by Sarah Groen-Colyn
Self-acceptance is an “authentic and necessary Christian virtue, one that is available to all who seek it” (Restoring the Christian Soul, p. 32). The journey from self-hatred to self-acceptance is the bridge over the line from immaturity into maturity, from being under the Law, a law, or many laws into the walk in the Spirit, and from listening to many voices (of the unhealed heart, the world, the flesh and the devil) into listening to God (RCS, p. 25). Why is self-acceptance absolutely necessary for life in Christ? Without it, we are unable to practice God’s presence. Self-hatred is the antithesis of self-acceptance, and puts us at odds with our God, for He wants to give us life even when we are still His enemies (Romans 5:6-11). “The acceptance of oneself, like all that is great and valid in the Christian faith, can never be a secondhand experience. We must, each of us, apprehend Christ and the fullness of His salvation for ourselves. To so apprehend Him is to come into our full uniqueness… ‘To me to live is Christ'” (RCS, pp. 53-54).
To meet His gaze we must be open to His view of us, and we must also be prepared for Him to see all of what is true about us in any given moment. Shame and self-hatred block honest dialog with our Father as we are motivated, often without realizing it, to censor and filter what we share with Him about our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Self-acceptance often begins with facing painful aspects of our selves and lives.
I recently had the privilege of providing pastoral care to a dear woman who began her journey to wholeness in just this way. Rosemary sought help to heal a toxic level of conflict in her marriage. Early in our conversations God highlighted deep-heart connections between this current strife and the wounds of insecurity and rejection in her childhood. I believe Rosemary’s condition at our first meeting is representative of many believers today: a faithful Christian, active in prayer, devotion, and service to Christ, yet burdened by shame and humiliated by her powerlessness to right the difficulties in her soul and relationships. As we talked, I could readily hear Rosemary’s self-hatred, as well as the plague of shame and its counter-balancing sin of pride that manifested in a critical spirit toward others.
The door to Rosemary’s healing journey was opened by the key of self-acceptance, and her entry into self-acceptance came through God’s gentle, merciful conviction of her own fallenness. As we prayed through some key wounding moments in her childhood – moments when her parents’ sin and failings misnamed and deprived her – God blessed her with a broken heart over her own grievous reactions to these sins. Almost simultaneously, as she cried out in sorrow over the ways she’d lived out of her wounds, wounding and dishonoring others, she heard her Father’s voice of acceptance for the first time. When shame and pride had blocked her from this true experience of prayer, she’d been unable to hear His blessing. But from this new place of humility, Rosemary received the healing word of truth from her Father: the sin patterns in her soul and relationships are not her true self, and the woman she truly is, and will be for all eternity, is good, loving and loved. Once Rosemary encountered this truth and crossed the threshold into self-acceptance, she began to dialog with God as a daughter who is accepted by Him and can therefore be open and honest with Him. Her prayers have become true conversation, her needs and flaws come into the light of mercy, and her desires are honored. By crossing this line into the journey of self-acceptance (a journey she will continue for the rest of her time in this world), Rosemary has gained access to all she needs to seek healing and wholeness in her soul, relationships, and ministry.
Like Rosemary, for any of us the first willful step into self-acceptance comes through knowing ourselves as fallen and in need of forgiveness through Christ. “The humility that acknowledges ourselves as truly fallen is a first priority in coming to accept ourselves… The humble acceptance of myself as fallen but now justified by Another who is my righteousness is the basis on which I can accept myself, learn to laugh at myself, be patient with myself. And then, wonder of wonders, be enabled for at least part of the time to forget myself” (RCS, p. 51). Acceptance of the self is best understood as a virtue because it will not be automatically acquired in the process of living but must be pursued and cultivated. Self-acceptance is born in the waters of baptism. As we rise in Christ’s life, we are empowered to seek freedom from the self-hatred and rejection of the true self that are endemic to the old man.
My husband is a civil engineer, and he works as a project manager for massive-budget bridge and tunnel building. I’ve learned the term “critical path” from him, which means the action that must happen in order for the project to stay on a successful trajectory. In the project of becoming a whole human being in Christ, and the project of becoming effective in ministry, self-acceptance is on the critical path. Why? First, because without self-acceptance we cannot truly practice God’s presence. As Rosemary discovered, aligning with God’s acceptance of her has ushered her into a new place of hearing His voice. And once a disciple can hear the Father’s voice, all manner of healing and becoming are possible! Secondly, self-acceptance is mission-critical because we cannot offer a love to others that we have not appropriated for ourselves. God has loved us while we were yet enemies, and even in the aspects of our lives and souls in which we are still estranged from Him, He freely pours out His life to us. As we drink deeply from this well, Christ’s life within becomes an increasingly potent source of living water that flows freely to others. As Rosemary practices His presence, she is discovering a more tender, compassionate, and wise love in her heart toward her husband and all those God calls her to minister to. It is the virtue of self-acceptance that enables us to “celebrate our inadequacy, our smallness, knowing Christ to be our full sufficiency” as well as to pass affirmation on to others, to “see and call forth the real person in others” (RCS, p. 41). Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our Holy God who is making all things new!