Daily Inspiration

Loving God and Loving Yourself

I have been blessed with two life-changing discoveries. They outshine almost every other insight, awareness or truth that has appeared on the way. My mind and my heart are only beginning to bear the wonderful healing and love-filled mystery that they offer. I hope that you will benefit from each of them as I have.

Loving God
If you do not love God, it is only because you have not been properly introduced. No one ever loves anyone, including God, because they should. Yet we have too often been prodded towards a relationship with God by the misled shoulds and guilts of religious authorities, parents and Sunday School teachers. Sadly, their enthusiasm for changing us for the better has too frequently led many of us in the opposite direction. This is especially unfortunate because we do not need a should to love God. We only need a proper introduction.

Simply put, I am saying that knowing God is loving God because God is irresistible once we get to know Him/Her. It is God’s irresistibility that draws us into love. Once we know even a little bit about His true nature, we fall forever and hopelessly in love with Him. If we do not love God, if we have fear or mistrust of God, if we do not believe in God, it is not because of God. It is because we have had a faulty introduction that has misled us or misrepresented Him.

The trouble with most introductions to God is that they are filtered and shaped by the one doing the introducing. I am sure that I am not an exception to this rule but I want to make an effort in spite of that limitation. I would like to start by asking you to do something very difficult: Imagine that you have never heard anything at all about God. If you can do that for even a few moments, you may be able to experience something that could transform your sense of who God is and of who you are. Take a risk and imagine – the whole idea of God is new to you. Now allow me to make a brief introduction.

One of my favorite introductions to a God that we cannot help but love is contained in a story (parable) that Jesus told. You may know it as the Parable of the Prodigal Son but I have always believed that the more appropriate title is the Parable of the Good Father. I will not relate the entire story here but I do want to include Jesus’ central point. I consider this point so crucial that I often think that there is no other information we need to know about God. Jesus used this story to point directly to the essential nature of God and once we discover that nature (I think) we cannot help but fall in love. The son in the parable is like many of us. He makes a mess of his life. He deeply insults his father, takes his inheritance and throws it away and then does what every normal son would do under the circumstances – he goes home for help. There is nothing unusual here. The unusual part, the part that is actually rather incredible, is the attitude and behavior of the father.

The father does some miraculous things. First he allows his presumptuous son to have his inheritance prematurely. Then he apparently waits for the son to return. He looks for him, sees him coming home from a distance and then runs down the road to meet him, embraces him, forgives him and throws a party for him.  All of this would be amazing enough for a human father but Jesus tells us something even more wonderful and incredible. He says that God is like this father. This is so important that I need to repeat it. God is like the father in the parable. That is the whole point. There is nothing redemptive or wonderful about a son who screws up and then runs home to ask for help. The astounding part is the father.

The father is the miracle because he is generous beyond reason, forgiving without conditions and welcoming without resentment or condemnation. He is the embodiment of unconditional love and he has focused that love on the one who needs it most – the wayward son.  If we stop for even a moment and allow this truth to penetrate our mental and emotional defenses, we will have received the beginning of a proper introduction to God.

To quote one of my favorite Sufi poets, Hafiz:
“This is the time for you to compute the impossibility that there is anything but Grace.”

Hafiz clearly had a proper introduction to God and it is evidenced throughout his poetry. He knew what Jesus was saying in this beautiful parable: God is full of Grace and nothing could be more important for our lives than that. Hafiz seems to speak directly to us as we hear about the loving father when he states in another poem:

"O, surely there is something wrong with your ideas of God if you think our Beloved would not be so tender.”

Both Jesus and Hafiz are attempting to introduce us to a God that we cannot help but love. This God is bursting at the seams with love and forgiveness and acceptance and tenderness and what do we need more than that? What could we possibly want more than that? What could possibly have more affect on our minds and hearts than this information – the creator of all that is; who is part of every cell of existence has the nature of an amazingly loving and tender father.

What could this introduction mean for you and me? Well, it may mean that we could relax and let go of any and all concerns. It may mean that we could let go of our fears and especially of our self-condemning thoughts. If God is not against us, then we need not be against ourselves. If God loves us tenderly, then why not love ourselves in the same way? If God is willing to run down the road to meet, greet and welcome us home, then why should we want to stay away and live so lonely and isolated and unhappy?

I could write volumes about this kind of introduction to God but for now this will have to suffice. I hope that these few words have at least given you a glimpse of a God you cannot help but love. I trust that you are being held in that love this very moment. There is nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. Now for the second truth.

Loving Yourself
If you do not love your self, it is because you have not been properly introduced. I began this inspirational message with an introduction to God because I imagined that many readers would think this second truth was outrageous or absurd. Certainly for Americans, self-hate and self-condemnation are far more common than self-love. In my 56 years of living and over 30 years as a professional, I have met few friends, colleagues, clients or workshop participants who truly loved themselves.

One might conclude from this observation that self-love is almost impossible. If so many of us find self-love so difficult then maybe it is not something we can expect to achieve. My answer to that very reasonable consideration is this: The problem is not that we are unlovable but that we have been improperly introduced to who we really are.  How do I know this is true? I know it, not from psychological hype or insipid religious propaganda, but from personal experience. I was a person who hated himself, deeply and with little respite, for years. I believed that I knew who I was and that who I was could only be defined as unlovable. I struggled with this apparent truth for years in therapy, growth workshops and in prayer. Everything I tried helped a bit but nothing seemed to be able to remove or change my essential self-definition. Nothing worked, really worked, until I reached the end of my spiritual and psychological rope and felt utterly helpless and incapable of doing even one more thing for myself.

Then, as another Sufi poet, Rumi, has always promised,
“When you are helpless and unable to walk, a stretcher will come form Grace and take you where you need to go.”

I reached the helpless point and the stretcher came and I arrived at a place of proper introduction to my self that has made all the difference. In some sense I might say that this process was a spiritual mystery but Rumi best defines it in yet another poem:

“I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens, I’ve been knocking from the inside.”

When Grace appeared and opened my eyes, I, like Rumi, realized that everything I was seeking outside my self was really right here on my side of the door. Suddenly I began to discover that all the information I ever needed about who I am and what I am worth was present and clear. The problem was not my lovability but my faulty introduction to who I thought I was.

Finally, after years of searching and not seeing what was right before me, I was allowed to see what is now very obvious – I am essentially lovable and worthwhile.  The key to my shift in sight occurred just after I discovered the first truth above – the essential lovability of God. It was an easy step to the second truth – my own lovability. I suddenly realized at least a part of what Jesus meant when he said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” The amazing implications of this simple but self-image shattering statement made it impossible for me to continue to ignore my value. My new logic went something like this.

If God is essentially lovable (and He is) and He resides within the center of my being (and He does) then I am also essentially lovable because of that Divine Presence. Anything else that I think or feel about myself must take second place to that reality. If I take God seriously (and I do) then I must also take myself seriously because I am the place where He has put His presence.  I am mystified by this truth but I have had to accept it and by doing so it has destroyed my neurotic attachment to my vision of myself as inferior, unacceptable and unlovable and has taught me the best and most transforming meaning of humility – that I am worthy of God’s attention, presence and love.  I am still acutely aware that I am very, very imperfect. I am aware of the painful realities of my dark side and my ability to hurt myself and others. But I am thankfully aware that neither my neuroses nor my mistakes are enough to make this outrageously loving God pull up stakes and remove Himself from His home in my heart.

I remain astounded by this fact and consider it one of the great and wondrous mysteries of this Universe. But, thank God, I no longer require understanding in order to surrender to truth. I am far too tired of my pain for that kind of useless resistance. I am just happy that things are the way they are and that I am who I really am and that Rumi got it exactly right when he wrote the following poem which I will use as my closing to this message. I hope it speaks directly to your heart and leads you to the stretcher that Grace has waiting for you.

“Come, whoever you are! Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving, come.  This is not a caravan of despair. It does not matter if you’ve broken your vow a thousand times. Still come, and yet again, come!”

Note: Quotes from Hafiz are from THE GIFT by Daniel Ladinsky. Quotes from Rumi are from THE ILLUMINATED RUMI by Coleman Barks and Michael Green.


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