I had a health check at work yesterday. They checked my blood pressure, my cholesterol levels, my weight, height and BMI (body-mass index). Now anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always had this problem. I love food, and hate exercise. I am not a natural sportsman, which doesn’t help, and I’m not a naturally confident person – certainly not in this area anyhow. I was the guy who was rubbish at sports and never got the girl at school, and I say that not to get any sympathy or pity, but as a statement of fact.
Bottom line is, this all affected how I saw myself.
All the things that happened to me in my teenage years, my relationship with my family, how I was treated at school, the messages I got fed (and the irony in that comment doesn’t escape me) created deep psychological scars which are still there to some degree.
I was really skinny as a teenager, but because I was bad at sports I thought I was fat and was told nothing about healthy living. So in the end this is what ended up happening, I became overweight, especially in my early-mid twenties, largely down to comfort eating, and it’s always been a mission to lose any weight. In the last 18 months or so I have lost a fair amount of weight – but the health check showed me I still needed to lose a couple more stone to really be healthy.
Reflecting on this a bit in the last day or so I began to see things a bit differently. I realised that one of the reasons I often eat is because my concept of love, my concept of how I receive people’s love is conditional – and this has deep implications for us all spiritually.
Imagine your worst habit. You know, the one you don’t tell anyone about and keep largely hidden. Or maybe you don’t keep it hidden, maybe everyone knows about it and its largely public – like going and getting completely hammered from time to time, or smoking like a chimney, or, like me, over-eating. Maybe it’s being a complete control freak or workaholic, which can be just as unhealthy in otherwise. Maybe it’s a worse kind of addiction.
You see I think there’s a dimension to addiction, controlling behaviour or bad habits which we haven’t really understood before.
A lot of these things have so much power over us because they make us feel good about ourselves, right? In the moment we engage in those habits – whatever we say outside of that – we feel good about ourselves, it satisfies our souls, we feel comfortable and safe. For a while anyway, until we need our next fix.
However, the reason we feel safe and comfortable, is because we’ve done something which has made us feel that way. We’ve fulfilled a condition, we’ve done something which has resulted in that feeling.
It’s almost like that we gain love through doing whatever it is we do. We think if we do that, then it will all be okay, we will feel safe, we will feel loved, and the power this has over us is partially down to the fact that we think that we need to do whatever it is to be loved. We only feel loved if we engage in that habit, so we do it almost like because we feel we have to, even if there is something telling us not to.
This is my relationship with food – especially sugary food and take away food. On some level I think if I eat that food then I’ll be okay, I’ll be alright, and I’ll be in control. I’ll feel safe and loved because I’ve eaten that food – almost like I’ve subscribed to a certain view of myself, so I might as well give in to it.
But that’s a total and complete lie.
This attitude is disrespectful to ourselves, and it’s actually an insult to grace.
God loves me – loves us – unconditionally. It doesn’t matter how much or how little I eat, how much or how little I exercise, that unconditional, infinite love for me is there anyhow. I have infinite value outside of this habit.
We need to get away from this conditional view of love.
I don’t think we realise how deeply it’s ingrained into our souls from the world around us, that somehow we have to prove ourselves in something to someone in order to have value or worth, and if we can’t do it in the way the world wants we escape into our own world, into our own bad habits, because there we will feel loved and accepted.
The irony is we often first enter into these things to feel unconditional love and acceptance, but in the end we become slaves to them, and we feel like we have to engage in them in order to feel loved and accepted and valued. In the end, we need more and more to be satisfied, and it ends up controlling us.
It’s all tied up in this conditional view of love which the world tries to sell us, and which is a total and complete lie.
I am loved as I am.
You are loved as you are.
Unconditionally. That means there is nothing you can do to earn it, merit it, deserve it, or be worthy of it.
There’s no catch.
There’s no conditions.
There’s no rules you have to pass to gain it.
There’s no initiation ceremony to receive it.
We need to be honest about how much we’ve believed this conditional view of love, and open our hearts to the unconditional love of God.
You see, I think a lot of us know in our heads that God loves us unconditionally, but we don’t really accept it into our hearts. We are scared of what unconditional love means, we can’t quite accept it in our hearts, so we content ourselves with knowing it in our heads.
But God doesn’t just want our minds. He wants our hearts.
It’s not enough just to know God loves us unconditionally in our minds. We need to allow ourselves to feel it and experience it in our hearts – and I don’t just mean as an emotion, I mean on a deep spiritual, psychological and emotional level, with our whole soul.
That’s not something you can just do.
It’s a process. It’s a journey.
I have said many times life is a journey with God, and we are all in relationship with a relational God who wants to know us intimately, deeply and right into the depths of our souls. He wants to transform us.
I want to encourage you – and I say this to myself as much as any of you – to try and submit yourself to this process. For me, this means recognising that no amount of food – or dieting – will ever be able to earn me any love or increase my value – and that no matter how much I try to deny or escape it, God loves me unconditionally, and that I am precious to Him. I need to recognise my innate and deep value to God, and how much He loves me as I am. Only as I understand how valuable I am will I really start to value myself enough to take care of my body by eating well and exercising regularly.
It’s the same with all of us.
Whatever you’re doing which makes you feel better about yourself, whatever habit you have or way you’re using to validate yourself, if it involves you doing something in order to gain love and acceptance, then it’s not from God no matter what language it uses.
No amount of control or responsibility will do it.
No position will do it.
No amount of work you do will satisfy it.
No matter how much you indulge it, it won’t satisfy you.
We are designed to need love and acceptance, but only God’s love can truly satisfy it. We need to allow God’s unconditional love to permeate into our hearts and souls, we need to just accept it, and merely respond to it and engage with it.
As we do this, then we start to see ourselves as God sees us, we start to value ourselves much more, and all these things we do to try and validate ourselves start to seem less important, their power is much less.
Try it. You won’t be disappointed.
Do you have any habits or behaviour patterns you wish you could change?
Is you view of God as a God of conditional or unconditional love?
What steps can you take towards opening your heart to the God of unconditional love?