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Faith, Mental Health

Why We Must Learn to Love Ourselves

October 2, 2018

I created this self-portrait several months ago and have been hesitant to share it for many reasons. I had been contemplating the idea of Imago Dei, or The Image of God for weeks. Imago Dei is a theological term that states that we are all made in the image of God. The implications of knowing this and genuinely believing it can be staggering and life-changing. To look into the eyes of someone who is different than you in every way possible, from beliefs and morals to appearance and class, and know that they reflect the image of God can turn how you see someone upside down.

As I reflected on this notion, I began to realize that for so long there was one person who I struggled with seeing God in the most. That person was me. From years of being raised and participating in a spiritual environment that considered sharing the love of God akin to convincing someone they were shameful, how I viewed myself was from an incredibly distorted lens. Rather than acknowledging, accepting, or moving forward from mistakes, or imperfections in my life, deep down I believed I was a mistake. My makeup was a mistake, my personality, my character, who I was made to be was a mistake. I was full of shame to my core.

I have spent the past 15 years slowly working my way out of this pit, through counseling, small groups, relearning what I believed about God, and a lot of self-reflection. I used to think that loving yourself was equal to self-centeredness, and often Christians bemoan the ideas of self-care or self-love and call it sinful. However, I now see these things as essential to begin to love anyone else. How can you see the worth and dignity of someone so different than you if you can’t even see it in yourself? How can you love a God and his creation if you see it as entirely flawed?

Throughout the years during my relearning, I had so many questions and doubts. I became fed up and hurt by others in a subset of Christian culture that became oppressive to me, but still held on to my faith. What ultimately kept me hanging on was seeing an open and unconditional love in the person of Jesus that I have not seen anywhere else. I also found a beautiful way to live, when taught from this base of unconditional love, through what is at the core of His teachings. What is at the core of his teachings? To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. It rolls off the tongue so easily, but to put into practice is so hard. Loving your neighbor, loving those who are different, loving your family, loving those that have done great harm. It can be incredibly hard. But we hardly talk about that last part, for many the most difficult part, the part where you love yourself. And to love others fully, and properly, you have to be able to do that. If you can’t see that you are worthy, that you are deserving, that you are made in the image of God and loved by Him, how can you find value and worth in others, especially others you don’t understand.

So I made this image. It is me, standing strong, and facing out into the world. This is me knowing that I am full of imperfections, that I’ve made mistakes, but I am loved, lovable, and worthy. This is the same person whose culture told her that she is disobeying God by having anxiety and worry. That she is not pretty. Not smart. Incapable. That she was the last person they had expected would do anything with her life. That she is too quiet and shy. That she is too opinionated and loud. That she is not good enough and never will be. This is the same woman that had to fight to be heard in her career as a photographer. That was shown she could never teach men about God because of her gender. That when she started to use her voice, her shakey timid voice, she received screams, letters, accusations, and worse, rejection from those she loved. Most of all, this is a woman who is learning to love herself.

For some people, loving themselves comes easy. So easy in fact that they only love themselves and no one else. However, for many of us, it takes work and patience and courage to learn to love ourselves. I see this particularly in women, this struggle to know and respect our value. Over and over again, women are told, through words, actions, and media that their bodies and voices are not respected in this world. Their bodies are too much, their words too much, their anger, their sadness, their hurt, TOO MUCH.

I looked at this photo today to remind me of who I am, and that who I am has value in the world. So often our world, our culture or even our family and friends share things or tell us things, that make us question our humanity. I often feel a sense of despair when I see how others are treated on social media, or by our government, or by the people I walk by on the street. I despair to see the hate that comes out with so many missing the fact that this person who they were taught to hate has the Imago Dei in her.

This despair, however, has built in me a desire to remind the women reading this that each of you has immense value and worth. If you are afraid of being who you were created to be or feel shame for who you are, know that you are loved fully and completely. That if you are afraid of being too much, remember that you are enough. That whether you are quiet, or loud, whether you are married or single, or passionate or even-keeled, you are made to be you. You don’t have to hide who you are. Your voice is essential, your body is important, you being here and a part of this crazy life is imperative.

I still struggle to see myself through a lens of love and probably always will. But I will continue to remind myself and others of the truth of our value no matter what the world says. Women, let us remember today our worth, no matter what others may say. No matter what our government says, or our abusers say, or unfortunately for many, what our churches say. If your worth and value and dignity are questioned, please know that you are listening to a lie.

I challenge you today to take an image of yourself, just for you. Don’t be afraid to stand firm and bold and be proud while you take it. Forget the naysayers and how awkward it can feel taking a self-portrait. Don’t think about the quality, this is just for you and you are in control. Look at your photo and try to see past what you consider your flaws. Look past the parts of you that you hate, that you want to change. Look beyond memories and shame that haunt you and see that there’s love and beauty there. Look at your image and say “I am made in the Image of God.” Those curves, that hair, that skin, that nose that you may hate. It is the image of God that resides in there. You are loved fully and completely. You are valuable. You are worthy. You are not a mistake.

*Let me know if you took an image of yourself today and how it made you feel, being in control. Leave a comment here or send me a message, I would love to hear from you.

Love,

Whitney Leigh Carlson

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