life when I have truly loved myself. During my time in Cairo, Egypt, I was around some truly wonderful people, especially the young women I lived with. I knew everyone around me loved me. I felt beautiful. I felt lovely. I felt wonderful. And I was absolutely in love with the people who surrounded me. I was so connected, felt so much, that it was almost impossible not to love myself. When I could feel the love and give it away freely, it was only natural that I would give it to myself. Cairo was my place of peace, a moment of joy between one breath and the next. It was ephemeral, slipping through my grasp almost as quickly as it had been found. I struggled to hold on to it, to keep it close. As my friendships dimmed and my memories faded, I lost my way. What was once as easy as breathing was forgotten, thrown by the wayside with other such seemingly nonsensical notions as truth and happiness. And when you lose your ability to love yourself, when you can’t find a reason to look in the mirror and say with a smile, “I love you,” you can’t imagine someone else loving you either. Even God’s more unconditional, incomprehensible love is beyond you. And if you can’t fathom being loved, how can you understand what it means to love?
I’ve been home from Cairo for four years now, and I’m still trying to find my way back. So when I read that line from Blue Like Jazz, I connected. I understood, because I knew what it was like. It was easy to love myself in Cairo, because I watched others love me. After they left, I was adrift. The part of me that is insecure, that doubts myself wonders if they even remember me at all. If they met me now, would they love the woman I am today.
This morning I was reading in 1 Corinthians and came upon chapter 13, where Paul discusses that love is patient, kind, etc. We’ve all heard this passage, often at weddings, when we talk of the love we ought to have for each other, for our family, friends, spouses, and such. But what we rarely consider is that God loves in this way as well. Our God is a God of love. At His very essence, He is love, and He created us with this same ability. God loves us infinitely, unconditionally, beyond our comprehension and then a hundred lifetimes past that. He loves us the way Paul explains. He loves us patiently and kindly. His love is not arrogant or rude. His love is not resentful. His love (and this is my favorite) “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things [and] never ends.” Praise Him. Because His love is all of these things and it is perfect, it will always be the exact love we always need.
God loves me (and you, of course). We all know this. We are taught this. I believe that somewhere deep in our soul, we will never forget this. But sometimes it is difficult to remember. Sometimes there are moments in our lives where we can’t imagine a loving God, because why would He allow us to go through the heartache that life often causes? We make our choices, and sometimes they are bad ones, but God loves us through them. He provides us “eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (2 Thess 2:4). He will always be there to love us when it seems no one else does. We simply have to trust Him enough to know that He means it.
Looking back through my life, and even seeing my life today, I can see how God loves me. I can feel it, I can sense it, and I know He is there. When I look into the mirror and see only my flaws, He sees the beauty He blessed me with. He sees the loveliness in my soul. And maybe if, everyday, I take the time to watch God love me, I can learn to love myself.