How to Love Yourself Like a Man

LettersToHannahby Jeremy Egerer7/18/16
Richard Baxter, whom I consider to be the greatest of the Puritan ministers, once wrote in The Reformed Pastor that the likelihood of a deathbed conversion was extremely rare.  The reason that he knew this was simple.  A lot of people on their deathbeds simply refused to die.

The almost immediate results of a return of health were a departure of the fear of God and the torments of Hell; and the overwhelming majority of the people who’d so recently confessed their penitence, were found only weeks later drinking to excess and debauching their neighbors.  None of this is difficult to believe, from either the pastor’s perspective or that of the falsely converted.  Nearly everyone is sorry when they’re hurt by themselves; and everyone is looking for forgiveness when in sight of a penalty.  An experience of pain is the first hint of an experience of sin.  If wisdom is known by her children we can say the same of folly; and if we believe there is nothing to suffer, we almost always believe there is nothing to consider sinful*.

A natural interest in a conversion without effort and a life without holiness led many people, 300 years after the arrival of Christ, to postpone their baptisms until the very last minute. The Emperor Constantine, knowing that the complexity of politics and the simplicity of saintliness were oftentimes mutually exclusive, and that bishops, wielding the threat of excommunication, required absolute Godliness after a baptism, refused to be dunked until he was about to die.  This popularized an already unChristian notion, complained about by Augustine (if I remember correctly, in his Confessions), that salvation could be purchased by ritual, and that a transformation could happen without discomfort.

But a grown man ought to have his heart frequently broken — by himself.  There can be no sign of health greater than an energy to get you into trouble, and no sign of a conscience greater than a sleepless night over it.  If you’ve never woken up at 2am over something you’ve done — maybe even a word you let slip that signified your cowardice or your dishonesty or your infidelity — and you’ve never spent the next hour or two in agony, finally reaching the momentous occasion when you realize you’ve got to be different, then you have never learned what it means to be great.

Nobody can be a saint unless he experiences the desire to shave his head and sit around in sackcloth** (whether he actually does it or not); and nobody will ever get better unless he hates who he is.  The pains of insufficiency and the ugliness of regret have never been enemies except to the most disgusting of sociopaths and weaklings; and our tendency to want to love ourselves at the expense of our salvation may be popular among liberal women and mentally defective people; but to a vigorous, dynamic, progressive mind it’s the food we feed on, the hour of absolution — of transformation — almost of rebirth.  Our secret baptisms ought to be frequent, maybe weekly; maybe nightly.  Penitence ought to be popular.  Self-loving and self-loathing ought to be one and the same, and our desire to love ourselves should be inseparably connected to a desire to change for the better.

Shame is the natural result of our idealism, and humility is the stepping stone to perfection.  The moment we’ve imagined things could go any better is the moment we’ve become cognizant of our making them worse.  A world without cowards is a world without heroism.  A world without disappointment is a world without champions.  Do you want to feel better about yourself?   Ask yourself instead how to be better.   Spit in the face of praise without praiseworthiness; reserve your adoration for things that are adorable.  Be brutally truthful with yourself — and then you can be said to love yourself truthfully.


Jeremy blogs at Letters to Hannah. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. • (488 views)

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7 Responses to How to Love Yourself Like a Man

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Amen!

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I don’t have time to comment on this at the moment (not that anyone is hanging on what I write). But I found Jeremy’s thoughts to be refined, profound, and suitably poetic in the sense that life cannot be understood only in terms of rules and hard edges. There is lots and lots of ambiguity and contradictions to peel through. Such as:

      But a grown man ought to have his heart frequently broken…

      I saw an Asian movie once (of which I’m sure Mr. Kung would approve) about this young Western man falling in love with an Asian woman (probably Chinese during the Communist era, but I’m not sure). As it turns out, she can’t leave with him to go West and be married. And he has to leave or risk being murdered or imprisoned by the regime for over-staying his time allotted.

      More of this movie comes back to me now. The guy went to Asia in the first place to train with some Jedi (Judo, whatever) master. In the midst of both his physical and spiritual training, the Jedi (Judo, whatever) master tells him something like “A man cannot gain true wisdom until he has eaten bitter.” And, sure enough, this fellow has a shit-sandwich-sized load of bitter that he has to eat. He has to leave the love of his life behind.

      I can’t remember if he ever gained wisdom because of that. But that aspect of the movie stayed with me. I don’t remember offhand if the movie itself was all that good. It must have been okay though.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        But I found Jeremy’s thoughts to be refined, profound, and suitably poetic in the sense that life cannot be understood only in terms of rules and hard edges.

        I agree. The article spoke to me as few do. A nice mixture of obscure history and insight, both from a strictly male point of view.

        master tells him something like “A man cannot gain true wisdom until he has eaten bitter.”

        I believe one has to experience loss before wisdom can be found. Another way of saying, “eating bitter.”

        By the way, keep watching those Asian movies.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I love Asian movies, Mr. Kung. And Netflix has a whole bunch of them. I may return to that genre soon.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Hey, I thought from the title that this was an instruction guide to masturbation. . . .I think Elizabeth would consider Jonathan Edwards the greatest Puritan preacher (at least in America), but then she is a descendant (and thus a relative of Aaron Burr). Note that Cotton Mather advocated the earliest form of inoculation against disease in America (variolation), and his father Increase explained the religious principle (that Satan could appear as anyone, not just one of his followers) that eliminated the use of spectral evidence and thus effectively ended the Salem witch craze.

    I certainly won’t disagree with anyone who calls for honesty.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    One of the things I like about Jeremy’s writing is that, as far as my brain goes, it’s a round peg into a round hole. There was a time when I watched Davey and Goliath claymation cartoons and that suited me (I guess). But no more.

    And as far as I’m concerned, much of Christian worship has stayed in the D&G mode.

    I have no problem with deathbed conversions or those for whom religion is a mere gloss of momentary convenience…and quickly forgotten when the trouble is over and the vices beckon. This is just human nature reacting to a complicated and often painful world. People grab their pleasures where they can.

    But like movies or music, one has the choice of, say, Sinatra and Casablanca as compared to whatever pop garbage is the hit of today and name your shlock film. I’m not annoyed by people’s hypocrisy as much as I am by their bad taste by taking something (especially if true) that is deeply beautiful and making it coarse and superficial, if not vulgar.

    and nobody will ever get better unless he hates who he is.  The pains of insufficiency and the ugliness of regret have never been enemies except to the most disgusting of sociopaths and weaklings;

    I’m not sure where the exact line is when self-criticism becomes unhealthy. But there is that line. But, good god, we are not as a culture in danger of pummeling ourselves to death with self-criticism. Instead, we’ve become a superficial pampered class of puffballs who think their own excrement doesn’t stink.

    There is no “C” in Christian without a healthy dose of humility (not false humility, mind you, of the for-show variety) and introspection. Atheists are not bad because they don’t believe in God. They tend to be bad (when it comes to organized movements the create such as Cultural Marxism, socialism, or Communism) because their world is tied to their egos.

    This is the main problem with Islam, which (now that I think about it) is actually atheism under a different guise. There is no “allah.” Allah represents one’s own self trying to enlarge itself. Islam is, after all, a supremacist ideology. The deepest offense is not agains their “god.” It’s against their own image of themselves as a sort of master race. Their Caliphate is just another attempt at Utopia. That they have religious rituals surrounding it is neither here nor there, for their totalitarian movement brings only carnage, destruction, and tears.

    For those who believe that adherence to God is required for a just and prosperous society — and who believe the reverse will happen if God is abandoned — both Islam and Communism are evidence of this theory, for if allah is a fraudulent pagan god, which seems most likely, then they are as atheistic as the Communists…and with the same destructive and murderous results as they chase their egos and demand to be made materially as large as possible instead of (as with Christianity) spiritually large (which does not require the diminutization of anyone else).

    I think I’ve wandered a bit here. But hopefully not into claymation.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I’m not annoyed by people’s hypocrisy as much as I am by their bad taste by taking something (especially if true) that is deeply beautiful and making it coarse and superficial, if not vulgar.

      We must have a mind-meld.

      Such hypocrites offend my sense of taste. When I encounter them, I find it appropriate to say, “Go away, you disturb my Wa!

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