|Beyonce is seen here, being awesome. Image source.|
Last year, when I was going to therapy, my doctor told me many times, “You have to accept yourself first. You can’t depend on other people to tell you that you have value.” And I couldn’t put into words how completely wrong this idea is, from a “Real True Christian” perspective. I still don’t know how to express it. But I’ll try:
“You accept yourself” sounds like something those wishy-washy liberals would say. (And in evangelical land, “liberal” means “evil.” I literally had no idea what the actual meaning of “liberal” was until I was in college.) Sounds like some relativistic nonsense just based on emotions. (And in evangelical land, “based on emotions” means it’s meaningless and has no connection to reality and “absolute truth.”)
How many of you have heard this before: “Our culture has lost sight of our need for God. We think we can choose our own beliefs and we can define ourselves. That’s a form of idolatry. No, it doesn’t matter how we feel or what we think- all that matters is God’s truth.”
Because, no, we can’t be good by ourselves- according to “the gospel” I learned. We’re worthless- that’s the truth, and if we don’t see it, if we don’t recognize how crappy and awful we are and how badly we need God, well that’s how people go to hell.
If people start “accepting themselves” they’ll believe the lie that they don’t need God. “Accepting yourself” is the opposite of Christianity. [Ahem. By “Christianity” I mean the version of Christianity I was taught and I dedicated my life to, back in the day.]
I believed I was a terrible sinner, unworthy of love. By myself I was nothing, but God made the illogical choice to love me. And that’s what gave me value. God approved of me- and God approved of me because I was fully devoted to him. Oh sure, people always said God loves us no matter what, even if we’re not doing the right things, but it was a “hate the sin, love the sinner” type of love. It was a “okay I’ll wait here patiently until you realize how wrong you are, you prodigal son.”
And now that I’m part of the world of ex-evangelical blogs, I hear a lot about how teaching kids that they’re worthless is, you know, kind of terrible, and leads to depression and all kinds of problems like that. But back then, when I believed that, I was really happy. Because, I believed I was worthless by myself, but it didn’t matter, because my identity was completely hidden in Christ. I was totally confident that I was doing the right thing and God approved of my devotion and my actions. Oh I totally had those “oh goodness I had a selfish thought, I’m realizing anew the horrible depths of my sin, oh I am so unworthy, God forgive me” moments. But as long as I repented immediately and believed all the correct things, I was good. Remember how I said God loves us no matter what we do?
Everything was great as long as I held all the correct beliefs which agreed with the beliefs of that version of God.
Yeah. And then, I didn’t.
I discovered that a lot of my beliefs were based in ignorant stereotypes perpetuated by the evangelical church. So, I quit believing them. But what about God? God was still the same- God still believed all those harmful stereotypes.
And that meant my beliefs didn’t match God’s anymore.
And that meant God didn’t approve of me.
(I mean, of course God still “loved” me, but in that “hate the sin, love the sinner” way. God believed my change was motivated by sin, and he was lovingly willing to wait for me to repent and restore our relationship to what it had been.)
And that meant I was back to my “worthless without God” state.
Yeah, I didn’t believe in that version of God anymore. But… on some level, I kind of did. It was hard to imagine a God who could… who could approve of the type of Christian I had become.
(Hmm so it looks like the practical effect of this whole “you’re worthless without God” thing is to make people feel terrible about themselves the moment they step outside the zone of church-approved beliefs.)
And my doctor told me I have to accept myself. And my boyfriend told me that too. And so did various other people.
And it’s hard to put into words how completely wrong that idea is, from an evangelical perspective, and yet how much that’s exactly what I needed to hear.
And finally, somehow, I came to this realization: I’m a totally fantastic person, no matter what anyone- including God- thinks. And I am a Christian. I don’t need anyone else to tell me whether I’m a Christian or not, or to tell me whether I’m worthy of love, or anything like that.
It’s something that a person has to realize on their own. You can’t just tell them “you need to accept yourself” and expect the problem to be solved- no, they need to figure it out themselves.
And, even though it’s about “I accept myself, I define my own identity”, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. This has a lot to do with my blog’s wonderful readers/commenters, and getting engaged, and experiencing love and support from various people.
And remember that church group I was going to last year? Well, now that I’ve discovered that I don’t need anyone else to tell me I’m a Christian, there’s literally no reason to keep going to that group. I would get so nervous and angry every week- it really hurt my mental health, but I believed it was worth it, because I had hope I might be able to find someone who could fill that need, who could tell me that yes, I am totally a Christian. Now I don’t have that need anymore. So why would I keep subjecting myself to something that causes me so much pain? No, of course I’m not doing that anymore.
Basing my worth on God isn’t gonna work. It would be totally dependent on my current levels of confidence in the existence of a God who would approve of me. (And somewhat ironically, being unable to accept and define myself would make it pretty hard to have any confidence in my choice to believe in the version of God that accepts me.) I don’t need that. I’m awesome on my own. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me. And it doesn’t matter what God thinks of me.
Here are two other posts I’ve written, which reflect this whole “I’m great and I don’t need anyone else to tell me if I have worth” thing:
I Deserve God's Love
I'm dating a nonchristian and I want to marry him. Here's why I believe that's not a problem.