Worthy of good things

I am worthy of good things.

I accept myself for who I am.

I deserve to be kind to myself.

It was January of 2022. I sat cross-legged on the floor of my room, headphones on, listening to a calm female voice repeating positive affirmations. “Listen to these, and then repeat them as you feel comfortable doing so. Some of them may resonate with you more than others. Just notice which ones do.”

I felt extremely un-comfortable. I wasn’t used to sitting cross-legged; my hips were tight and I felt off-balance. But I was even more uncomfortable trying to say the mantras. Some of them were especially difficult, like the ones that said something about what I deserved. Worthy of good things. Why was that so hard to say? 

I thought about it a little more, and then realized what the issue was: I didn’t believe I deserved anything good. 

Self-criticism has been one of my fortés for as long as I can remember. Some of it may be for neurological reasons—nature. Some of it is likely due to the media I’ve ingested—nurture. As a child, I’d read theology and listened to sermons that called me totally depraved. I remember reading one beginner’s catechism that contained this question:

Q. How sinful are you by nature?

A. I am corrupt in every part of my being. 

Other questions require the child to answer “I am ignorant by nature,” “I am weak and helpless,” and so on. While I recognize that these answers serve to underscore humanity’s need for God, I can’t help but think how the harshness of the phrasing might affect a young mind. I think they may have had some impact on mine. 

Frequently, I’ve failed to see that a certain voice in my head was becoming cruel to me. I accepted it as unquestionable truth that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t thin enough, didn’t work hard enough, didn’t love others enough, and so on. I became used to a rhetoric that made goodness something outside of myself, a cover I wore, not truly my own.

It took a counselor at my college to help me see what was happening. I’d been struggling with balancing my homework and free time. Although my grades were fine, I frequently felt guilty after hanging out with friends or taking time for myself. Lisa (I’ll call her that for now) told me gently: “Remember: you are a human be-ing, not a human do-ing.” 

I smiled, and then I realized what a revolutionary idea that was. Was the mere fact that I was alive—that I participated in the mystery of being—a reason to celebrate? Did I deserve something good—like rest—simply for existing, for being a child of God? I’d always thought my friends and family deserved good things, deserved my love and service. What if I wasn’t the exception to that? Could I treat myself with kindness too?  

The Bible is full of verses that warn against the pitfalls of too much self-love. I’m not going to list them all here. There are other verses, too, though. Lately, I’ve started to read them: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep” (Psalm 172:2). Imagine being able to rest in the love of God so much that, even if your day wasn’t as productive as you might have liked, even if you didn’t rise to meet all your self-imposed standards, you could still lay your head on the pillow in peace. How freeing that would be.

There is also the simple command of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39b). “As yourself” is an interesting addition. It suggests that there’s a basic level of love for self that is necessary for us to even understand what it means to love someone else. From all the reading about psychology I’ve done in this past year, it seems that there really is something here—that until you love yourself, your love will come with guilt, obligation, insecurity, neediness, or even resentment. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

At this point, the most true thing I can say about myself is that I was made to love and be loved by God.

I am still working through what I believe about total depravity. But for now, I am taking a break from saying things like, “If there’s anything good in me, it’s God.” Nor will I say “I don’t deserve anything good.” 

Why do I say that? I believe that every human being is made in God’s image, and that there is basic worth in each of us, whether we accept Christ’s sacrifice or not. If Augustine is right to call sin a privation—a lack of good—that means that sin could not exist independently of goodness. Sin does not possess a positive quality of being. Goodness, righteousness, beauty, holiness and love are more real and more powerful in infinite degrees than any wrongful act a human could ever commit.

It is true that I am a sinner, but that is not the most true thing about me. At this point, the most true thing I can say about myself is that I was made to love and be loved by God. I think I am just starting to learn what that might look like.

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