And just like that, 2014 is well underway.* For some people, the new year is always a time to make resolutions which usually last for about a week. I won’t complain because that’s how it always was for me. But I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions anymore. I’ve learned that when it comes to making changes in my life, it takes much resolve than just an annual holiday to do so.
However, with every day I want to be a better Christian than I was before and I’m sure you do as well. We want to be a followers of Jesus who loves God and neighbor, who loves our spouses and children, who loves our brothers and sisters in Christ… Of course, we don’t always do that as we should. After all, we are mere mortals.
But Can We Love Ourselves?
Here’s a suggestion: let’s learn to love ourselves as God loves us. I’m not talking about some self-serving love where we put ourselves above others. Far from it, I am suggesting that we learn to accept ourselves as God accepts us — which we don’t always do well.
I love the prayer of David in Psalm 51. This prayer is David’s response after becoming convicted of his sin involving the affair he had with Bathsheba and his involvement in the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband (cf. 2 Sam 11). From our human perspective, it’s hard to do more evil than that. Yet David turned to God in prayer and confession.
The most well known portion of this prayer is perhaps vv. 10-12, the three verses we sometimes sing as a hymn,
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
I used to read this Psalm as though David is bartering for absolution of his sin. It is as though if David will just offer a sincere enough confession and apology then God might just forgive him and restore his salvation. Such is the influence of a legalistic Christianity where God’s merit is earned by what we do. As it is, this makes us believe that penance is necessary when it comes to sin. If we will just pray a sincere enough prayer, confess appropriately, and so on, then maybe God just might…
I don’t want to minimize or negate the place of prayer and confession, as both are essential disciplines in the process of spiritual transformation. But neither prayer nor confession earns favor with God! David begins his prayer saying in v. 1, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (NRSV). Think about that! David is coming to God in prayer and confession knowing that the Lord already loves him with such a great mercy and that nothing will ever change this. David knows what we must know, that God still accepts him, that God will forgive him and restore him to the divine image bearing person he has been created to be.
That is it! We all know who we are… the good and bad, the beautiful and the ugly. But God loves us still and in his great mercy, God still accepts as we are and offers us the grace of forgiveness and restoration. So let’s learn to love ourselves as God loves us. Pray to God, confessing our sins and mistakes as necessary, but do so knowing that God already loves us with steadfast love and an abundant mercy. Perhaps then we can learn to better love others as they are, as God already loves them!
* A similar article of the same title was originally published in Connecting 29 (January 8, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.