from Stepping Heavenward: One Woman’s Journey to Godliness, by Mrs. E. Prentiss, p. 59.
I was not prepared to be absolutely delighted by a book first published in 1869. A friend had this in a pile of books she was giving away. The book is in the form of a journal written by a young girl, (she was 15 when she started) as she matures throughout her life. Because of the journal format, it has been an easy book to pick up when I just have a few minutes to read.
The author of the journal, Katy, is passionately emotional, and, of course, I love that about her. At one point in the book she is quite distressed by her struggle with anger, temptations, trying to be good and unanswered prayer. She has gone to see the minister, Mr. Cabot, and poured out her grief concerning these things.
“Poor child!” he said in a low voice, as if to himself. “Poor, heartsick, tired child that cannot see what I can see that its Father’s loving arms are all about it!”
I stopped crying to strain my ears to listen. He went on.
“Katy, all that you say may be true. I dare say it is. But God loves you. He loves you.”
He loves me, I repeated to myself. He loves me. “Oh, Dr. Cabot, if I could believe that! If I could believe that, after all the promises I have broken, all the foolish, wrong things I have done and shall always be doing, God perhaps still loves me!”
“You may be sure of it,” he said solemnly. “I, His minister, bring the gospel to you today. Go home and say over and over to yourself, ‘I am a wayward, foolish child. But He loves me! I have disobeyed and grieved Him ten thousand times. But He loves me! I have lost faith in some of my dearest friends and am very desolate. But He loves me! I do not love Him; I am even angry with Him! But He loves me!’ “
I came away; and all the way home I fought this battle with myself, saying, “He loves me!” I knelt down to pray, and all my wasted, childish, wicked life came and stared me in the face. I looked at it and said with tears of joy, “But He loves me!” Never in my life did I feel so rested, so quieted, so sorrowful, and yet so satisfied.
I love this whole passage. For me, it gets at the thing that is missed with lots of talk about self esteem. There have been times in my life when people have thought I was too down on myself and felt I needed to have better self esteem. I have been in counseling where “self esteem” was the focus. In each of those situations and relationships, I felt very missed by the self esteem talk. Partly because being down on myself, at times, wasn’t the whole picture. I wasn’t only down on myself. I didn’t only look at myself from the angle of mistakes or weaknesses or whatever. Even if I was tripping out on that particular angle, it was only one angle of many that I look at myself from.
But, secondly, the self esteem talk frustrated me, because it seemed to miss the point. I mean, okay, so let’s imagine I WAS thinking too poorly of myself at a given time. Learning to think more highly of myself was not a very comforting comfort in the long term. I mean, so I discover that I’m not as ugly as I thought. That is a shallow comfort, because, in any case, if I’m not very ugly today, chances are, if I live long enough, I will become less physically attractive as the world measures it.
And if I indeed can begin to see my successes and not be bogged down by failures, well, perhaps, that is a comfort. But only for as long as I am truly succeeding. Because one day, I’m certain to blow it, right?
Now, again, let me say, that even when I was being hard on myself, it was not a permanent fixture in my life. Some of it is seasonal (there are certain seasons in my life when I have been more easily discouraged about being me than at other times). Some of it was just bad day/good day stuff.
Through it all, though, I have never found myself particularly comforted by “right thinking” attempts to convince me that I need to think about myself more positively. Because really what I want when I am seeing myself in all my weaknesses and imperfections is not assurance than I’m better than I think I am. It’s assurance that even if I get as bad as it gets, even if I’m absolutely weak and perfectly imperfect, that I, when I’m not in all my glory, am, nonetheless, very loved.
What I’m looking for is the assurance that, regardless of how I look, I am loved. Regardless of how annoying people may find the way I think or talk, that people still love me. Regardless of how broken and hurting I may be, I am loved.
If someone says something positive about me, I may feel very happy to think about how they see me. But, admiration is subjective. The very thing that some people like a lot about me drives other people nuts. The things that I do well have a flip side of things I’m pretty much incompetent at. And not far behind a compliment is the awareness that tomorrow I might not be so well or look so well or do so well. I don’t want to take too much pleasure or confidence in how well I’m doing or looking today, because the source of that pleasure or confidence will, invariably, be short lived.
Instead, I find deep comfort in knowing love that is deep and true–love that is pure and constant, whether I’m a joy to be around or a grumpy old bear (or a bit of both). Love that takes pleasure in who I am and what I do without those things being a qualifier for the love to continue. Love that is consistent, even when I’m fickle.
This is truly the safety and joy I have in my relationship with God. I can think (or feel, as the case may be), “I don’t like this about me. BUT, He loves me.” “I’m very discouraged. BUT, He loves me.” “I am so very weak. But He loves me.” When I flail out against Him, with my heart full of questions and uncertainties, there is still a confident assurance that He sees and knows my trusting heart, however weak; that He is not going to drop me no matter how hard I’m shaking and crying, and that He is holding me and loves me deeply and tenderly.
In the context of this kind of love, I find freedom not to have to hide, even the things about me that shame me most. When I am a “wayward, foolish child,” I am able to admit it with a breaking heart and have no need to try to convince myself that I’m really better than I think I am. I can come to Him, not afraid, knowing He already sees (way better than I can) and He loves me!
What a delight! He loves me!
I love being loved. I’ll take that over great self esteem any day 🙂