Years ago, I discovered something important. If I acted a certain way, I could get a lot of attention. I could make people laugh, and I could feel accepted. The scene of this discovery was a youth retreat talent show. While I thankfully did not decide to test this theory from the stage, I did spend most of the evening goofing off among the youth in my group. They thought I was funny, and I thought I was having fun.
That was until I looked over to the side of the room and caught my older cousin (who happened to work at the camp hosting the retreat) watching me. She had a confused look on her face, like she was struggling to reconcile what she was seeing with what she knew. Because she knew me enough to know that who I was being that night was a charade. I instantly felt my face get red. Why had I done that? Why would I act like someone I was not?
At the time, I was fifteen. I didn’t know who I was. I knew some things I liked, some things I was good at, but mostly I just wanted people to like me. I wanted to fit in. I saw the kinds of people who made friends easily—people who were funny, laid back, the life of the party. That wasn’t me, but if I wanted to fit in, maybe it needed to be me. I doubt I thought it all through quite that clearly, but the end result was my embarrassing moment—caught pretending to be something I was not.
We all want to be accepted, yet finding our place is not always easy. Most of us tend to fall into one of two ditches on either side of healthy self-perception. Some choose the ditch where they sacrifice who they are in an attempt to gain love and approval, essentially living in denial about who God made them to be. Others choose the ditch where they flaunt their individuality and enjoy rocking the boat, essentially preferring a place on the outside so they don’t risk rejection.
Both of these perspectives miss the point. Our goal isn’t to fit in. Neither is it to assert ourselves at the expense of others. For Jesus-followers, the goal has always been love. The biblical standard for love is selfless and sacrificial. It means laying our lives down for others just as Jesus did.
Here’s the thing: Until we love ourselves, we will have a hard time really loving others. Our love will be mixed with conflicting emotions, like jealousy, competition, judgment, and fear of rejection, and ultimately, the relationship will be more about self than about the other.
Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves (see Mark 12:31). The implication is, to love our neighbors we must first love ourselves. This makes sense since we cannot give what we do not have. We cannot embrace others if we have not yet embraced ourselves. True love for others is born from accepting God’s love for us and embracing ourselves as His beloved. When our need for love and approval is met in Him, we are finally free to care about others.
We see this in the life of the apostle Paul. At times, his evangelism strategy was to become all things to all people in order to win some (see 1 Cor. 9:19–22). Yet, Paul was also very confident in his identity and calling, so much so that he could assert his apostleship (see 1 Cor. 1:1–2) and say things like, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1 NASB), and “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all” (1 Cor. 14:18 NASB).
In this, Paul shows us the healthy middle road. He displayed strong self-acceptance and confidence—to the point that we might think he sounds a bit arrogant. But confidence can seem arrogant to the insecure. The difference is in the heart. Arrogance is focused on serving self; confidence enables selfless love of others. Paul’s confidence was rooted in His identity in God. We know this because his confidence enabled him to lay down his life for people—even when they misunderstood or rejected him.
So many of us walk through life without knowing how to truly love and accept ourselves even though we know God loves and accepts us. This is not God’s best for us. When we know and embrace who we are, insecurity loses its grip on us. Fear of others can’t keep us down. We are powerful enough to love with our whole hearts. We are brave enough to risk rejection, because we know those voices no longer get to tell us who we are.
You may think, “That sounds amazing, but how do I make that real in my life? ” I have no magic formula or three-step plan. What I do have is an invitation to a journey. Only God can make this happen in your heart. He longs to enliven and empower you with His love so that you can live with Spirit-inspired confidence. All you need to do is ask—and then allow Him to address the fears and insecurities in your heart. It will take time, but it will be worth it.
Psalm 23 is a beautiful description of this kind of life—the life of confidence in God’s love. In it, David declares, “…My cup overflows.” A cup doesn’t overflow until it is as full as possible. Not even one more drop can fit. This is how God wants to fill us, so lack and emptiness do not exist in our hearts. The fountain of His love rushes down on us, filling us so full that His love runs over. We cannot help but leak out onto those around us. The proof of fullness is found in overflow.
This is how we step boldly forward in love for others—fearless, extravagant, hopeful—spilling over with the love of Christ. This is how our cup overflows.