When you try to imagine a Self-Loather, what might come to mind is a potbellied sad sack standing off in a corner, rummaging through the dirt with his left foot and wondering why God ever made him.
The truth is that sometimes the most industrious guy in the group is the one who cannot stand himself. That’s why he’s moving so fast, doing so much, working so hard to earn approval, perhaps even to the point of seeming like he’s arrogant or condescending. The secret is: he loathes himself.
Maybe that person is you. Whatever perception people have of you, either as a sad sack or a captain of industry or something else, to lug around a persistent negative self-image is a Sisyphean agony and a rot upon the fruit of joy that Gods wants to grow in you. Self-loathing has many roots, of course, and careful counseling can help a self-loather figure out where he got stuck and how he can change. Our human inclination to sin lies behind much of it, along with our tendency to sink beneath sin’s weight. For a vast number of people it is this sin-related self-loathing that is an obstacle to joy.
If you are among them (and I think most of us are at some point), take some comfort in the fact that you are descended from a long line of Self-Loathers, starting with Adam and Eve. Recall how, after their heinous sin against God (which, just to be clear, was not
eating a magic, organically grown apple, but literally trying to usurp the power and authority of God) they hid themselves away (Gaudium et Spes
13). They were right to feel ashamed, but they were not right to assume that their relationship with God was now one of enmity. God did not hate them. The thing about sin, particularly mortal sin, is that it is so utterly destructive that after it’s done, we can tend to think that it defines us. There is nothing else to us, we assume — we are
sin, and therefore God can’t possibly love us.
God cannot grow fruit in a person who refuses to allow him to do so, but because he is a Father, he continues to love that person. God the Father, who is Love, loves his children … even when they hate themselves. When they assume he wants nothing to do with them and they hide themselves away, he is close, as he was with Adam and Eve.
No, they can’t stay in Paradise, of course, because Paradise was designed for people who are sinless, just like cars are designed for people who are competent drivers. You would no more leave a Paradise under the care of broken, sinful people then you would leave a shiny new Aston Martin in the hands of a werewolf — the result would be chaos all around. So, Adam and Eve had to go; but note the little detail Genesis gives us as they are on their way out. God the Father does the most intimate, loving, fatherly thing in the world for them — even motherly, when you get right down to it: he makes some clothes for them (Genesis 3:21).
Wearing the clothes that God gave you
You are not your sin. You are a child of God. He never stops loving you, and he continues to provide “clothes” for you — i.e., all the things you need to keep progressing in your relationship with him. Ergo, stop hating yourself. To really confront this problem will necessitate some quiet reflection; if possible, some good pastoral guidance; most definitely a trip to the confessional. Self-loathing will forever prevent the Holy Spirit from producing joy in you unless you do something about it.
Dan Lord is a former lead singer and songwriter of the U.S. rock band Pain and an author.
This is an excerpt from “Choosing Joy: The Secret to Living a Fully Christian Life.”