While flipping though a recently filled journaling/shopping list/sermon note/random lists book, I came upon this observation:
Does the fact that I don’t believe the Bible verse, “His (God’s) commandments are not burdensome,” reveal a serious lack of faith? The two greatest commandments, says Jesus, are to love the Lord and love our neighbors. So loving is not burdensome but it is. I believe the Bible is true and that Jehovah is God Almighty. So the wrong is with me. Why? How do I get over it?
So many wrong ways of thinking are revealed here. The one which seems clearest deals with self-loathing and personal value, something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I spent over a decade and a half of my twenty-seven years on this earth struggling with low self esteem and self-loathing. During the last six months to a year, a lot of those struggles have disappeared. When my sister asked what I had done to get over or rid of self-loathing, I struggled to answer her. There have been so many changes, both to me and around me, I wasn’t really sure exactly what happened to reveal to me, my own intrinsic worth.
The number one factor is my husband. He is my biggest fan. He’s hugely encouraging and always ready to tell me I’m wonderful and beautiful and brilliant. But I can’t share him. Wanting something to pass on to my sister and others I know, I’ve spent the last two weeks mulling over the question, “Who do you rid yourself of self-loathing when you don’t have an Israel Walker in your corner?”. I’ve talked with my husband at length, started at least one blog, and have talked with some close friends about it. The answer I’ve come to is that it’s all about belief; heart belief to be specific. What you really believe in your heart of hearts. Some things which, were you to voice them out loud, you would deny believing but deep inside you embrace them as truth.
One of the main beliefs whose dismissal has changed my view of self is revealed in this passage from my journal.
I said, “The wrong is with me.” Because I believed the Bible was true, literal and the inspired word of God and exactly as modern Christianity said it was, when it said that God’s commandments weren’t burdensome and yet I found them so, the only answer was that I had a problem. If I take myself back three years ago and I imagine a friend coming to me and explaining that she finds loving people to be burdensome and asks what to do about it, I would have answered that she was trying too hard to do it on her own. I would have advised that she rely more on Jesus to love people through her and not lean so much on her own understanding.
The problem resided in me. It was my fault. I was either not “faithing” enough or not trying enough. I didn’t have enough discipline. I was too busy seeking pleasure. Simply, I wasn’t good enough.
If I wasn’t finding joy in Bible reading, it was a failure in me. It couldn’t possibly be that bible reading wasn’t something I enjoyed and therefore not joyful. I wasn’t good enough.
Other parts of my “Christian” doctrine supported this. As a teen I was given a list of statements about my identity in God. I was a child of God, saved by grace, filled with the Holy Spirit, etc. This was how I was to build my self esteem. By realizing I was these things, I wasn’t supposed to be discouraged by the world’s view of me.
Yet, I only had this identity in God because Jesus had died for me. Without that, I was worthless, all my goodness as filthy rags.
A couple of thoughts sprang from this. If I’m a dirty rotten sinner without Jesus, (This is one of those heart beliefs I spoke of earlier. Most Christians would refute this belief but deep inside it’s what many believe and I certainly did.) then Jesus died for a loser and God loved and was willing to sacrifice his son for a world of worthless people. Jesus must not have valued his life very highly to give it up for piles of crap.
I wouldn’t step in front of a speeding bus to save a cage of hamsters. My life has more value than that. However, if they carried, within them, the cure for AIDS or cancer or depression, suddenly they have value and are worth my life.
So by believing I was worthless without Jesus, I not only removed the value of my own life, but also from Jesus’ as well.
The other thought turns to the promises of the Bible. To be honest, I’m not sure how many of these “promises” are actually Biblical but they are definitely “Christian.” You will find joy in the Lord. Your day will go better if you have a quiet time. You will feel peace when you spend enough time praying and meditating on the things of the Lord.
These didn’t work for me. Focusing on who God said I was didn’t lift my self esteem. Reading the Bible, praying, “pressing into the Lord,” none of it brought about character or behavior change nor did it even make me happy. Happiness or contentment being the safety net if everything else fails. “You should find contentment in the Lord. Be content where you are. Bloom where you are planted.” etc.
To paraphrase what Israel said in a blog, “I didn’t want to feel better about my crappy character and unhealthy behavior; I wanted to not have a crappy character and not have unhealthy behavior.”
Another thing I believed was that a wife should be submissive to her husband. I was never raised believing this made exploitation or abuse acceptable but simply that the wife was to put the husband’s needs and wants before her own. Another quote from my journal:
The Lord said to me: …Your job is to minister to Israel. You will have other ministries but right now, your sole ministry is to Israel.
I asked: How?
He says: What means a lot to Israel? A clean house? Clean the house. Your time? Give him your time. Your full attention? Give him your full attention. Your enthusiasm? Be enthused. Ask in my name and I will give it.
Jesus, I ask in your name for more enthusiasm when it comes to things that interest Israel. In Jesus name, I ask that what he finds interesting, I would find interesting.
I should change. I should mold myself around Israel. Why would God create me as me if He only wanted me to be a drone of Israel? It’s not even what Israel wanted then nor wants now.
Because I believed I was his help meet and nothing more, what I wanted to do with my life wasn’t important.
When I was a high school freshman I had an English Literature teacher who encouraged me to go to college. I said I didn’t want to, that all I wanted to do was be a stay at home mom and raise my kids (homeschooling of course) to be godly men and women. I thought I would raise them to be something amazing. Of course, if I never did anything with my talents but be a stay at home mom, why would my daughters aspire to anything else, but that’s another blog. I said “no” to college because I thought my place was at my husband’s side, supporting his dreams and his passions.
A couple of months ago, Israel found a bit of information which rocked my world. He came across a discussion about the apostle Junia(s) (Romans 16:7). There is debate as to whether this is a man’s name or a woman’s name. There is support on both sides but it leans toward being a female name. A female apostle wrecks a lot of havoc with other verses and beliefs regarding women in the church and the leadership roles they are or are not to take. Finding out that there may be biblical record of a female apostle is not what really rocked me. What bothered me was that I was twenty-six years old before I found out it was even a possibility. I grew up being taught that women should not be in leadership, until I joined the Rock, which taught that men and women are to partner in leadership but never drew upon Junia as an example. With this simple name, I began to take an honest look at some of my deep seated heart beliefs and began to reject many of them.
Around this time I also read a book called “The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life” and it, too, had a profound effect on me. I began to see where my self loathing had come from.
I’m fat. I’ve not always been fat but I’ve always been a big person. I have a large frame and I’ve always had a good amount of muscle. But since the third grade, or there abouts, I’ve thought I was fat. And with this fat came a whole slew of unanticipated baggage. If someone was rude to me, it was because I was fat. If I didn’t get the part in the school play, it was because I was fat. If I didn’t have a boyfriend, it was because I was fat. If I wasn’t having a quiet time it was because I was lazy (a.k.a. fat). Fat became the reason behind every bad thing that happened to me.
It wasn’t until I read Shanker’s book that I realized how unhealthy and unrealistic blaming everything on weight was. I began to ask myself where this idea of fat being synonomous with lazy, unlovable, undesirable, untalented, and worthless came from.
The conclusion I came to was startling. My religion told me I sucked. I felt within that I wasn’t really that bad and so subconsciously I found something abhorrence worthy within myself to hate. My weight was an easy target. Our culture readily agreed with my prognosis of ugliness and inadequacy so it was an easy transition to begin hating myself for my fatness rather than for the unbelievable innate worthlessness Christianity told me I had.
Letting go of the religious lies I’d been told, whether purposely or not, was the really big change; the change heralding in the rest.
During the time of belief cleansing I began to challenge my view of sex. I think I was a fairly unprudish woman with a healthy sexual appetite but when I began to see myself as someone with value, I found myself incredibly desirous of my husband. My sex drive kicked into overdrive, much to Israel’s delight. As I began having more frequent and more fulfilling sex, I felt more desired. As I felt more desired, I wanted sex more. It was a fun self propagating circle.
I began to feel sexy and beautiful. My naked form in the mirror did not induce gagging as it once had. I began to see the beauty in my full thighs and supple abdomen.
I also began belly dancing. Belly dancing is very sensual. It does not have to be sexual. I read a book, “Grandmother’s Secrets: The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dancing,” which told of Arabic women belly dancing for and with the women in their family and community. It was a dance of life, a dance to celebrate a girl’s entrance into the realm of womanhood, a dance to ease the pain of childbirth, a dance to share with one’s granddaughters, and a dance to mourn the passing of a loved one. It was feminine and beautiful. It was full of life and vigor. It made me feel alive and graceful.
I practiced belly dancing in my living room, in front of a full length mirror, with my pants or skirt pulled low on my hips and my shirt tucked up under my bra. As I danced, I watched the way my body moved and found it pleasing. I watched the way my muscles jumped when I flexed them and saw beauty. I shimmmed and reveled in the way my belly undulated.
I started taking care of myself. I began to eat healthier. Not because I needed to lose weight. I ate healthier because I was worth taking care of and I deserved to feel more energetic and clear headed.
I started taking care of my appearance. I was worth those couple of extra minutes.
After meeting a weight loss goal (for my health I do need to lose some weight but it is no longer a life sucking obsession), I got my hair cut. The haircut and products were nearly $100 but I was worth it. I don’t have to look like a frumpy old woman.
I started studying and reading books which previously I would have overlooked as “too technical” or “too involved.” For what? My tinee-tiny little brain?
I started looking into taking college classes. I have been given intelligence and it is wrong to squander it.
We had some of the guys from Israel’s shop over for dinner. Not the crappy guys you might have heard us complaining about. These were intelligent guys. They were fun and flirty with me, which Israel didn’t mind and I really liked. For some reason, I was suddenly able to see what Israel had been telling me for years. I was beautiful and desirable. I had believed for so long that Israel was attracted to me more out of duty than out of actual attractiveness on my part. Having these two single guys, well versed in the ways of the world, find me attractive was hugely encouraging.
Because these friends, the guys and others, were not “ministry opportunities” or “prayer concerns,” we were able to just be ourselves and enjoy having friends. We enjoyed having them over and there was never any pressure to “turn the conversation to things of the Lord.” We could just be our selves and give ourselves to our friends and receive what they had to offer. Both parties left feeling rejuvenated and eager for the next meeting.
Instead of feeling quilt at the end of every night because I’d made love to Israel, wrote a blog, and made curtains instead of spending time with God, I felt happy I’d had a day so full of life.
So was my newfound self-respect and, dare I say, self love, a result of turning my back on religiousness? Or was it making friends and realizing I was liked for me? Or was it bringing my weight under control? Or was it realizing a life half lived is one not lived at all?
I don’t know. As I said, so many things have happened and changed at the same time, I’ve no idea which was cause and which was effect. All I know is I’ve quit trying to be a perfect christian; I don’t count calories; I try to do things which bring me joy; I try to spend time with people who have something to offer me and to whom I have something to offer in return. Maybe that’s the secret to happiness. It’s working well for me and mine.