Cody is a ten-year-old boxer-lab mix who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. His owner, Alex Karcher, discovered that Cody would take his medicines more easily if he eats them with Burger King cheeseburgers.
When Alex told a restaurant employee his story, the manager told him that their location would provide free cheeseburgers for Cody for the rest of his life. After Alex wrote a letter to express his gratitude, the official Burger King Twitter account responded: “The world needs more kindness and empathy. Thank you for giving us the chance to do this for Cody.”
“The power of positive people”
The New York Times recently carried a fascinating article titled, “The Power of Positive People.” The writer focuses on research indicating that our well-being is significantly influenced by the company we keep.
For instance, positive friendships are especially common in regions of the world where people live far longer than the average. Experts are now encouraging us to create intentional networks of friends who will help us build long-term supportive relationships.
We can certainly use more positivity in our lives today. Consider this story in the news: Young adults are drinking themselves to death.
According to a new report, deaths from cirrhosis—the late stages of liver damage—rose by 65 percent between 1999 and 2016. Deaths from liver cancer doubled. From 2009 to 2016, the greatest increase in death rate from cirrhosis was among people between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four, and the major cause was alcohol.
The study’s lead author suspects a connection between increased alcohol use and unemployment associated with the global financial crisis. He notes that “people started dying at increased rates after 2008,” and adds: “We know that there is a model of despair in young unemployed men who are likely to abuse alcohol.”
Why it’s hard to love ourselves
Proactive steps to build greater positivity into our lives are obviously a good thing. But there’s a deeper issue at work here: it’s a fact of life that we usually treat others the way we treat ourselves.
If you’re frustrated or angry with yourself, it’s hard to be gracious and loving with others. If you cannot find meaning and significance in your life, it’s difficult to encourage them in others. Conversely, if you love and accept yourself, you’ll find it easier to love and accept others.
Here’s the problem: it’s hard to love and accept ourselves in a world that measures us in transitory, transactional ways.
Performance-based self-esteem depends on your next performance. If your possessions are the basis for your happiness, you’re always in need of more possessions. Popularity is fleeting. Appearance changes by the year.
It’s not surprising that there’s so much negativity in our secular culture. A world that provides no basis for unconditional self-acceptance is not a friend to our souls.
“You are my Beloved”
The key to loving ourselves is agreeing with God about ourselves.
In Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes: “I hear at my center words that say: ‘I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse . . . . Wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.'”
Why is it hard to believe that God feels this way about us?
First, we know our secret sins, failures we’re convinced would cause others to reject us if they knew. But God “knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21). In fact, he knows our future sins we’re not even aware of today. And yet he loves us with a “great love . . . even when we were dead in our trespasses” (Ephesians 2:4–5).
Second, we are conditioned to believe that we must justify the acceptance of our works-based culture. But it’s impossible for sinners to justify ourselves before a perfect God. That’s why we must “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy” (Hebrews 4:16).
Third, we think we need to punish ourselves for our failures until we’ve paid the debt of our guilt. But all sin is actually against God (Psalm 51:4). And we cannot earn the forgiveness God can only give by grace (Ephesians 2:8–9).
“His steadfast love endures forever”
So, we can agree with our culture that we are what we do, or what we have, or how we look. We can persist in guilt over secret sins and try to justify ourselves by punishing ourselves for our failures.
Or we can “give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:26). We can rejoice in the fact that we are each our Father’s “Beloved.”
Here’s the question of the day: Do you think less of yourself than God does?