For the last 6 weeks, I’ve engaged in a new practice. Every day – usually several times a day – I say to myself, “I love you Charles.” At first it was weird. (It still is a little.) And at first I didn’t believe myself at all. (I’m starting to believe myself a little.) But I think this simple practice is transforming my life. (Little by little.)
It started when I was in Laguna Beach at Rob Bell’s Keep Going conference. I was sitting next to my friend Steve on the second night and we were watching Rob Bell and Pete Holmes do their show, Together at Last. It was hysterical (and poignant at the same time).
Pete was telling a story, and as an aside he mentioned how he reminded himself in the midst of a tense moment, “I love you Pete.”
And I gasped, and nudged Steve.
Do you know how, from time to time, someone says something in a conversation or you read a line in a book or hear a quote on a television show, and it cuts to your core?
In that moment, I knew that line was for me.
To be honest, I’m not very good at loving myself. I’m actually pretty hard on myself. I know people look at me and see accomplishments (houses built, marathons run, good grades, church plant, that kind of thing), but I don’t see myself that way. I see two marathons where I didn’t hit the times I was looking for. I see houses I built full of little mistakes. I see every point in every sermon where I could have been better. I see broken relationships that I’ve screwed up over the years.
Most of my self-talk is pretty ugly. It’s easy for me to get in dark places where I am 100% convinced that people in my life don’t really like me that much, but rather pity me, that people compliment me because I try hard or something like that.
Enter my new mantra: “I love you Charles.”
I was listening to Pete Holmes again the other day while I was out on a 9-mile run. He was interviewing Weird Al Yankovic, and Weird Al said something like, “Every day I wake up excited and I think, wow! I get to hang out today with Weird Al!” And as I was running, I thought to myself, THAT is what I’m after. That’s what inner peace, soul stillness, centeredness (whatever you want to call it) looks like. It starts with loving myself.
I have these two friends – one who is local and whom I talk to nearly every day and the other who lives in Minnesota. Both of them are guys who regularly affirm their friendship with me. And I’m trying my best to learn to believe them when they tell me they love me and that I’m important to them and that they value my friendship and that they look forward to being with me.
So, that’s what saying to myself over and over again, “I love you Charles,” is about. It’s about getting to a place like Weird Al, where I can like me. (Did I just aspire to become more like Weird Al?) It’s about getting to a place where I can live in community, believing my friends and not thinking all the time that people are simply putting up with me or pitying me. (And if they are, so what? The goal is to get to a place where I like myself enough that I’m having a good time being with me.)
I think some of us have grown up in traditions where we’ve somehow caught the idea that we’re dirty, rotten sinners who having nothing good in us. We think that talk of “loving oneself” is hippy, dippy bullshit – although we’d NEVER say bullshit, of course. But I really don’t think we can know love until we learn to love ourselves.
And I think, telling myself all the time, it’s slowly beginning to change something in me. At the risk of TMI, I finished a long, sweaty run the other day, and I was bleeding through my shirt due to chafing. Jennifer was dutifully kind and felt bad for me, but I said to her, “It makes me feel kind of tough.” And then I thought to myself, “I like a guy who runs through the blood and finishes an 8-miler in the heat. I want to be around that person.” Hmmmm. Maybe I’m starting to believe myself a little bit.
Maybe this isn’t your struggle. Maybe you are full-to-the-brim with self confidence and you look yourself in the mirror every day and think, “I piss excellence.” But, my guess is there are a lot of you out there like me, who struggle to be okay with yourself, to like who you are, to enjoy your own company. May I suggest that you try telling yourself that you love you? Yes, it’s going to feel a little strange. You might feel a little like Stuart Smalley (“I”m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me”). But somehow, saying it to yourself over and over, you might start to believe it.