Self-Love Meets Self-Denial: how they can (and should) coexist
As someone who has been in the depths of self-hatred and has crawled out the other side I can now come across as somewhat of a self-love billboard. At my best, I will listen to your woes and offer a comforting cup of tea or shoulder to lean on or place to stay. At my worst, I am going to shake you and use a few obscenities to try to convince you to start taking care of yourself properly. (It's all out of a place of love...)
That being said, I have realized that there can be a disconnect between the love-yourself-as-you-are culture and the commandment of Jesus that "Anyone who wishes to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
This conflict has been on my heart for some time, and it wasn't until recently that I was able to make sense of it. Self-love and self-denial are not opposites, in fact they rely on each other. You can't have righteous self-denial without a healthy dose of self-love, and vice versa.
During mass a couple weeks ago, right after receiving communion, I realized that, by Jesus entrusting His body to us, He makes us the new tabernacle. We keep the consecrated host safe- usually only the priest can transfer it from the golden, locked tabernacle to the monstrance for adoration and back again. But then there is communion, something we partake in at least once a week, where God makes Himself so vulnerable that He makes His new home inside of us.
And then what do we do with this new home? Jesus is living inside of you, and what are you doing about it?
For the longest time, I was starving the body that Jesus had made His tabernacle, but I had no idea the extent to which I was self-destructing. Are you hurting His home? Are you desecrating it with sins against chastity, self-harm, over intoxication, or vanity? Any sin you commit is an act of violence against yourself, and so is a direct act of violence against Christ.
This is why we don't receive communion if we are in a state of mortal sin- we want our bodies, our souls, our tabernacles to be as perfect as possible to house the God of our Universe.
But how do we overcome these sins? Through both self-love and self-denial.
Self-love without self-denial is vain and selfish. It is focused on the person, finding worth only in the human and not in the divine. It is taking credit for what is God-given, placing our value solely in ourselves and not in the blessings God has bestowed on us.
Self-denial without self-love is violent and hypocritical. It is a form of punishment where it should be an act of love, turning away from the human towards God. Self-denial without self-love is still focused entirely on the human- it is focused on saying "no" to the world, whereas it should be focused on saying "yes" to God. Self-denial can quickly become a form of pride, if not founded in our Creator- a Creator who loves us and wants us to love what He loves.
Only when we are able to see our God-given worth can we fast productively. Only when we are willing to say no to ourselves can we truly take care of ourselves. Self-love and self-denial require each other in order to exist in their full divine potential.
But what do we do when we are trapped in that cycle of self-condemnation that is often mistaken for righteous self-denial? We do the only thing we can- turn to God's mercy. Access the sacraments even if we feel unworthy. Go to communion, go to confession, find a priest to talk to. Speaking the lies of the enemy allows others to speak the truth of Christ into our wounds. That is the only way I escaped the hopelessness of self-hatred. Now, when I feel the lies of the enemy seeping back in, I know where I can turn. I know where my tabernacle is weakened, I know where the enemy will try to strike and that his lies will seem legitimate. So I turn to people I trust and they help me decipher the truth from the enemy.
When we employ self-love and self-denial together, we are founded in truth. We can be truly humble, can truly love and can better ourselves patiently and gently. We can treat ourselves how God would want us to. And that is a gift beyond words.
Lord God, purify my heart, help me to see myself as you see me and to act towards myself and others as you would have me act.