“Self Love” makes me feel hopeless.

This blog will take the average adult about 4.5 minutes to read. 

I see a lot of drivel on the internet about “self love”. (Perhaps the fact that I used the word “drivel” to describe it might cue you into how I feel about it.)  I just can’t get on board with it from an emotional, spiritual, or intellectual standpoint. And honestly, after a handful of discussions and months of observations, I don’t think many of you really can, either—if you’re honest with yourself. It’s why attempts at self love always crash and burn—it’s not because we’re “just not there yet”—it’s because we know it’s a fucking crock of shite.

It’s like that scene in Inception where Saito asks Cobb & Arthur if inception is possible, and Arthur explains why it’s not. (And yes, over the course of the movie Cobb proves Arthur wrong—but let’s not forget that, to the best of our knowledge, there’s not really any dream hijacking going on in real life.)

Saito: If you can steal an idea, why can’t you plant one there instead?
Arthur: Okay, this is me, planting an idea in your mind. I say: don’t think about elephants. What are you thinking about?
Saito: Elephants?
Arthur: Right, but it’s not your idea. The dreamer can always remember the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.

Maybe if someone else could dive four levels into our dream world and make us feel like we should love ourselves, maybe the idea of self-love would take root. But to me, it always feel like that foreign idea that just can’t take root because it’s not mine. And so far, the pursuit of it seems futile. I can’t inspire myself to love myself because the inspiration is fake—manufactured—foreign—counterfeit. It feels more like a pebble in my shoe than anything that brings any amount of confidence or comfort.

In the words of Levi the Poet, “It’s all counterfeit. It’s all functional saviors that don’t function or save you. It’s all identity drift. It’s all grandiose promises exposed as illegitimate.” Every time that grandiose promise of whatever the fuck self love is supposed to beget—is exposed as illegitimate, I am left in a worse place than I was before.

There is a building in Sodo that has this cool old brick exterior—but if you take a moment to look through the window, you’ll see that it is nothing but a facade. The building has been gutted—it doesn’t actually even have a roof—it is literally just brick walls protecting it’s own hollowness. The building is completely unstable right now. If an earthquake struck Seattle today, that building would rapidly turn from those gorgeous old brick walls into a pile of rubble—because there is nothing inside keeping those walls from collapsing.

That’s kind of how I feel about self love. It builds the “protective” wall around us—and that wall may be gorgeous—but leaves us hollow—wondering why our walls feel so weak when the ground beneath us shakes. It gives us an apparently strong exterior, but really leaves us exposed to the elements, wearing away with each passing storm. The facade will only last so long before it turns to rubble—and that wall can’t actually protect anything and is a mere disguise for the vacancy within. I think this is why self love leaves me feeling hopeless. It seems like a good idea at first sometimes, but is easily discovered for the fake that it is. It’s like trying to pass off that tiara you bought from Claire’s for prom as crown jewels. It might serve its purpose for a moment, but is easily exposed as illegitimate—and actually really shitty.

Go back to that Levi the Poet line, “It’s all counterfeit. It’s all functional saviors that don’t function or save you.” The concept of self love, apart from the notion of divine love, is a counterfeit. It is an imperfect (and failing) replica. And because it’s a mere counterfeit, it can never suffice—it will never save me, as much as I want it to. Just like counterfeit money is worth nothing when it’s been found out, this counterfeit love is worth nothing—and it cannot pay off the debts I owe to the lies I believe—worthless, unwanted, failure. Self-manufactured counterfeit love cannot pay off those debts. And when I am left with those debts piling to the brink of my hollowed out building, I am left hopeless.

But—that’s not where it ends.

God’s love transcends self love because it, unlike my own self love, is wholly perfect, wholly unconditional, wholly whole—and wholly extrinsic. It comes from outside of me, declaring unmeasurable worth that I cannot (and would not) claim for myself because I do not love perfectly and my love is very, very conditional—especially for myself. I see all the reasons to not love me—and God, unlike myself, says, “And I love you.”

But—that’s not where it ends.

If I acknowledge this unprecedented and transcendent love of God—and believe that he does not lie—and believe that Scripture is true—I cannot continue being the hollowed out building that self love left me as. Because if I opt to believe worthless, unwanted, failure, I’m actually calling God a liar. I’m declaring his love wrong. And that goes beyond just believing lies and directly into standing in rebellion against God. Once I acknowledge God as the source of love, and God’s love as the only true love, believing lies goes beyond mere folly into the category of sin—rebellion.

I haven’t done a very good job of repenting of my rebellion in this context for most of my life. Only in the last few years have I begun to understand that when God says, “I love you” and I say, “You’re wrong” I am setting my feet against a holy and almighty God. And only in the last few years has the truth of God’s love for me started building out the reinforcing structure within my walls that will keep me standing when the ground shakes. It’s still a new concept to me that when God says “I love you” it is rebellion to say, “but I don’t”.

I think of the new building, The Mark, going up next to the Columbia Center right now. At this moment, it is ugly. It is nothing but I-beams and concrete and construction mess. But they’re building it from the inside out. They are building a strong core able to withstand a great deal of shock. By the end of the year, they’ll have the glass walls up surrounding the core—and over time will be further building out the space between the core and the exterior. One day, that building will reflect it’s surroundings beautifully. We’ll see the sun set in the west reflected in it’s glass—and when the ground shakes, some of that glass might shatter and fall, but that core will remain, and that building will continue standing because it’s built around something substantial—something that means something—something with value and worth.

It’s not a perfect analogy, I know.

But I would rather be the rough-around-the-edges edifice with a core that can sustain, than a hollowed out facade. And I am learning to accept that what God says about me (lovedsaved, adopted)—and not stand in rebellion against him declaring his truth inadequate and wrong. I am learning to see that sin as sin—needing the cross of Jesus Christ—and seeing that God loved me enough to provide the cross for that sin to hang on. The truth of his love is the strong core that withstands catastrophic events—and when I choose to agree with God about who and what HE says I am, and not rely on my own fucked up sense of self-worth, I am left whole and wholly fulfilled.

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