Written by J. Bennett Guess
July - August 2004
This summer, at Ben and Jim's first-ever front-porch sale, I hesitatingly added to the merchandise, among other things, a 15-year-old framed poster that reads, "I am me, I am okay"—one of my prized possessions, purchased in my early 20s. It had served as a focal point of my post-college decorating motif.
When I purchased that oversized poster—and spent a chunk of my precious, seminary-era dollars on its attractive metal frame—I was especially needful of its you-are-somebody message, especially since its small print included dozens of self affirmations.
I remember showing it off—proudly—to my ever-wise, ever-cool friend, Sue, who was at least 15 years my senior. I knew she'd love it.
But, upon its unveiling, she seemed unimpressed. "I had that same poster once, but I outgrew my I-am-me, I-am-okay phase a long time ago," she said, calling into question not only my approach to mental health but my good decorating sensibilities as well.
How dare she.
Now fast-forward about 15 years, and that poster is sitting on my front porch with a $5 price tag—and it's ripe for mark-down. Still wanting to justify my appreciation for it, I blame its demise on my more sophisticated sense of style and my preference for original art.
But, if I'm really honest with myself, she had a point.
All of us, I think, travel down that necessary, bumpy road toward self-acceptance. It's an important journey. Too many of us, for thousands of different reasons, grow up not knowing and not appreciating our own value. We need self-affirmation, especially to receive fully the affirmation of others.
But learning to love yourself, despite its importance, is still not nirvana; it's merely a jumping-off place. The real challenge is to be propelled forward in our love and compassion for others, something rooted in self-love to be sure, but not the same as it.
In the Christian life, knowing that "I'm okay" is not a sufficient-enough credo, especially if it allows escape from all that is not okay within and around us. Perpetual self-nurturance at the expense of justice is, well, just selfishness.
Many years ago, I remember hearing the Rev. Jim Dewey of the Indiana- Kentucky Conference say that most bible studies in the United States typically end with the same question, "What does this scripture mean to you?"
Instead, Dewey taught, the ultimate question should be, "So, given what this scripture says, what are you going to do about it?" It's the most important part of the conversation, he said, and the one we prefer to avoid.
"God loves you"—I never tire of hearing it. But I also need more.
"So what are you going to do about it?" That's where I need my church to push me deeper. Changing the world by loving my enemies is still harder than loving myself, even on my worst days.
Back at the porch sale, near the day's end, someone finally buys my nice poster. "I bet he's in his I-am-me, I-am-okay phase," I think.
Handing me three bucks, he says, "I'm just buying it for the frame."