Certain themes are common threads in the stories of my life--kind of like my cornerstone (for you Westworld fans). Those threads can be summed up as faith, service, and music. Whitney Houston’s music made a particular impact on my life. I’m a ‘Preacher’s Kid’ (PK) and as a PK we didn’t really listen to secular music growing up but Whitney was my first tape, karaoke video, and solo. At Vacation Bible School, I sung The Greatest Love of All. We all know the song and the way we feel when we hear Whitney’s voice hit those notes but beyond the music itself, the message is really powerful. It presented a complex set of ideas -- that love was inside of you, love was happening to you, and you need to learn to love yourself. The lyrics raise so many questions. If love is in me, why do I seek it out in others? Why don’t I love myself instinctively? Who could take away my love for myself? What would I give up if I did not learn this lesson? How could I achieve the ‘Greatest love of all’?
A few years back, I was introduced to a guy who was tall, handsome, well dressed and a smooth-talker. Compared to other guys I’d dated who were perpetually M.I.A or afraid of commitment, this guy was a godsend. He wanted to be with me. He wasn’t afraid of commitment. He took special care to make my birthdays and holidays special. He was great, at first. Eventually, I learned that for all of his pros, there were many more cons. He was a rage-filled, insecure, manipulative hypocrite—but he loved me (haha) or so he said. As time passed, we talked about marriage and I could tell things weren’t going to improve, but ever the planner, I planned for the worst. If I married him how would I manage it? Well I found a job that was 75% travel and I found some nearby hotels where I could stay, in case his temper got really bad. I figured things would get better in time and it would all work out—so I said yes.
This time my plans didn’t pan out and things got progressively worse and 7 weeks before the wedding, I finally ‘came to myself’ and I called it off. When our engagement ended, I was asked why/how I would stay with someone who treated me so poorly. I didn’t really have an answer immediately, but after I had time to reflect, I concluded that I stayed with him because I had learned how; I had practiced it. I was taught to be nice to people who weren’t nice to me, to be loyal and stick with people through hard times, to love who loved me, and to pray for things to change. I hadn’t really been taught that dating was just that, dating--and it didn’t warrant the loyalty of a marriage. I had learned or practiced loving others, but ending my engagement was one of the few times, I practiced loving myself. I could say it was the beginning of my learning. After I ended things, folks were so proud of my courage and everyone was like, ‘Yeah, girl, you gotta do what’s best for you’ and what they were really saying was ‘Love yourself’. I am still learning how to love myself and with each lesson, I gain more knowledge, and with knowledge there is power and make no mistake about it--wielding the power of love is a game-changer.
The Bible teaches that our enemy comes to ‘steal, kill, and destroy’ us—in that order. It was always strange to me that he wanted to do all of those things to one person. What could one person do that would warrant such attention and devastation? And better still, why is ‘destruction’ listed after death. Like what’s really left if you’re dead? Then it occurred to me that maybe he doesn’t need to take your life? What if he wanted to suck the life out of your hopes and dreams? That destruction would come when millions of us were so beat down, and exhausted by life, untaught in the art of wielding the power of love (God’s love for us, our love for Him, and our love for ourselves) that we weren’t able to live out our purpose? Could NOT loving yourself lead to destruction? Absolutely.
So how do we get there? How do we truly love ourselves and honor the love that is already within us? I don’t think it’s with a vigorous regimen of massages and facials, and I can’t speak for the songwriters’ intentions, but it seems to me, this lesson, like any lesson, is one you learn with practice. At times you’ll find yourself in situations where you have to choose to love yourself MORE than something you may face. It may be an awful relationship, a crazy job or a toxic friendship—and you finally muster up the courage to say, “You know what, I’m good. I love myself too much to put myself through more of this.” With each choice we practice, and we learn, and it gets easier every time. In each situation I am like wow, I did that way differently than I would have when I didn’t love myself fully. Day by day, young grasshopper.
When I choose to love myself, I wield the power and authority that love gives. Love is liberating, so in that way it is easy to achieve. With God’s grace it is happening to me. It’s true, I found the GREATEST LOVE OF ALL and it really was inside of me.
Dear God, Help us to know who we are in you and the purpose you have designed our lives for. Give us the courage to choose to love ourselves. Remind us that your love is inside of us and it’s happening to us. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.
Practice makes perfect.