“DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THE GOD OF JESUS LOVES YOU BEYOND WORTHINESS AND UNWORTHINESS, BEYOND FIDELITY AND INFIDELITY, THAT HE LOVES YOU IN THE MORNING SUN AND THE EVENING RAIN, THAT HE LOVES YOU WHEN YOUR INTELLECT DENIES IT, YOUR EMOTIONS REFUSE IT, YOUR WHOLE BEING REJECTS IT? DO YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD LOVES WITHOUT CONDITION OR RESERVATION, AND LOVES YOU THIS MOMENT AS YOU ARE AND NOT AS YOU SHOULD BE?”
I read and reread these two sentences and marvel at how each time I do, they touch me so deeply and point out something I should know but have long ago forgotten or dismissed. They tell me that God loves me, and reflecting on that only makes me realize that I don’t agree with God. I don’t love myself. If I don’t love myself, why would anyone else?
People who are around the old covenant too much don’t love themselves. They are steeped in guilt and trying to make up their personal deficits in relationship to the law by bringing everyone else down to their low level. So they don’t love themselves, and they don’t love anyone else either.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about selfishness. Being selfish and loving oneself are two different things. You can be selfish beyond description, but not love yourself. Selfishness is a kind of twisted self love.
If I loved myself, I would love my neighbor. If I loved myself, I would love God. If I loved myself, I would have something to offer the world. If I loved myself, I wouldn’t “should” on myself, as Brennan used to say, “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself today.” The old covenant beats you down. The new covenant lifts you up.
Maybe Jesus told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves because He wanted us to discover we don’t love ourselves and we better start there.
Here’s what I’m going to do, and I suggest you do it too, I’m going to like me. I’m going to like the skin I’m in. I’m not going to feel guilty about being alive. I’m going to realize I do God a disservice when I disagree with Him about me. I do God a disservice when I make myself small. He made me to stand tall — to go face to face with humanity because I have something to bring. I have nothing to prove and everything to give because of what He has given me. Nothing to prove because He already loves me. And since He already loves me, I don’t have to spend anymore time on myself. I can be happy with myself and get on to loving others.
One last story about Brennan Manning. My fondest memory of him was at a Christian rock festival in New England where he was on the main stage speaking to about 8,000 people. Near the end of his talk, he wanted to play a song for everyone, so he sat on the edge of the stage and held the microphone up to the speakers of his boom box and played “To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe…”
Picture it in you mind: a huge outdoor stage … banks and banks of speakers … up the hill is a sophisticated sound board that can turn anything you hook up to it into quality, and here is this little white-haired man with black bushy eyebrows sitting on the stage in jeans and a shirt that looked like his grandmother’s quilt holding the microphone up to the scratchy little tin-sounding speakers on his boom box, playing “The Impossible Dream” to 8,000 people through a hundred thousand dollar sound system, because that’s what he wanted to do.
That’s the picture of a man who is comfortable in his own skin and doesn’t care about what you’re supposed to do.
And do you know how he ended that talk? He ended it by saying, as forcefully as he could possibly say it, with his voice getting louder and stronger as it went on, “DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THE GOD OF JESUS LOVES YOU BEYOND WORTHINESS AND UNWORTHINESS, BEYOND FIDELITY AND INFIDELITY, THAT HE LOVES YOU IN THE MORNING SUN AND THE EVENING RAIN, THAT HE LOVES YOU WHEN YOUR INTELLECT DENIES IT, YOUR EMOTIONS REFUSE IT, YOUR WHOLE BEING REJECTS IT? DO YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD LOVES WITHOUT CONDITION OR RESERVATION, AND LOVES YOU THIS MOMENT AS YOU ARE AND NOT AS YOU SHOULD BE?”