I was wrapping up a few retail errands on Valentine’s Day, navigating through a very full downtown. Maybe it’s the proximity to my birthday, which is on Thursday, but I’ve always liked this holiday, fraught as it can be.
I wore my red high heels and enjoyed the satisfying click they made on the sidewalk as I weaved through the couples, of all ages.
I have a tendency to get into personal, philosophical conversations with strangers, which is how I ended up talking about being single on Valentine’s Day with the guy who sold me my new yoga pants.
“I don’t have anybody,” he said. “After work I’m just going home and playing video games.”
I gave him what I hope was a warm look. “You have yourself, and you are somebody,” I said. “If you don’t treat yourself like a person, how can you expect anyone else to?”
“You know what?” he said. “You’re right.”
I haven’t always known this, at least, not deep in my bones. It’s only been recently that I’ve realized that I don’t give myself the same care that I give to other people. I strive to be uplifting and encouraging in my words for others, but I’m not always kind in the way I talk about and to myself. For example, as I tried on yoga pants last night, just moments before the interaction above, I found myself looking at another employee, a woman, and apologizing for the way my hips look like muffin tops. “It’s winter,” she said, her voice compassionate, not dismissing. “You look great.”
I was there, listening to the way I disowned my own body, but I acted as if I wasn’t there.
A few weeks ago, my friend Natalie Trust inspired me to take myself on a date.
At first, the idea totally confused me. What would I do all by myself? But then, the true beauty of her suggestion became clear. I could treat myself the way I would treat anyone else I was on a date with. I could plan something I would enjoy, maybe splurge a little, and spend some quality time with myself.
So, with some trepidation, I took myself to a movie. I chose something that I genuinely wanted to see, allowed myself to gravitate to a seat that was most comfortable for me, and instead of turning to someone else every time I found something funny, or true, I turned to myself.
I expected that the experience might be awkward or that I would feel lonely, or sad.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I felt seen. I felt cared for. I felt loved.
I’ve read all kinds of things about loving myself, both positive and negative. I read about the dangers of focusing too much on my needs and desires, and I’ve read about the reverse. But even in the words I’ve read about taking care of myself, I’ve sensed something underneath it, sometimes stated, sometimes not: the idea that I take care of myself because I won’t have anything to give to others if I don’t.
This is true, of course. I can’t draw water from an empty well. But theologically, this doesn’t work for me as a reason to care for myself the way I would want to care for a friend, or indeed, to be cared for by a friend, myself. I need a theology for being kind, gentle and loving toward myself that is deeper than a teacup which pours out into the saucer around her.
I spend a lot of time thinking about Jesus. When I get frustrated or tired or happy or perplexed, I go to Jesus. I took this to Him, letting Him turn it, and me, over and over.
It was there that I realized that the way I’m learning to feel about myself is just a hint of how He feels about me. He wants to be with me, not because of what I can give, even to Him, but because He loves to be with me. He finds delight in me, all on my own.
In finding delight in my own personality, company, and perspective, I am starting to look more like Jesus. I am learning to treat myself the way He has always treated me.
Slowly, I’ve been taking this approach with me into other relationships as well. I’ve been blessed with some truly wonderful people in my life. They are the sort of people who make my heart want to burst. Sometimes I catch myself wondering: what do they see in me?
But Jesus, Jesus called me friend, first. Not only choosing to associate with me, Jesus, along with the other members of the Trinity, chose to conceptualize and create me.
I have a feeling it will take some time for that to sink in.
I realized that when I spent a great deal of time alone, or a great deal of time with others, I have sent the same message: I am not good company. Instead of merely tolerating my own presence, or expecting that others are doing the same, I’m learning to enjoy the unique way that I embody personhood, community, and friendship.
Like Jesus, I am learning to call myself friend.
You can read more Single Minded Mondays here.