A couple of months ago something new and strange happened in my spirit. Out of nowhere; unexpectedly, I felt something inside relax. This tension had haunted me for years, driving me forward, keeping me frequently dissatisfied with myself. Now, at least partially, it had let go, and I experienced a new measure of freedom. It was nice –a gift from the Holy Spirit.
I’ve always been a driven person; a striver. I want to grow; to achieve my potential, to be the best I can be. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Ambition is good in certain ways. It pushes us higher than we would normally go. And it can be satisfying as well as enjoyable. I wouldn’t have accomplished all that I have without it. Yet, like all good gifts from God, it can easily be distorted. Paul speaks, for example, in Philippians 2:3, of “selfish ambition”.
I’ve been aware, for years, that my ambition, although helpful in many ways, was also driven by unhelpful and even sinful elements. Mixed within my joyful, holy striving were also pride – the need to be better than others, legalism – the belief I had to earn God’s love, covetousness – the craving to have what others had, and greed – the inability to be satisfied with what I’d been given. I didn’t want these in the mix, and even prayed about them, but they clung tenaciously.
Recently, through no direct doing of my own, I felt these ugly elements release and slide away; not completely, mind you, but significantly. A weight lifted off my shoulders which I’d carried for many years. I still have plenty of dreams and ambitions, but they’ve taken on a new feel; bringing with them better motives. In some ways, I’ve begun to accept myself – to accept myself as I am now. Right now. Not later. Not someday. Now. By “accept”, I don’t mean that I lack motivation to grow, I just mean that, for the moment, by God’s grace, I realize that I’m okay with Him. It’s a better place to be.
How about you? I’m speaking to those who are at least sincerely seeking God. If you’re in open rebellion, God still loves you, but you have different issues to address. We won’t get to those today. Let’s ask a couple of questions:
What is the basis of godly self-acceptance?
1. Godly self-acceptance is based on resting in God’s grace alone
Without God’s grace, His unearned, undeserved favor, we’re all toast – every one of us is sinners and sin is unacceptable to God. No amount of personal effort will change that – though most people mistakenly think they can make the grade if they try hard enough. They can’t. Our forgiveness and acceptance are pure gift.
2. Godly self-acceptance is based on the understanding that God’s evaluation of me matters more than my own
What I think about myself, while it affects me, is not meant to be my foundation. For one thing, my self-judgment is flawed and limited even when I try to be objective. It’s often based on the wrong criteria. God, in His wisdom, has chosen to make me His child, and to accept me as I am. It’s a priceless gift. Whose perspective matters more – mine or His? He loves the me I am. Which leads to the next point.
3. Godly self-acceptance means I can accept my basic self right now
I don’t have to be smarter, stronger, handsomer, cooler, or even oddly enough I don’t even have to be holier. The holier part is certainly a goal, but I am loved and accepted where I am right now.
Is there room for me to improve? Of course there is, at least in some areas (I’ll never be movie star handsome). But that improvement is not the basis of my acceptance before God. He loves me and cherishes me right now, just as I am. In fact, He made me, originally, as I am. So God is not more impressed with a genius than He is with a developmentally disabled person or with a gifted singer than one who is tone deaf. These were His choices, not ours.
4. Godly self-acceptance frees me to accept others
God designed them too. While we may not accept everything they think or do, we’re still able to love them as they are – even that dorky kid down the street or the antagonistic neighbor. This, by the way, is a wonderful gift to give to others. It lifts them up and points them toward God – the source of all love.
5. Godly self-acceptance frees me to focus less on myself and more on God and others
When I can relax in God’s warm arms, I gain freedom to pay less attention to myself and my own insecurities and think more about you and the world around me. I have more freedom to glory in God. In other words, I can stop circling the planet “me”. Whew. What a relief! That gets old – old and endless.
6. Godly self-acceptance allows me freedom to fail
This seems ironic. Is godly self-acceptance a license to sin? Not at all. But we will sometimes sin or make mistakes. We try not to, but when this happens, if I know I’m fully loved by God, as I am, I can make amends and move on without being snared in my past. In Hebrews 13:5b, God says: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” I don’t have to be perfect, though that is the eventual goal.
How can I encourage godly self-acceptance to grow?
1. I encourage godly self-acceptance to grow by accepting the self God made me to be
Human society has always thrived on comparisons – who’s stronger, smarter, handsomer, richer, etc. Now, I’m not suggesting that we can’t improve in at least some of these areas, and shouldn’t try, but there are limits. All of us play life within certain boundaries. In fact, most of us are pretty normal compared to others – a little better here – a little worse there. That’s okay. It’s how God made us. He’s happy with the creation He made us to be. So why not agree with Him? What impresses society usually matters little to God.
2. I encourage godly self-acceptance by realizing that I have all that I need to please God
When God put you together, all the necessary parts were included. You can please God just as you are, even if you suffer from significant handicaps or unfortunate circumstances or just plain ordinariness (if there is such a thing. All human beings are a work of God’s genius). We came with all the parts included. All we need is what we have. His expectations match our potential. A few He will allow to be extraordinary in in some way, but what pleases Him is not excellence, but our effort and faithfulness.
3. I encourage godly self-acceptance by resisting the temptation to compare myself with others
Human beings love to compare. And some comparison can be fun and motivating. But a lot of it is hurtful. It can prompt us either to pride or to a sense of inferiority. You were made to play a special role in God’s family. Play it with thankfulness and grace. God plus you is enough.