The Shapes Love Takes
My favorite memories of young adult years are from the summer family camps hosted by Joni and Friends Ministries. From age 16 until 20-odd-something (tired brain/fuzzy timeline), I would volunteer for a family: we'd sit together at meals and I'd hang out as a helper and friend for their special needs child/teen while they got some rest, adult interaction, ministry of love in action. Meanwhile the kids had a ton of fun and got to do things that normally wouldn't be possible. The worship at the end of each day was an incredible, joyful celebration. In the best way, it wore me out body and soul and it's an experience I've treasured throughout the years. Love WAS a verb, and everyone knew it.
Indeed it was wonderful, though not everything was perfect. Far from it. That is not a criticism of anyone or anything, just an observation that we bring our humanness wherever we go. And one summer, I brought my very human, very real depression along with me. I could hide it under smiles and loud singing; I could hide it on costume night and through clowning around on the stage for the talent show. I could cloak it in the way I treated others, making them smile, laugh, and enjoy the moment. And all those things were me being who I was anyway without the depression, but lacking the courage to be vulnerable.
Until one evening when the hubbub died down, the kids and their families all headed back to their rooms, and we young adults who liked to hang out after hours were just about to disperse. I was so miserable with my depression I thought I'd explode, so on impulse I asked a youth leader to pray for me. His words startled and shocked me in the best way, and I will never forget them. With his hand on my shoulder, he petitioned these words: "And please, Lord, help Jamie to learn to love herself." It was a timeless moment where I felt suspended in the light of a new awareness: that I did not love myself and did not really know how. The moment passed, and life sort of went right back to normal after that. Everyone headed back to their rooms for the shortest night of sleep ever, (yay camp!) and another activity filled day awaited. But I was a slightly different person, with some new information about myself I didn't really want because I didn't know exactly what to do with it.
That prayer has followed me for years, though. The sound reverberating through the decades. I don't know why it was, (and still is), a challenge for me to love myself. I've had plenty of time to practice, but I'm still not great at it. Self-criticism, self-judgment, should-haves and ought-tos, and the worst kind of name calling I'd never do to anyone else. Pushing my body hard because I have to do a little bit more to deserve being here. This is a constant struggle. My therapist even has me repeating a come-what-may mantra of "__________, but I will love and accept myself no matter what."
Easier said than done! The first thing I have learned is I can't refer to love as a feeling regarding myself. It has to be an action. It has to be a real life choice that benefits me wholly. I may not be able to sit around praising myself for being a wonderful person, but I can make intentional choices that treat my whole self with dignity, grace, and kindness. I can CARE for myself, and that is where the love begins: Getting extra sleep when I should be writing. Reading books from the library when I should be cleaning one more thing in the house. Buying a new long sleeve shirt from Target when I should be a) saving money by doing without or b) buying something environmentally and socially responsible (thrifting) or c) wearing the hand-me-downs someone gave me even though I hate them and they don't fit right and make me feel dumpy. Fixing myself a cup of chai tea and putting up my feet when I'm dragging and struggling to make something useful of myself today. Not worrying so much about whether I'm being useful or worthy or presentable.
There are so many ways to love myself. They are deliberate and they are CHALLENGING! This is work!!! It's important and necessary and foundational work. I'm not going to say I should have known how to do this already, and it should come naturally by now, because should is essentially a four letter word in sheep's clothing. But I will say I am realizing and acting upon it now, because it's never too late to turn a new page and begin again (and again and again and again- the intersection where simple and easy part ways!) Now, this present moment, is always the right time for the hard work of loving, in whatever shape it needs to take, (and this will be very individualized for sure!)
Do you struggle with loving your self? What action steps do you need to take to make sure you are caring for YOU whether you feel benevolence toward yourself or not? What shape does love need to take on to be wholly realized by and for you? I know this is personal and you don't have to answer here, but do spend some time today thinking about how you can be good to yourself- how you can befriend yourself and show genuine care and concern for the beautiful person you are. And if you'd like to share some tips on authentic self-care here, I'm all ears!