Accepting Ourselves

Accepting Ourselves. It is a universal human pursuit, and there is a way to succeed at this. Ocean Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve run into a number of people from a variety of backgrounds who are all talking about the same thing: accepting themselves.

Or rather, the difficulty they have had, their entire lives, in accepting themselves.

While this seems odd in a society focused on itself, all the time, it’s really not. What is odd, or heartrending actually, is that so many of these people seeking acceptance are Christians.

Christianity is supposed to be the path to acceptance, secured by the promise of unconditional love from the Creator of All Things, and indeed, its selling point is this whole love thing:

“Jesus LOVES you!”

“Come to Jesus, because He loves and accepts you.”

“God is love.”

These are great promises because all of us, from the newborn baby on up, look to someone bigger and stronger and greater than we are to reach out to us, embrace us, hold us in their arms and protect us. From the time that we begin to think, we seek acceptance from our parents, our siblings, our friends, our teachers, our mentors — anyone who provides guidance and strength.

In other words, our acceptance of ourselves does not ultimately depend upon us — it depends upon the people surrounding us in our lives. And, people being people, they frequently disappoint us, or we disappoint them, and the love and acceptance we seek and crave is not given to us. Too many people fumble through their entire lives adjusting their thoughts and actions to achieve one thing:  the smile, the proud look, the “Well done, my child,” from the person or people who mean most to them. And when they don’t get it, they hurt.

Isn’t this what we ache for? To be embraced and loved unconditionally? Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print available at Great Big Canvas.

This is where the power, meaning, and significance of God come in, and this is why the Christian message — that Jesus loves (and accepts) us, is so important. We humans desperately need this.

In a world where too many people are out to deceive us so that they can add our one pathetic sheep to their flock of a thousand, we need someone, somewhere, who loves us unconditionally.

This is Christ, and Christians, that part of the message we’ve got right. The problem comes after the hook is in and we reel in the fish, er, convert. At that point, the love and acceptance talk abruptly stops, to be replaced by a series of rules. And the more subtle and elusive the rules, the more difficult they are to identify in the first place, much less fight.

“Seven days without prayer makes one weak!”

“Small group studies are vital for building strong disciples.” (12 different ways, perhaps?)

“Get your quiet time, even if you have to awaken at 4:30. If you love Jesus, you’ll do this.”

The peace that we seek truly exists. Peace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

“Our ministry activities will propel you toward growth and maturity.”

Let’s not even go into whether or not you have “issues” with swearing, smoking, body piercings, drinking, or your bra strap showing. Standard convention is that those are bad, and you are bad if you do them. But of course, NOBODY talks about the hidden sins we all pursue: feelings of jealousy, bitterness, malice, greed. Because these are so very well hidden, it’s easy to keep up an outer semblance of the proper Christian life without revealing that it’s never made its way deeper than the first layer of our skin.

My friend, you’re messed up. So am I. So is the guy talking to you from the TV screen, and so is the woman who bagged your groceries this morning. We’re human, which means that we’re messed up.

But we’re not lost, doomed to a life of failure, nonacceptance, rejection, and insecurity. The Person who made us loves us very very much, and He is very much ready to pour that love into our hearts and throughout our soul — because when we understand how much God loves and accepts us, we can better get that message across to others.

Do you want to accept yourself? Then hold out your hands, and grab God’s. The acceptance you are seeking doesn’t come from you, but from Him, and the more you explore how much He LOVES you, the more you will begin to love yourself.

Find me here Wednesdays with my Contempo Christianity articles which address the reality of the Christian life, not the expectations that so many others place upon us. You can also find me at BeliefNet’s Commonsense Christianity. My most recent posts there are Don’t Be Afraid of What You See and The Big Halloween Bash.

Enjoy this YouTube Video by Steve Henderson, Painting Women of Beauty and Grace. As you watch the images and listen to the music, let yourself relax in the arms of Someone who created mighty canyons, the majestic ocean, and . . . you. You are beautiful, my friend, in His eyes and in His heart.