I struggle to love people. Let me clarify: I struggle to love people who are different from me. I struggle to love people who I perceive are more holy, prettier, more accepting, or just all around better than me. I struggle to love people who I perceive are less holy, less smart, less considerate, or less well off financially than I am. Sometimes, when I allow myself to acknowledge these flaws, I really hate myself. Because I know that's wrong.
Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. And I think the problem I have adhering to that idea is that I don't love myself very much, so I feel like I have to fight to be loved. I judge myself very harshly, so I tend to judge others pretty harshly as well. That also means I constantly assume I am the recipient of other's judgment. I worry that they're judging how I look, what I eat, if I'm funny, if I'm attractive. I worry that they talk about me behind my back, that they secretly only tolerate me. That last one is less of a concern now, but that was one of my biggest fears in high school.
In high school I was part of the Drama Club group, but I always felt like I was on the outer edge. I had two amazing friends with whom I felt I could be myself, but when I was around the rest of the group I felt like I had to be perfect. That was largely due to the fact that I heard how vicious they were about some other people, and I feared that any show of how I really felt would result in being ostracized.
In junior high I was still homeschooled, but I experienced a similar thing at youth group. I remember one girl in particular that everyone made fun of. She was never really accepted. And it's not that she ever did anything; people just didn't like her. I was always super uncomfortable with how people treated her, but I was terrified of being rejected by the only friends I had, so I just kept quiet. There have been times when, as an adult, I think of that girl and wonder what happened to her. I wonder how her life has been. I weep for the mistakes I've made, for how awful she must have felt, and I pray that God shows her some amazing love.
All of this is to say that fear is very powerful. Fear has kept me quiet when I should have spoken up. Fear has kept me from telling people the truth about what's going on in my life. Fear keeps me trying to push certain people down so I can feel superior. Fear keeps me desperately trying to be deserving of God's love. When I hear how someone has made a mistake in their life, I'm relieved that the spotlight is off of me, and I feel superior that I'm doing better. Because if I'm better, I'm more deserving of love. I sense that there is an attitude of, "If I can reject that group/person first by making them feel inferior, then they can't reject me and make me feel inferior." I grieve for the people who live life constantly on the defense.
The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear. When you love someone, when you understand then, it's harder to be afraid of them. There are a few patients at work that I was wary of at first because they are different, but now that I've interacted with them a few times, I find them interesting, and I enjoy when they come in.
I hope that I can learn to love instead of being afraid. I hope that I can learn to appreciate who I am and in turn appreciate the uniqueness of others. I hope that I can learn to speak up for myself or others without fear of the consequences. I hope that I can start to live the faith I've claimed since I was a child. I still think there is right and there is wrong, but instead of using that as a weapon against others, I want to extend love and kindness. I want others to be loved whether or not I think their actions are right.
Fear has dictated so much of my life. I read recently that man's greatest fear is that God will abandon him, even though throughout history God's people were the one to abandon God. That's my greatest fear. I hope that as I continue to spend time with friends who love me, who encourage me, that I will begin to release fear and embrace love. Maybe it doesn't matter if God loves me if I won't accept that and choose not to fear. I'm not sure how to do that, but I'm working on it. Being a part of such a wonderful church community has certainly helped. I have never had anyone reject me when I've shared part of my story. I still tend to hold part of myself back out of fear, but I truly believe in the heart of my church.