Beauty and the Beast. I love this story. I even loved the Disney version. (If you get a chance, though, look up the story in a book of fairy tales–beautiful). I use to know the music. I use to sing along to the track in my ’76 Thunderbird, pretending to be Belle as she finds understanding and her destiny in the most unlikely of places: the castle of a beast.
When I look into a mirror, I don’t see beauty, I see a beast. I see the woman who has a sharp tongue oftener than a gentle one. I see a woman who is prone to impatience. I see a woman who distractedly listens to her people while trying to read an article or book or facebook post. I see a woman with freckles that make her face look dirty, especially in the summer, when she fails to use sunscreen. I see a woman who could stand to exercise more and eat less. I see a woman who failed at loving someone well. I see a woman who was quick to judge and slow to love. I see a woman struggling to love her neighbor.
I know that Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. But let me ask this: How can I love my neighbor when I can’t stand myself? Why am I surprised when I struggle to accept my neighbor as they are when I cannot accept myself?
Do I try harder? Do I think positive thoughts? Do I re-imagine myself into a new being? Do I come up with a three-point plan to be executed to the best of my ability? Do I beat my breast and condemn myself in the hopes that that will produce more love for others?
Could this be approaching the problem backward? Love People, be kind to ourselves, love God. Or sometimes we try this approach: Work at loving God more so I can love people better. There is nothing inherently wrong with this statement. It’s a good and beautiful statement. But when we have to ‘work’ at loving God? But when we hate ourselves? When we despise ourselves? How does this fulfill the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself?
I find this truth: My ability to love is directly related to my ability to know how deeply I am loved.
Loving others cannot be something that is a task I check off my list. The harder I try to love others, the harder it seems. But? What if I started believing the immense truth of how much I am loved by God.
1 John 4:19 ‘We love because he first loved us.’
Love is impossible without recognizing this truth. We don’t love God because we are commanded to love God. We love God because he first loved us and because of that first arrow of love to our hearts we are enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit to love God with all our hearts, souls, mind, and body.
My ability to love others is tied directly to my ability to receive the TRUTH of God’s love for me. You see, when I reject myself, which is what I do when I condemn myself for my failures and my imperfections, I am rejecting the love of God for me and in me. I am setting myself up as judge and jury in my life and determining me guilty.
If we press further, we see that the judge has set us free through his son. Not to live and do as we please, but only to live and do as he pleases. And that, my friend, is receiving the love he has for you and me and then allowing that love to flow genuinely through us to others.
Sometimes we have to start small.
Sometimes we have to tentatively step out in faith and say–‘God, I love you because you first loved me. I am going to ruminate on 1 John 4:19 that says that I love because you first loved me. Any love I have for another person has to flow out of that truth.’
And then, I pray that we hear these words of God sung over us:
‘You belong to me, you belong to me, you’re mine through and through. You belong to me, my Child.’
It’s in my ‘beastliness’ that I reach for and receive God’s grace of his love for me as it flows over and through me. I find my destiny in the truth of God’s love for me.