Out of the Mouths of Babes (June 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

by Don Dobbins
July, 1993

My three-year-old niece does not yet subscribe to the principle of cause and effect. She plays with all the gusto she can muster; she plays hard with or without her Nikes on. Unfortunately, she often falls and scratches her little feet, legs, hands, arms, head, and face. Although she especially enjoys playing with her kitten, Pierre, she doesn’t yet understand that love for others sometimes requires restraint, and Pierre is forced on occasion to scratch and bite her in self-defense. Well, the other day, in an intense moment of self-examination, my niece said to me, “You know what Uncle Don? I have a lot of boo-boos!”

My niece can barely spell her name, and yet, she has taught me three life-changing lessons: the need for self-love, the need for self-restraint, and the need for self-examination. I’m convinced that Rachael is only the messenger of these axioms while Jesus is their author.

When we came into this world, we were the center of our universe. We were very much in tune with what our needs were, and we did all that was within our power to guarantee that they were met. Instinctively, and without guilt, we loved ourselves and considered ourselves worthy of life. Life was fun; it was filled with fairy tales and games.

Yes, we occasionally sensed that our parents were not always happy-go-lucky, that they worried about things that we couldn’t understand. But we were convinced that everything would be okay, they loved us, we loved them. Most of all, though, we loved ourselves. Small wonder Jesus loved to be around children!

As you know, fantasyland did not last forever, even in the best families. During the stormy adolescent years we became fire-walkers over the sizzling coals of self-doubt and skepticism. We became lost in the universe. We could no longer locate a self to love. Our fairy tales became nightmares. Our once trustworthy bodies changed before our very eyes. Our ability to rationalize developed. We wanted to retreat, but there was no shelter. When possible, we held hands with kindred spirits. Our parents seemingly betrayed our interests and our mouths were quick with daggers and spears meant to inflict mortal wounds. We became acquainted, and sometimes consumed, with the super-glue of guilt. It seemed to bond to our very souls.

Many of us learned unique ways to distract our thinking from the pain, but it set up permanent residence anyway. Our frail containers of consciousness became the battlefield between good and evil, God and Satan, and life and death. Our mortality became a real possibility so we learned the dangerous art of denial. Our once glorious fountains of self-love spouted forth a poison of self-confusion. In the coolness of the predawn, we learned to hate self. Self could not be controlled and its vileness nauseated us.

“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?,” we cried. Some of us, we know not how exactly, came to realize that he was always there. At first we feared the footsteps in the sand. In time we discerned whose they were and allowed him to carry us through. We allowed him to forgive us. We put on white robes. We rejoiced! We were saddened by the majority of our kindred spirits who built their homes on the foundation of false hopes. But, thank God, we made it!

Or Did We?

Are we fallaciously concluding that since we are adults, that we made it through the storm without permanent damage? Did we? Did you? Are you confusing the physical signs of adulthood, namely, chronological age, with the truly defining characteristic of adulthood, i.e., emotional maturity? Did you? Have you? Are you loving and forgiving yourself? Do you love you? Are you watching out for your needs? I didn’t say wants, or desires. I mean: are you taking care of you?

Many of us are making the journey through life while hauling the cumbersome luggage of self-hatred. Oh yeah, we know (rationally, at least) that God loves us, we know our family loves us, but deep down we despise ourselves! We are void of life. We know we need help, but we choose to punish ourselves in silence.

My self-hatred cost me plenty. I lost a marriage, a career, a sanity, a fellowship, and eventually the odds are that I will lose my life due to complications of HIV disease. Months upon months of suicidal depression pushed me to take near fatal risks. I hated me. I wanted to die. I wanted to cease to exist.

Trust me, you must learn to love yourself before it is too late. Rejoice in God’s love and forgiveness, but don’t stop there. Love yourself! Forgive yourself! “Love your neighbor as yourself” are the words Jesus used to express this idea. YOU are worthy of life!

Self-love will bring an important realization: the need for self-restraint. At just three years of age, my niece has already discovered that she must occasionally use restraint in her actions. She stays away from fire and she knows not to play in traffic. She is also becoming quite adept at pushing her mother just to the breaking point, and then restraining from further badgering, a ploy that often yields the desired result.

Of course, she still must receive discipline from the adults in her life, but isn’t the goal of parental discipline to produce self-discipline?

We live in a world where our every desire can be satisfied immediately. Surely Epicurus would feel at home. Some of us are like laboratory mice who will ingest cocaine into their system until they die, despite the fact that they have the option of food and water. In our distorted way of thinking, we indulge ourselves in our pleasures of choice until our senses are dulled and our life is ruined. Why? Because where there is no self-love, there is little, if any, self-restraint.

Though my initial reasons were somewhat different than the great Solomon, in ignorance I embarked on a similar journey. Just as he, in his earthly wisdom, allowed himself excess in every worldly pleasure, so I too, denied myself nothing. I came to believe that self-restraint should be abolished. Because the right amount of alcohol distracted me from the pain of living, I drank to excess. Many mornings, and some afternoons, I awoke with a self-induced amnesia; I wondered how I had made it home from the bar the night before. I can still recall several nights when I would have to stop my motorcycle every couple of miles to throw up my dignity. I hated my existence.

I bought myself into financial oblivion. I skipped from job to job, sometimes working less than a full day before quitting. I created a false reality by lying to myself and others. I outran Jonah with an occultic footspeed fueled by the winds of hell. I had no control. I wanted no control.

Sex games offered the pay-off of emotionally destructive power. I did not love or understand the women I slept with; I used them! We mindlessly choreographed a continuation of the self-hatred behaviors that were sucking life from our bodies. We used each other out of a disillusioned need to hide from the pain.

The woman from whom I contracted the virus told me prior to our sexual relationship that she was infected. My response was, “So what!” You see, I wanted to die. A few months later, when I received the letter from the blood bank informing me of something I already suspected, I crumpled it into a ball, threw it into the garbage can, and went out to perform my stand-up comedy act at a local bar. Without self-restraint I was a man of tortured extremes.

How about you? Is moderation a four-letter word to you? You can easily deceive others, but you have to live and die with yourself. God knows; he’s omniscient, but he can’t force you to change. What is your pleasure of choice? Is it killing you? Although as Christians you are free, a poet reminded us in a song that, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I’ve yet to meet anyone with nothing left to lose.

I suspect that all of those reading this article are God-fearing at some level. We have that down pat. This isn’t the problem. Indeed, the problem is that we are not self-fearing. Underneath our white robes lives a soldier of Satan waiting for the right opportunity to self-destruct. Have you crucified your former self as Paul urges in his letter to the Ephesians? It is possible for the former self to be raised from the grave. Do you love yourself enough to hammer shut the coffin of self-hatred? Are you practicing self-restraint?

Until a recent move, I lived in a small, rural, and educationally impoverished community. Because I was active in trying to get an AIDS curriculum in the school system, I had the opportunity to speak to dozens of individuals who were quick to hurl a judgmental attitude at me. Some of you, doubtless, are thinking to yourself that such a tragedy could never befall you. In all sincerity, my friends, I pray to Almighty God that you are never faced with such a situation. But I encourage you, no, I plead with you, that just as my niece from time to time takes the opportunity to examine her boo-boos, that you also make frequent self-examinations. It may save your life and soul. “Wherefore, let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.”

I am firmly convinced that self-hatred is more powerful in its destructive force than any man-made weapon. Without self-examination, it is an unexploded bomb waiting for the golden moment it can detonate.

Upon its detonation, self-restraint is the first casualty. Please don’t delude yourself. Take a trip into the labyrinth of your soul and root out any self-hatred sneaking about. Practice self-restraint because you are worthy of life. Live!

Had it not been for a brutally honest self-examination of life just a few months ago, I would probably not be alive today. I am learning to love me. I know, sadly, from personal experience, that a lack of self-control is a sign of self-hatred. I examine and change myself daily.Wineskins Magazine

Don Dobbins

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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