Our culture is obsessed with self-love and self-acceptance. We all are. These are essential to our security and emotional health. Yet what do they really mean? Here are some questions we can think about as followers of Christ...
1. How much do I know who I am?
The notion of 'accepting who I am' is based almost completely on the (false) assumption that I actually know who I am. In reality, do I? I certainly know a lot about myself, but no one has perfect self-awareness. We know our hearts are deceitful above all else (Jeremiah 17:9). Only God has the full picture of who we really are and who He has intended us to be (Psalm 139). I may know about myself more than other people know me. But it's possible that they also know something about me that I don't! So what exactly am I accepting? If I don't know who I am completely, then the idea of me accepting who I am is not particularly helpful. The key is to know myself first.
2. Who I am changes constantly
So this is about accepting who I think I am. But getting to know myself is a continuous journey until the day I die. This is necessary for our emotional and spiritual growth. The things I am using to define myself today may become completely irrelevant next year because I am changing. I learn from my experiences each day. I learn about my strengths and weaknesses from people around me. This learning and self-discovery is to be celebrated. We can see this in lives of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses... (or pretty much everybody in the Bible). Telling myself "I accept who I am" can possibly be self-restrictive and self-deceiving.
3. It's an oversimplifying cover for hidden complex issues
Let's face it. People only speak of 'accepting who I am' when they struggle to accept something about themselves. It can be a defect, a body image issue, a bad habit, or weaknesses in our character or temperament. People who are content with themselves do not need to talk about self-acceptance. But normal people always struggle. There are always things we do not like about ourselves. Yet accepting the fact that I have certain struggles is totally different from accepting those struggles as who I am, or who I should be.
Also, very often our struggles are only symptoms of other deeper, hidden issues inside us. So when we accept those symptoms as who we are, we dangerously neglect more significant issues. When I am easily offended and irritated by people close to me, shall I accept that's who I am, or should I take a deeper look at the emotions stirring up inside to reveal past emotional traumas or hidden sinful desires? My shyness may be a symptom of fear of losing control. My struggle to accept myself may arise from an underlying desire to find ultimate security in myself. All these may also be a symptom of something deeper too! How do we decide what to accept and what not to accept?
4. I may miss out wonderful transforming work God has prepared for me
God is continuously working and transforming my heart through the Holy Spirit, and sometimes through people around me. But when I say 'I accept that's who I am,' I am also saying, 'It's OK, I don't need to change.' But in fact, God's thoughts are always higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). He is constantly doing His work in us so that we will become more and more like Him. Shall Joseph accept who he was as a teenager while living with his brothers and while being sold as a slave to Egypt? Should Moses accept who he was when he met God in the burning bush? What a pity if they had. In each stage of life, we can be joyfully open to what God is doing. God is always doing wonderful (but sometimes painful) work in the deepest, most hidden part of our hearts. The results will be more exciting than who we think we are today.
5. The key is God accepts me (but He probably wants to change me too)
It's not about you. The more you are focused on yourself, the more you lose sight of who you are. The statement 'I accept who I am' is misleading because it is beside the point. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes God accepts us, but not necessarily all our behaviour, thoughts, habits, desires and relational styles. Remember Zacchaeus changed after Jesus accepted him (Luke 19). This is the Gospel. Remember Jesus had the Lord's supper with all 12 disciples on the night of the betrayal. This is Grace. When we focus on 'I accept who I am', we may lose sight of whom I truly need acceptance from. It can even be a sign of pride.
The cry for self-acceptance in our culture is essentially is a cry for identity, significance and security. Who am I? I am the clay in the Potter's hand (Jeremiah 18:6). Continue to let God search and reveal your hearts to you, and let the Holy Spirit guide you, especially in all areas of struggles where we find it hard to accept. What is God trying to say to me and what is God trying to mould me into through these struggles?