I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me, ‘I love you.’ … There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”
I am of the most fortunate sort. I have been loved by not just two sets of grandparents, but three. One set lived in Colorado. My Grandma Dickinson was cool. She bought us fashionable clothes and fed us yummy treats, Froot Loops, Klondike bars and Sara Lee frozen coffee cake. Somehow she procured the most perfect peaches, served cold, sliced in half, wrapped in a paper towel. Mornings smelled of coffee, brewed in a carafe on the coils of the stovetop. The radio tuned to news or choral music. Her house was never extravagant but always clean and simple, holding a welcome smell of fresh laundry, accentuated by a dash of humidity from the swamp cooler.
My grandparents relocated to Colorado after my mom died. Departing the heat and pressure of Southern California, they settled into a modest home in downtown Louisville, a bedroom community of Denver, east of Boulder. My sister and I, as teenagers, would make the flight from the sweltering concrete jungle of California, to the cooler temperatures of Colorado summertime. My Grandma was an epic shopper, probably due to a need to provide entertainment to two restless teenagers for two weeks. We would traverse the malls in a twenty mile radius, scavenging the stores purchasing the most garish, outlandish 80s styles. We ate breakfast in the “space”, a tiled sunroom receiving the Rocky Mountain morning sun. We watched TV together in the evenings, managed a whitewater rafting adventure and conducted sewing projects. She listened to our teenage angst, entertained and provided, introducing me to the expansive Colorado blue sky, afternoon thunderstorms and a countryside that bordered jutting mountain-scapes. These vistas comprised the content of my dreams, that would someday become my home.
Grandma worked so hard to please and provide for us. Her fatigue and age were evidenced by naps in the blue chair, mouth agape, hand settled upon her little nestled cockapoo. She gave of herself to the point of exhaustion, longing to please and satisfy her beloved granddaughters. I have no doubt she breathed great sighs of relief upon our departure.
The pressure we put on ourselves has to be combatted with the delight we take in ourselves. Self-care must be factored in, honored, prioritized. These days are fraught with concern, with demands, with fear. Learning to love ourselves well is the key to maintaining the balance, to having the fuel to fight for the important, the crucial, the world-changing.
I have fought hard to learn how to love myself. The words I speak, the condemnation and self-doubt that plague, the comparisons and envy. As a person who feels and aches with the world, my body and mind require more downtime than the average person. The weight of the hurting, the pain of the hopeless, the anticipation of the frightening could become harmful if I don’t care for myself. I curse my body when the pants fit tight, waistbands straining at the roundness of my belly. I curse my words when they are uttered with impatience and frustration. I curse my intellect when I cannot keep up with conversation, believing I will be found out as a fraud and my credentials removed. I curse my mothering as I fail to respond with kindness, resorting to getting through the day, retreating to my security and comfort.
I must love myself like my grandma loved me, with an impractical extravagance. I must feed myself fresh fruit, ripened in season, giggling as juice drips down my chin. I must clothe myself in outfits that I love, that reveal my form and my fashion sense without restriction. I must eat at restaurants that serve just right portions of delicious and nutritious food, an opportunity for rest from the tasks of the home and feeding the hungry mouths. I must serve myself coffee in a lovely mug with my music and news. I need to consider my difficulties and concerns, not as silly, immature, or simple, but give them my full attention, to inform me. I need to draw a bath, lathering myself in excellent products, drying off with a soft towel, climbing into the made bed with crisp, sweet-smelling sheets.
Many of us have fond memories of our grandmothers, many have horrible memories and many have none at all. Can we imagine the grandmother we wished we had? The one that loves us through her generous provision without condition? Let us treat ourselves in such a manner, offering generosity and kindness and love. Our grandmothers were not perfect, nor are we, but we do deserve respect and we deserve grace for our efforts. Let us treat ourselves with care and consideration, and a lot of extra pampering. Let us cry and vent and eat and bathe and sleep with tenderness toward our bodies and minds and hearts.
I want us to be our own grandmothers, to ourselves, loving and providing good things, loving and providing nurturance and sustenance with a little extra dose of kindness and compassion.
May we all lay our heads on the goodness of feather pillows and soft sheets, recognizing the work we do each day, loving ourselves so we may someday deliver this delicious service to our people.
May we all speak to ourselves in the language of grace, the language that is slow to judge and slow to condemn.
May we find our rest and our comfort in these seasons of anxiety and turmoil.
May we love ourselves not out of luxury, but out of a trusting necessity.
In the appropriate and generous words of Richard Rohr, from The Divine Dance:
Insofar as an appropriate degree of self-love is received, held, enjoyed, trusted, and participated in, this is the same degree to which it can be given away to the rest of the world. You can and you must “love your neighbor as you love yourself” – for your own wholeness and theirs.