Grow By Loving Yourself

It’s ironic to me that in our scripture reading today, Paul calls himself the least of the saints, when our modern Bibles probably contain more of his thoughts than pretty much any other follower of Jesus. I wonder whether he was being humble, or if he really thought of himself as the least important person, even though he had this huge calling to share the boundless riches of Christ with the world, which changed the world profoundly. What we read is a prayer he wrote for the Ephesians, that they wouldn’t lose heart, and that God’s spirit would strengthen their inner beings.

It is the state of that inner being that I’d like to talk about today, because the first step towards Fierce Love given to us by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis is to love ourselves, unconditionally, as God loves us. Though Paul doesn’t use the words self-love in this prayer, I do think there are some connections here. Specifically, in verses 11 and 12, when he says that in Christ, we have access to God with boldness and confidence through our faith in him. The word translated as boldness means being unreserved, free and fearless, open, without concealment, it is a word often found in the gospels when Jesus spoke openly or plainly… boldly! The word translated as confidence, is related to trust and assurance, so confidence in the security of your relationship with someone else. So, to put what Paul said into my own words: Christ has made it so that we can be connected to the divine in a way that is open, free, and bold, because Christ has proven to us that we can trust God completely, and confidently.

Jesus breaks down the barrier between us and God so that we can be bold in our relationship with God. We can be confident that we are loved no matter what, and Paul prays that they will be rooted and grounded in that love, which is deep, and wide, and high, and long, so big that it surpasses knowledge. I think that love is what he meant by the boundless riches of Christ, which he wants to share with everyone, because it can root and ground us. Once again, Paul is comparing us to plants. He prays for their roots to go down deep into God’s love, to hold them firmly.  Have you ever tried to get rid of a plant with really deep roots? Maybe a tree or even a shrub? You can’t just pluck a stump out of the ground. Its roots are too strong, too deep, too wide, to remove. So too, can we grow our roots deep down into a love that makes us immovable, grounded with an assurance that God’s love for us cannot be shaken. Those roots can give us confidence, enabling us to be bold, and maybe to love ourselves the way that God already loves us. Not for who we were or who we someday will be, but who we are right now, in this breath, and this moment.

Now, Rev. Lewis also talks about roots in her book, but she uses them in a different way. She talks about finding the roots for the feelings of unworthiness that often haunt us. The feelings that keep us awake at night replaying our most cringeworthy moments or make us doubt our beloved-ness; the shame we carry. She says that we must dig into our stories and find the roots of that unworthiness we feel. It could be from a dark moment, a family dynamic, something that shapes how we see ourselves that we don’t have to hold onto. Like wounds that never had a chance to heal, these stories stick with us replaying messages like “you’re not wanted,” “you’re not good enough,” or “you don’t belong here.” These wounds reopen when they get bumped into.  But these stories are just that, stories. They aren’t true, and we can unroot them by digging in to see how they started, where they came from.

Unworthiness may also be rooted in the social scripts that we absorbed as children, things we were taught about gender, race, and class. We learn from society to compare ourselves to an ideal person who doesn’t really exist, anywhere, but in our minds. So, the story becomes, “I’ll be lovable when…” insert your insecurites here. Maybe a lot of us are already loving our neighbors as ourselves, but the problem is, a lot of us don’t actually love ourselves very much. We love ourselves conditionally. We love our successes, and our accomplishments, but when things fall apart, we turn into our biggest bullies. We don’t love our humanness, our reliance on others, our flaws, and our uniqueness, the things that make us, us. But what if we could learn to love all the versions of ourselves, and give them the grace that God has taught us to give?

That is the self-love Rev. Lewis says can be revolutionary for our lives and for our world. Here’s how she explains it: “By self-love, I don’t mean selfishness, self-absorption, or conceit… No, by self-love I mean a healthy delight in your true, imperfect, uniquely wonderful, particular self. I mean an unconditional appreciation for who you are, head to toe, inside and out: quirks, foibles, beauty, and blemishes—all of it. I mean seeing yourself truthfully and loving what you see.”[1] If we had that kind of love for ourselves, a bold and confident acceptance of ourselves, rooted in the love of God that is everlasting, I wonder how we would treat each other. I think that kind of self-love would spread to how we see other human beings, and how we choose to treat them and the problems they face. If we could learn to give ourselves grace for how we came to be who we are, even the cringeworthy parts of ourselves, how much more grace would we give to others? How much more value would we see in them and the things they have overcome?

You may not be happy with every single thing about yourself, let’s be realistic, but you can unroot the stories of unworthiness, and appreciate just how far you’ve come. You can learn to delight in your own quirkiness and know that you are loved. God loves those quirks, and God’s not the only one! Those closest to you probably love some of those things too. Get curious about how you came to be you. And if you’ve been kicking yourself for not loving yourself enough even as I have been talking. I just want to remind that voice in your head that the kicking is counterproductive. Your struggles are valid, and more common than you know. Give yourself grace and remember that you’re still growing. Trust in God’s love for you and put your roots down into that love until it becomes a bold confidence in your worth that no one can take from you. Uproot the narratives that don’t serve you, and write new narratives about your resilience, compassion, and bravery.  You may think you are the very least of whatever category you put yourself in, but maybe who you are becoming is exactly who the world needs right now. Maybe someone in the world needs to see you loving yourself, right now.

As I wrap up this sermon, I’d like to read you a poem, written by Emory Hall.  It is called, I have been a thousand different women[2], and it goes like this:

Make peace with all the women you once were.

Lay flowers at their feet.

Offer them incense and honey and forgiveness.

Honor them and give them your silence.


Bless them and let them be,

for they are the bones of the temple you sit in now.

for they are the rivers of wisdom leading you toward the sea.

Christ has assured us, that we loved exactly as we are, exactly as we have come to be in this moment. All the people we have been, have been loved. Root yourself in that love and be bold and confident in how you make God a part of your life. Once that self-love gets its roots in you, it will spread to how you see everyone else too. If we want to change the world, it all starts here, with self-love, in all of us, for all of us. Amen.

[1] Lewis, Jacqueline J. Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World. Harmony Books, 2021.

[2] Hall, Emory. “I Have Been a Thousand Different Women.” Made of Rivers. Three Rivers Publishing, 2023.

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