Seeking gratification and fulfillment in life is not wrong. What’s important is our motivation and having the ultimate goal of glorifying God. Bernard of Clairvaux, the twelfth century spiritual writer, outlines a four step progression which guides us to a healthy love of self. The starting point for everyone is here: love of self for one’s own sake. This is basically me, using whatever means I find, to feel better. Once consecrated to following Jesus, this mindset should not prevail. But I think we all understand the open invitation and access to return to this place. It’s called temptation, right?
Blessings of God
It’s a good thing when we come to the end of our rope and realize our need for God. Seeking Him connects us in a vital way with His grace, His blessings. The gifts of God are for us to receive. So we progress to level number two: love of God for one’s own sake. We discover a spiritual fulfillment in life that frees us from living only for self. My life is better as I put God first. This is good. Hopefully, over time, our relational connect sees beyond the gifts, to the Giver. This results in a desire to know God on a more personal level beyond simply the procurement of gifts.
Person of God
Falling in love with God at ever deepening levels, leads us to the love of God for God’s sake. It is here that you discover how to be true to yourself. It’s a joy to study God’s attributes, to know Him at greater levels of intimacy. It’s not about me anymore. It’s all about living life in vital union with the Lover of my soul.
Healthy Love of Self
Finally, Bernard’s fourth level, is love of self for God’s sake. Being immersed in the atmosphere of loving God for God’s sake, we are then ready to launch into a healthy love of self. A healthy love of self enables me to see myself as a lovable person, free from self condemning thoughts and emotions. As sons and daughters, may we endeavor, for God’s sake, to be like Christ, who had the most pure and healthy love of self, of any human, ever.
Ebbs and Flows
One of my favorite descriptive phrases. The term refers to the inward and outward movement of ocean tides, or the pattern of decline and regrowth on a personal level. At times we will coexist in varying degrees, on all of the aforementioned levels simultaneously. At least in my own life, a state of flux is not abnormal. I view the ebbs and flows between these four levels described by Bernard of Clairvaux as a framework for the adventure of our pursuit after God.
Seeing myself through God’s eyes does not preclude the need for discipline and dying to self. But it does provide the healthy environment in which to do so.