Two of the most important human needs are love and acceptance. We want them. We crave them. But where do we get them? That’s where things become interesting.
I spent much of my adulthood believing the needs of love and acceptance would be met by other people. After all, that’s how most of us grow up. The adults around us fill these basic needs, albeit in varying degrees. Then we leave childhood behind and there’s a propensity to do what we’ve always done: We look for those things from outside of ourselves: The one we fall in love with, our boss, the likes on social media. But I’ve learned as I’ve grown into the middle years of adulting that waiting for love and acceptance from the outside is like chasing my own proverbial tail. The seeking never ends.
Being your own I love you changes that. It means I fill my own tank instead of waiting and hoping that someone else will fill it for me. I think of this like self-serve versus full service gas stations.
At the increasingly rare full service station, it feels great to just sit in the car passively while someone does the filling for you. You’re being attended to, taken care of. But those places are few and far between. They’re not always open when we need them. And sometimes the price is too high, more than we should be willing to pay.
Being your own I love you is self service. Sure, it requires more effort. And you have to learn how to do it at first, figuring out which pump fills you with the right stuff. But when you can fill your own love tank, the pump is never closed. You don’t have to wait for someone else to fill you. You know how to do the job yourself, how to actively love yourself.
I’m not sure how other people do this. I only know what works for me. When I’m paying attention, actively loving myself means doing the things I feel called to do, satisfying my purpose here. It means literally wrapping my arms around myself in a hug of my own. It means reaching to God in prayer and meditation, basking in His Love and feeling it fill my soul, listening for His small, still voice. It means speaking to myself like I spoke to my sons when they were little people and I poured my nurturing into them as every cell of my body oozed with love for them.
“C’mon my baby, time for rest.”
“You did a really good job on that.”
“I’m proud of you.”
“Keep going. I believe in you.”
“I’m so glad I have you.”
“I love you."
I say these things out loud. Often. Hearing them is important. Sometimes I even push myself to say them in the mirror. Eye to eye. Yes, it feels more than a little weird, just like that first I love you to that first boy. But after a while, it doesn’t. It feels natural. It feels right.
What if this was something we taught our children, a rite of passage when they become old enough to begin to understand that acceptance comes from the inside? So does real Love. (Capital L intended for the Divine Love in each of us). What if there was a marking of transition, an opening of their eyes so they could begin to see that the love and acceptance we give them is only the first step? What if we began to make them aware that our kind of full service doesn’t come around often and even it can be inconsistent? What if we taught them to fill their own tanks after we learned to fill our own? I wonder how this might change the playing field of their young lives, with the pressures and inadequacies many are prone to feel.
There’s a second shift that also comes with this. The love we pour into ourselves eventually fills us and overflows onto those around us. Isn’t that the point of being here? To Love? When the floodgates open, it’s a Divine flow that never ends. Love pours in. Love pours out. And I know with a certainty that comes from deep within that it begins by being your own I love you.