I knew this girl in college. She doesn’t know this, but when I think about the type of person I hope to be one day, I think about her.
And I think it’s because of this: She liked herself.
How could I tell? She was confident, fun, funny and totally weird in the best kind of way. She didn’t wear make-up often and she usually had on this old, bright blue Northface jacket. The zipper was broken, so the jacket always hung lopsided. She wore it anyways.
She had a sense of who she was, unlike other people I knew at that time, and she was a magnet for not just me but everyone she came across.
People like people who like themselves.
More often than not, I like myself on a conditional basis and it usually involves popularity, looks and achievements. If I have them, I like myself. If I don’t, I’m falling short.
But as I’ve learned recently, this is not true self-acceptance. Accepting yourself is not being proud of what you do or gauging how much others like you, that’s self-scrutiny. Liking yourself is much deeper and more difficult than that.
Strip away all of the good things, the proud moments, the awards, friends and good looks. What’s left?
Maybe you too ride this rollercoaster of self-approval.
It’s tiring work. In fact, I don’t think a rollercoaster is the right metaphor here. In a rollercoaster, you ride in a seat or a car that is pulled by a rail and is operated by a controller; the work is done for you.
When we accept ourselves only under certain conditions, we’re not riding the rollercoaster, we’re climbing on our hands and knees—up and down, hanging on tight as we round sharp turns.
But one day your hands will grow tired, the splinters will be too much and you will have failed enough times to convince yourself that climbing this coaster is no longer worth it. And that’s when the question of liking yourself will become irrelevant. You obviously don’t.
The question of who you are will come into focus.
Paul asked the Galatians a crucial identity question: “Are you foolish? Having begun in the Spirit are you now ending (or being completed) in the flesh?”
Having begun in the Spirit are you now ending in the flesh? Ouch. That hurts a girl who has claimed to follow Christ for so many years.
If you are a Christian, you believe the Holy Spirit is in you.
Therefore, this tiring, desperate journey of doing things that give you a false sense of worth is a walk in the opposite direction of the cross of Christ.
John Piper explored this passage from Galations in a sermon years ago, saying, “The clear implication is, it can’t be done. If you try it, you will make a shipwreck of the Christian life. You did not get the Spirit, you did not become Christians, by working for God. You received the Spirit when God worked for you.”
If that’s true, that the work has been done, then more work will surely not lead to this self-approval I so crave.
But quitting the race altogether? That might do it.