In a moment of quiet prayer and reflection a couple of weeks ago, God gently but forcefully gave me a spiritual bath. He scrubbed hard and got rid of some dirt that had been hiding in the crevices of my heart for some time.
It all started with that wonderful passage in Romans where Paul writes,
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,Rom 8:38, ,39 KJV
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I couldn’t help but think of some of the things that seemed to separate me from feeling God’s love. Lo and behold, the realization that I have been incredibly critical of people, places, and things, over many years. I have been aware of this tendency for eons, but it’s something I still have to be alert to.
So, here I was in my Monday morning prayer time, gearing up for a fresh new week full of opportunities, and I took a good long look at my life. Yes, I had been critical of those I love and those I didn’t. I had been critical of how things at church were going. I had been critical of all sorts of stuff. But most of all I had been critical of myself.
And I had repented of much of this criticism, many times. And I have made a lot of progress. But I had not been able to completely abandon my critical attitude.
So I went on my mental knees and repented once more of all the times I had been critical of someone or something, even I hadn’t been aware of it at the time.
I realized I needed to dig up the root of the problem or I would never be free from this attitude.
It dawned on me that, basically, I had taken a bite out of the apple that Eve ate in the Garden of Eden. I had fallen for the serpent’s lie that I could become as a god, knowing good and evil, or rather deciding for myself whether something was good or bad, instead of listening to God’s verdict.
Who do I think I am that I have the right or ability to decide whose behavior is worthy of praise or criticism? Looking back on who or what I have been critical of, it is usually has to do with something being different from my personal opinion of what is right.
As if I were the supreme standard bearer of moral rectitude. What pride and arrogance on my part.
What is the opposite of criticism?
You might answer: Approval. But I think it’s really just love.
As I continued to pray and let God’s grace wash over me, I had this extraordinary desire to love all God’s children. He loves all His children. So must I. He told me to quit loving them with my heart, but to love them with His heart.
Wow! God gives us His heart to love all His children, our brothers and sisters, with. That takes love to a completely different level.
The more I tried to wrap my head around the idea of loving all God’s children, the more possible it seemed to become. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with an intense desire. I wanted to know all God’s children. I wanted to meet every one of them and get to know them and tell them how much I loved them.
It is hard to put this feeling into words. But is was a powerful force upon my heart.
That night I had a dream in which I saw many people I had known in the past and many I had never met. Everyone expressed so much love for me and for everyone. I felt love for all of them.
The next morning, I was cherishing this feeling of knowing I was loved and that I loved others. And for the first time in my life, I included myself in that love. I actually loved myself.
Oh, I had said the words before, that I loved myself, but it had been an intellectual process of trying to do what I knew Jesus told me to do. And over the years, I have encouraged hundreds of people to love themselves. But I had never really done it completely until that morning.
And I can honestly say, it was not just for a fleeting moment. I do love myself. Not in an egotistical, selfish way. I appreciate myself as a child of God and how He made me.
True love dissolves criticism
With this more expansive sense of love for myself and all mankind, I do not feel critical like I used to. Well, maybe momentarily once in a while. I think I was critical of others because I didn’t love myself.
This is not to say that we should condone bad behavior. You never know what internal and external influences are at work on anyone to make them behave poorly, carelessly, or hatefully.
But I see my job now is just to love them. Even if they make mistakes. Even if they do something bad on purpose. They are really crying out for love. They need to learn to love others and themselves.
We all just need to love and be loved.
Over many years I had made valiant efforts to quit being critical. And I made lots of progress. But it was not until two weeks ago that I realized that one of the reasons I was being critical of others as well as myself was because I had never really learned to love myself.
Please take a moment and just love yourself. Appreciate who God made you to be. You are one of His dear ones. Yes, one of many, but no less dear because there are so many who are His children.
There may be some mighty wrestling in this process of learning to love yourself. Go for it. You’re worth it. You will have to forgive yourself too. And accept God’s forgiveness. Why does that seem so hard? If we only knew how profound and infinite His love is, we would realize how worthy we are and how incapable we are to resist his love.
It’s sort of like standing under Niagara Falls and saying, “I refuse to get wet.” It doesn’t work that way. God loves you, no ifs, ands, or buts. Get used to it. Accept it. Run with it.
Love others as you love yourself
The more you truly love yourself, the more you will love others, even those you will never meet in this world.
In closing, let me simply say, “I love you.” I would love to take each of you, my readers, by the hand and tell you this. You are precious and dear to me. And more importantly, you are dear to God.