Deny yourself or love yourself? The answer is both.
READ TIME: 7 MINUTES
All this time, I’ve been trying to learn compassion, forgiveness, and peace.
Turns out I can’t simply learn compassion; I have to practice it. I can’t just learn forgiveness; I have to give it. I can’t just learn peace; I have to make it.
I can’t learn compassion; I have to practice it.
When I look in the mirror, when I look at my neighbor, when I look at the world, I choose to see with compassion. And tomorrow, I’ll make that choice again.
I can’t just learn forgiveness; I have to give it.
To people who hurt me, to people who should have protected me, and to myself — I forgive you. I no longer hold offense against you; I hold forgiveness toward you. I see you in light of God’s goodness and grace.
I can’t just learn peace; I have to make it.
With myself and with my past, I choose to make peace. I like who I am, the love warrior I’ve become because of what I’ve been through. Now I am at peace; I am peaceful.
I woke up this morning and something just clicked.
For 20 years, I’ve studied compassion, forgiveness, and peace. I’ve pondered Jesus’ life. I’ve watched TED talks. I’ve gone to therapy. I’ve prayed and meditated. I’ve read the self-help books.
The thing that clicked is I finally feel these things, not as an emotion, but as they course through my spirit. They’ve become part of my daily diet, and I feel the effects rushing through my mental habits.
It didn’t start with acting better. It started in my mind: an honest evaluation of how I thought and behaved and digging further into the roots of my lifelong problems.
Oh, the enemy tried to distract me.
I blamed it on my bad attitude, my background, that coworker who picks on me, that friend who stopped being there for me, that group I was a part of, that time of the month, this and that, etc. etc. It wasn’t those things that were the problem. Those behaviors come from a lack of compassion, forgiveness, and peace from me, to me.
When I realized that — it was an internal problem with external consequences — I started studying. I’ve fixed lots of problems by studying solutions. But this self-image issue wouldn’t be fixed by more knowledge, and it wouldn’t be fixed by pithy Christianese colloquialisms.
I needed Jesus to show me how to love myself before I even liked myself.
I’ve always pretended to like myself:
My strong, faith-filled self,
My smart, wise self,
My pretty, fashionable self,
My social, well-connected self.
But inside, I was none of those things. I projected who I thought I should be — someone I could actually love, because I didn’t like myself. I looked in the mirror and saw this small, broken person like Dorian Gray’s portrait, so I covered her up. I layered on all the things and spent a lifetime pretending. Whoever I needed to be to like myself, whatever it took for other people to like me, that’s who I would be.
But these past few years, I’ve stripped off the facades to find that same tortured soul is there underneath it all: unchanged, unevolved, hurt and hurting.
Deny yourself or love yourself?
All my life, I’ve been taught in word and by example to deny myself, as Jesus said in Luke 9:23. Right?? That idea is too often repeated to mean self-loathing, and the world doesn’t need anymore loathing. Not from you. Not to you. Not in a false righteous way.
I struggled, wondering if the Bible was wrong, and I judged it by its fruit. But wait, maybe it wasn’t the Bible. Maybe it was the interpretation of the Bible that was wrong.
What if my wrong beliefs weren’t from God? I prayed for God to enlighten me.
Lord, shine light in my mind.
Deny your [fake] self and love your [real] self.
I always say, “Don’t take advice from people who aren’t living how you want to live.” A lot of people want to teach life lessons, and maybe their lessons work for the way they want to live, but maybe they aren’t living life the way you want to live.
I found an interpretation from someone who displays peace, compassion, and forgiveness. Someone who follows the Lord and, importantly, doesn’t struggle with self-loathing. Someone who seemed to find a harmonious way to apply this Biblical passage about denying myself.
This invitation [to deny yourself] is less about depriving the self and more about disowning, or renouncing a relationship with the part of our self that is not what God created us to be.
…God doesn’t know what He didn’t create! What is it that He didn’t create? The self or persona that we have fabricated in our own image.
…It’s the persona we want others to see to ensure we receive love, find worth, stay safe, and maintain control. It’s the Adapted Self.
…Therefore, an expanded version of this first invitation [to deny yourself] might be, “If anyone wishes to come after Me [Jesus], he or she must say no to the pretend self, saying, ‘I don’t know you. You are not the real me.’” We are to disown the self God didn’t create, not the one He created and knows intimately.
-Marilyn Vancil, in her book Self to Lose, Self to Find
Who am I, anyway?
I thought I was the preacher’s kid,
The smart, well-versed girl,
The strong, resolute one,
The one on the road to success,
The life of the party,
The hard worker,
The curvy woman,
The budding writer,
The dedicated workout chick.
I was not. I am not.
Those aren’t identities; those are traits. Some of those are traits I displayed — false identities I put on — to cover up insecurity in what I lacked, in the difference between who I really was and the person I thought I should be.
When I quit pretending to be a fake me, I discovered my identity.
I am God’s beloved
I am His beloved.
I was always His beloved.
I will always be His beloved.
All this time, I’ve been clinging to my past in hurt and anger, whilst trying to move on, denying the clenched fist and its contents, and it hasn’t worked.
Make peace, Priska.
I’m no longer angry about my past. I don’t identify as a victim anymore — to my circumstances and to my own poor choices. Since I get to choose the identity in which to move forward, I choose to identify as God’s beloved.
I am His beloved.
I am at peace, full of forgiveness and compassion because I am beloved by God. What’s more to pretend about? What’s more to be angry about? Has the anger helped me?
This compassion-practicing —
It’s a daily challenge.
The people I admire who embody these mindsets have been doing them for years, decades even. The war is won, but the battle presents itself again every day.
What will I choose?
Jesus’ ways or mine?
Self-protection or God’s?
Clenched fists or forgiveness?
Anger or compassion?
Past hurts or peace?
What will you choose?
Today, I love myself.
In fact, I even like myself.
I like my story and how I learned to be me.
I like the parts of me — the real me — that shine through. As an enneagram 8, I often display qualities of “inspiring, just, protective, compassionate, energetic, resilient, direct, confident, assertive, influential, and empowering” (From Vancil’s Self to Lose, Self to Find). I’m grateful that God made me this way, and I welcome those qualities to shine!
I like that I know enough about myself to accept that I still wear some facades which I’ll shed off as I rise up in my true identity as God’s beloved.
I like that I can be wrong but still engage in conversations I may be wrong about.
I like that I feel safe & protected enough to be the real me — starting with personally and eventually with all my relationships.
I like more about me right now than ever before, and non-coincidentally, I love God more than ever before.
I forgive myself.
I’m at peace with myself.
I see myself with compassion.
I like me and I love me.
A note to you
Hey thanks for reading! I hope this inspires you to see yourself with greater love. If you, like me, have been at war with yourself for a long time… SURRENDER. Quit fighting yourself. You don’t have to hate yourself no matter what you’ve done. You can see yourself with God’s eyes of love. You can forgive yourself, be at peace with yourself, and offer compassion to yourself. These may not be your familial or religious habits, but there’s so much freedom in these practices! And God graces us with His Spirit to bridge the gap between the dreams we have for our lives and where we are today. It starts with self-acceptance though, accepting the identity of His beloved who you already are today.
Whatever part of yourself you struggle with — laziness, lack of organization, eating disorders, clumsiness, self-sabotaging, addictive behaviors — whatever it is. Make peace. You will not get to self-love by starting with self-loathing or waiting until you’ve become someone “worthy” of love. You are worthy of love because the person who created you.
God crafted you before you were born, and He set you apart. (Jeremiah 1:5)
You were made to reflect God’s nature. No other created thing reflects God’s nature like we do; not oceans, not mountains, not sunsets, not fields of flowers. Us. (Genesis 1:28)
God looks at you and calls you His beloved. (Romans 9:25)
Dear reader, I pray a blessing of peace over your mind, that you would be at peace with yourself and your past. That you would lay down any facades of got-it-all-together-ness and got-it-going-on-ness and begin to be live from God’s identity for you.
You are His beloved.
If Marilyn Vancil’s interpretation of “deny yourself” was enlightening, then I encourage you to read her book Self to Lose, Self to Find. It’s based on the enneagram, and it was my introduction to figuring out why God made us all so different. If you found this blog helpful, will you use my link below to buy the book? Your price is the same, and I get a small commission.