Tag: Self-Acceptance

The End of Lent | We Don’t Go Back to Regular Life. We Move Forward in the Newness of Christ.

The End of Lent | We Don’t Go Back to Regular Life. We Move Forward in the Newness of Christ.

By Ashley Whitham

At the beginning of Lent, I shared in a “Coffeeshop Conversations” worship with some friends about our Lent journeys. At the end, I was lamenting that I didn’t know what to give up, because the thought of trying to track an addition or subtraction from my daily life would likely add to my personal anxiety. That was when I decided I would give up my anxiety for Lent – a tall order, I recognize, but an honest attempt would be made. My friend, Naomi, challenged me: giving up anxiety would leave space in my life for something – what could it be? I answered that I knew the right answer was courage, but I also knew how very difficult it would be for me to put that into actual practice during Lent.

Now, it’s Holy Week. Our Lent journey is coming to a close. Did I leave my anxiety behind and find new courage? No. At least, not completely. I did have moments when I was reminded of my Lenten decision, and thought about what it would be like to choose courage. Sometimes I did. But what I mostly got out of Lent this year was a self-awareness. In those moments of anxiety, I paid better attention to what was triggering those feelings, and why I was having that reaction.

I have got to have the fastest voice of self-doubt in all of humanity. I was in shock at how quickly a sharp voice in my brain could tell me, “Not you.” I would watch a lovely, empowering TikTok video of someone saying, “You are worth it!” And as I smiled at the thought of ‘being worth’ whatever ‘it’ is, that voice simultaneously said, “Not you.” Or a message of body positivity that a friend would share on Facebook, saying that, “You are beautiful as you are.” For a second, my heart would sing, “Am I beautiful?” Then just as quickly, that voice would say, “They’re talking about someone else. Not you.” Or whenever my son tells me that I should find a boy or girl to date, because he wants to make sure there’s someone who loves me so that I’m not lonely when he’s not home. I know, he’s the sweetest. While I struggle to say out loud, “Thank you, baby. I’ll do that when I’m ready,” that voice in my head is saying, “There’s too much to ‘fix’ before someone can love you. There’s too much to ‘fix’ before you can be happy. The ‘you’ you are now is not acceptable. Not you.”

I have spent more than 10 years preaching about the equal worth of all persons before a loving God. I have spent more than 10 years proclaiming that part of the instructions to love your neighbor as yourself has to start with loving yourself. I have spent more than 10 years teaching girls and women to love and accept themselves as they are. I have spent more than 10 years encouraging people to be authentically themselves because they are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of their Creator!

And never did I once think that included me.

As my self-awareness during Lent grew, I realized two things:
1. I don’t know how to turn that voice off.
2. I want to be happy now.

Yes, I have moments of joy and glee during my daily life. I’ve got two amazing kids, and there’s a lot of humor in our home. We have fun together. I love to laugh and giggle. I am happy sometimes. But being happy with myself is different. Being comfortable with who I am is not something I have ever accomplished. It has always been, “I’ll be happy when…” and, of course, those things never happened. Or when they did happen, they didn’t make me any happier with myself. Even when there were times that I felt like I was acting fully myself, in the moment, expressing my thoughts uninhibited, momentarily unaware of my anxieties about social awkwardness or about my physical body… that tends to come crashing down around me when I say something wrong, or snort too loud, or knock over my cup. And I always interpreted those moments as ‘great forces of the universe’ putting me into check; a system of balances, as it were. I can never fully be myself, because then the pendulum would swing the other way and I would create chaos or disruption for others, or bring negative attention to myself.

As I’ve noticed these troubling things about myself, and knowing Lent is coming to an end, I wonder what is to become of me after Easter. Do I welcome my anxiety back? Do I continue to listen to that stupidly quick voice in my head? Do I continue to hold myself back from being myself? Lent is a season of transformation; it is a cocoon time. If I just go back to the way I’ve always been, what was the point of Lent? Christ welcomes us at the tomb on Easter morning, and instructs us to go out into the world a new person.

I have to find a way to leave my insecurities in that tomb. I have to find a way to silence that voice. I have to find a way to be happy with who I am now. Easter is not the day we all go back to normal. Easter is the day we move forward, a new beginning. Christ didn’t leave the tomb and tell his disciples, “Let’s get back to Galilee.” Christ died and came back new, leaving the wrappings of his death in the tomb. So what will be different for you on Easter? What do you need to leave in the tomb?

I know that voice is gonna be with me for awhile longer, and I know my anxieties will never leave me completely. But that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna keep working on it. It’ll never get better if I keep on as I have been, so I’m gonna try something new. I’m gonna try to find ways to tell myself that I am worthy, and loved, and acceptable just as I am. And I’m gonna get myself a pretty dress that looks like I love my body (even though I don’t feel it yet). I’m not gonna keep hiding myself from the world because of my anxiety. I’ve got to keep choosing courage.

Creating a Prophet’s Playlist – Self-Love

Creating a Prophet’s Playlist – Self-Love

I haven’t finished my research on being a prophetic people yet, but I am completely convinced that the first step towards embracing the role of prophet is being grounded in our own giftedness. Understanding who we are, our own talents and skills – not in a way that boosts our egos or as social status, but recognition of ourselves as blessed uniquely within our community, and ourselves as blessing to the community. I get tired of the forced humility in our society that tells us we can’t acknowledge our own strengths, because it would be arrogance or boasting. Because if we’re living in community we all have a role to play, and we need to be able to confidently contribute.

To be confident in our own giftedness does require some work in exploring what those areas of gifts, talents and skills are. One thing to do on your own is the Gifts Discovery Questionnaire. It’s a simple survey, attempting to cover a long list of spiritual gifts. Not only is this a good first step in identifying your own gifts, but also looking at the gifts that you feel your ministry could benefit from learning. If you take this survey in conjunction with your community, you could use the results to create ministry partnerships, mentor relationships, etc. The one caveat I would put on taking this questionnaire is that taking it once is not enough. Our gifts and our call changes. Taking this survey once and assuming the answers will be true for the rest of your life is inaccurate and does yourself a disservice. I’ve taken it three times, and had different results each time – because each time I was in a different phase of my life and my ministry. Another way to learn about our own giftedness is to ask the community. I love affirmation circles, and they’re a great tool for people to share with one another the ways in which they see each other’s ministry at work.

To be confident in our own giftedness also requires practicing self-acceptance and self-compassion. And I say ‘practice’ because it’s hard work that takes personal effort. There are parts of ourselves that don’t measure up to standards. Society tells us we then need to change ourselves to meet the standards. Perhaps, instead, we change the standards. If we know the areas in which we can grow and flourish, because we have the solid foundation of knowing our gifts, skills and talents, we can create our own standard by which to measure and accept ourselves. Being our best self is a better standard than trying to reach someone else’s best. And for those moments when we can’t reach those standards, when we stumble, when we make mistakes, when we make the wrong choices – we practice self-compassion. We offer ourselves grace and forgiveness, because we are a child of God. If it’s a mistake you would forgive in someone else, you also must learn to forgive in yourself. Self-acceptance and self-compassion are not just about our thoughts or spirits. It’s also about our bodies. Our prophetic message of truth must be transmitted through our bodies – acts, speech, words written, smiles, hugs, giving, marching. We cannot be prophets without physical expression. Whatever gifts or limitations our bodies have, they are part of our identity as prophets.

And all of these are radical acts of self-love.

Do you take into consideration your own wants, needs and happiness? I think there’s this idea out in the universe that a prophet must give up everything in life except their calling to speak their truth – which maybe is why we resist the role of prophet. I’m sorry, but I will never be John the Baptist. However, I don’t think I’m supposed to be. I’m supposed to be me. If God created me, and calls me to be my best self, then the truth I’m called to speak must be part of who I am. A prophet is called to speak truth – that truth comes out of who the prophet is, at their core. A prophet cannot share their message and deny themselves. A prophet must be rooted in their own sense of self, calling, giftedness, and mission. A prophet must first love and accept themselves before finding the strength/assurance/voice to share their prophetic message to the world. We must practice self-love to find our role as a prophetic people.

When my daughter was in fifth grade, it was a dynamic year for her. There were so many ways in which she really shined in and outside of school. I think it all started with a teacher who made this song, “This Is Me,” the class’s theme song for the school year. Every student knew all the words to that song by heart. They discussed what the lyrics mean, and what it meant to them. It manifested in varying ways during the school year – decorations, assignments, bgm, presentations, etc. I chose the above video to include in the post because it gives some of the back story of how uncomfortable the singer, Keala Settle, was with performing the song. No one starts ready to declare, “This is me!” Even though she performs so confidently in the film, it was a process for her to find her place with this song – to believe the words she had to sing.

Everything starts with ourselves, which is why I think self-love is important on our prophetic journey. If I’m called to value the worth of all persons, I cannot devalue myself. Let’s start our path towards being a prophetic people by learning to love ourselves.

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Cape Town, South Africa