I was talking with a friend recently. For the sake of this post I shall name this friend Erin. Erin is an great friend to many around her. She is a devoted spouse and parent. She is a positive influence. But Erin is wearing a mask. But, honestly, aren’t we all wearing some form of mask? We are one person with our family . . . hopefully that is the most true version of ourselves. We are another person with friends, and still yet another person with our co-workers.
Masks come from a deep-seated insecurity. Every morning we wake up and put on the mask of the person that we want others to see and to like because we are afraid that the person that really lives inside our skin is not good enough.
Erin is very good at wearing her mask. Yet as I was talking with her recently she slowly took her mask off. I could tell that it terrified her to do so, but once the mask was off I was blessed to meet the real woman inside my friend. She is wounded and afraid. She is insecure and filled with doubt. She is beautiful and broken. She is filled with shame, doubt, and guilt. But even deeper than that is a desire to rise above it all and make a better life than what she has ever known. It was an honor to be one of the few people that have truly seen inside Erin’s heart and soul, and because she took that risk with me, someone that she has not known but for a short while, I am indebted to her for her level of trust in me.
I have been where Erin is. I have lived through ugly things that left me hating myself, doubting myself, and feeling unworthy of anything good in my life. I have been beaten down verbally, mentally, and emotionally by others and by my own hand. I have looked at myself in the mirror and hated the person looking back at me. I have been empty and searching for someone or something that would fill the void that seemed to be nothing but a black hole.
All of that stems from love, though. An old friend once told me that he gave up on people because they were always walking out of his life. I was eventually one of the people that walked out of his life, too. But he was never willing to invest himself into a relationship. Without that investment from him, people had nothing to hang on to. He was so scared of being hurt that he built a wall around himself to keep people out and then wondered why nobody stayed in his life. He was unwilling to make the choice to love, and no relationship can stand with only one leg. Relationships of any kind are a team effort.
No matter what Hallmark cards and romantic-comedies lead us to believe, love is a choice. Love is something we wake up every single day and choose to give and take. Love is not an emotion that magically grows in the heart the way that my sunflowers grow in my garden each summer. One day we look at a person and we make the decision to love them, to accept their quirks and idiosyncrasies, to take off our mask and be real with them, and maybe even get them to take off their mask, too. But, conversely, sometimes we wake up and decide to stop loving that person. Love is a choice.
Here’s the thing though, we can not give or take love until we make the biggest decision regarding love. We must decide to love ourselves. The friend with the wall built around himself saw little worth within himself. He didn’t feel good enough to be loved, and thus he saw himself as flawed and broken. He didn’t love himself enough to be willing or able to take the risk on loving someone else. Because of that, he spent a very long time alone and unhappy which made him dislike himself even more. The only reason I was in his life for as long as I was, and the only reason I made the decision to love him, was because I saw behind his mask. I pushed my way into his life. I scaled his wall, and earned his trust, and eventually his (guarded) love. But love was the reason I had to walk away.
Erin is in a similar boat. But where the walled-heart friend was unwilling to let people into his life, Erin is open to those healthy and fulfilling relationships. Erin is unable to see in herself what those around her can see in her. She is terrified of becoming the person that scares her the most . . . the woman she hates, the woman she can’t forgive, the woman that caused hurt to others . . . the woman she used to be.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t fear becoming the woman I used to be. There have been times where my past has come back to haunt me. It has happened within the last couple of weeks, and that is something that I am struggling with, because I know that I am not the person I was three years ago. I am not the person I was one year ago. But the person I used to be is always lingering in the shadows waiting for her opportunity to come back to the forefront. But every single day I wake up and make the decision to keep the old Heather in her place, and I make the decision to love myself more that I loved the things of my past.
In coming to see myself as someone worthy of my own love and the love of others I had to make one gigantic, and nearly impossible, decision. I had to see that I was worthy of forgiveness. When I was able to see that and then forgive myself, I was able to go to the people that I hurt and ask for their forgiveness. My husband was one of those people, and I honestly did not expect him to forgive me, but his did, and it was in that moment that I saw how much he chose to love me, and in that moment I was also able to finally see that I am worthy of being loved. That is when I started to finally love myself.
Erin is not a bad person. I am not a bad person. My walled-heart friend is not a bad person. YOU are NOT a bad person. We are all good people. The thing about people though is that we sometimes make some really stupid decisions. Those decisions can lead to anger, regret, guilt, and self-loathing.
You are not defined by the stupid decisions you have made.
I am not defined by the fact that I cheated on my husband. I am defined by one simple and immovable fact . . . I am a forgiven, redeemed, and LOVED daughter of God. He loved me even when I thought I was the worst person in the world. He loved me even when I was cheating on my husband. He loved me in my darkest moments, and he knew that one day I know his love for me and that would be enough to fill the black hole in my soul. As soon as I was able to accept His love for me I was finally able to see my worth to him, and love myself.
Erin is still looking at herself through her own eyes. I’ve been there. But one day Erin will hopefully wake up and look in the mirror and see a strong, beautiful, intelligent woman. One day Erin will hopefully wake up and see herself through God’s eyes instead of her own. One day Erin will hopefully wake up and see the woman that God is shaping her to be instead of the woman that Erin is fighting to leave in the past. One day Erin will hopefully wake up and the choice will be made to love herself.
Do you love yourself? If not, what is holding you back? Isn’t it time you look in the mirror and finally see the person staring back at you is a good person, a decent person, a person that is worthy of your love?
Until next time . . .