Rags to Riches: Learning To Love Yourself
I’m not really sure how or where it started (my family are amazing), but when I was a teenager, I felt desperately unlovable. I became trapped by this idea that the only thing lovable was perfection, and so I strived to achieve it. Various heartaches, failures, reactions to my faith and criticism from teachers or friends left me feeling lonely, dejected and depressed.
By the time I was 17, I was a bit of a mess on the inside – though of course, maintaining the ‘plastered on’ smile. That summer, I remember being at the same camp and crying during a talk on the love of Jesus: how when the nails where going into Jesus's hands as He was crucified, He was thinking of those He was saving.
It is so incredible to be that loved.
When I was 18, I was driving to school with my Dad. As we turned a corner, a car zigzagged out of control and collided with us. Despite the impact being on my side, and the car completely written off, I was virtually unharmed physically – though obviously fairly shaken.
The next six months were painful, suppressing nightmares and flashbacks, and ignoring the people who pushed me to start driving again. I wouldn’t talk to anyone about it; I wouldn’t even pray about what had happened or how I was feeling. In my third week at university, at the end of a church service, somebody shared that while praying, they had seen the image of a mangled car and sensed that someone in the room had been emotionally but not physically damaged as a result of a crash. Suddenly, I was crying hysterically, and someone prayed for me.
I started going on the ‘Just Love Oxford’ homeless outreach; we would meet people who would tell me about their week – a trade off for a sandwich and hot drink. A couple of times, the friends I made would agree to come to church with me the following Sunday, but often I would be waiting in the cold and they wouldn’t show up. The next time, I met them I learned to be just as loving, no matter the disappointments. It taught me about the relentless way that Jesus loves – despite every time I mess up, He still wants a relationship with me.
My mind-set started to shift from a place of needing to ‘earn’ love to knowing I was unconditionally adored.
But I wondered why? What could I ever bring to God?
There are some really helpful bible verses on this (Psalm 139 is a must), but I think ultimately it came down to being loved by everyone around me. I started to understand that it isn’t perfection that makes us lovable. I became brave; I got back in the car and started driving. I was really and truly happy.
I’m not really sure why, but the summer between first and second year I fell apart again. I felt under pressure to pretend everything was okay. Depression essentially took over and controlled me. The first of the breakthroughs happened at church, where a couple of people hugged, listened, or prayed with me. That was the start of recovery.
Through many, many Bible verses and lots of little moments, God rescued me from the despair. There were times when I would choose to believe that God loved me, even though it felt like He didn’t. Times when it almost would have made more sense to abandon Christianity completely than continue to believe that God was in control. Times when I had to cling to the promise of the future, because I wanted to be anywhere but the present.
I came to realise that true hope isn’t some fluffy feeling that we might feel when we think about what we want for our birthdays, but a deep trust in God and a deep expectation of what is to come. When I reaffirmed my baptism vows, I read Romans 5:3-5:
“Not only so, but we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
I want to be real with everyone who is reading this – I still have days when I’m just overwhelmed by feelings of being unlovable or low. I’m not living my life on a never ending high. I’m learning to be brave though, to be honest about how I’m feeling, to be vulnerable and to trust other people.
Psalm 18:19 says this: “He brought me into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”
This verse encapsulates my story so well. Nothing I have ever done earned the sacrifice Jesus made for me, or that adoration that He pours on me daily – He does it because he delights in me. I’m in a spacious place – sin, shame and despair can’t grip me like they once did – and I am so excited to live out the rest of eternity with my glorious Lord.
Molly is a chemist in her third year at Jesus College, Oxford. She has spent the last few years being loved by St Aldate's church, challenged on the Just Love, Oxford committee and adoring being part of the best Oxford college.