“Motivation refers to the ‘go’ of mental life …
a system of readiness,
a mainspring of conduct,
preparing the person for adaptive behavior
whenever the appropriate stimulus or associations
— Gordon A. Allport
As I worked my way from toddler to teenager through the ranks of Sunday school, one Bible verse in particular was repeated over and over: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18b). Unfortunately, over the years, that bit of wisdom wandered through the labyrinth of my immature thought processes and morphed into an unhealthy mental mantra: You should always love others more than you love yourself.
Subtly blended with lessons on kindness, sharing, cooperation, and the horrors that awaited children who disobeyed authority figures, self-love – as I understood it – was synonymous with sin, wickedness, and falling short of God’s lofty expectations.
I balanced the concept pretty well as long as I was in good favor with everyone around me. In second grade I found myself in Mrs. Wolfcomer’s class — the dreaded teacher who was infamous for wielding her large wooden paddle upon the behinds of children who displeased her. I can remember “feeling their pain” each time I heard the whack of that weapon on the backside of one of my fellow classmates. It was not only humiliating for the one being spanked, it was discomforting for every child in the room. I recall fearing that I might — at some point during that very long school year — slip from grace and become her next victim.
It was in fourth grade, when words and numbers began to blur that my social status started to decline. That was when my beautiful teacher with the lovely red hair and very “tall teeth” suggested to my mother that my vision should be tested, because I might need glasses. And of course she was right – back then teachers were always right.
At first I was delighted with my new spectacles and their light aqua frames with winged corners. They helped me see details, like needles on pine trees, and even a distant house in our neighborhood that I’d never noticed before. I did better in school because I could see clearly everything Miss Jansen wrote on the blackboard. I had more confidence when I returned to my reading circle – though I still couldn’t read as fast as Darleen or with as much expression as Carol Lee.
But as great as it was to see more clearly, my new glasses changed my acceptance standing among my fellow classmates … not for the better. There was something less likeable about girls with glasses. At least, that was the case for “little Paula” in the fourth grade.
In the fifth and sixth grades I grew taller and thinner. My skinny legs, anklet socks and flat chest made me a target for harassment from some of the more physically mature “tweens.” In junior high, my mother – God bless her – would not let me leave the house looking like the popular girls, who wore long-legged panty girdles that showed beneath their too-short skirts. They intentionally tore runs in their nylons and flaunted the latest fads. I hated my “look.” But I was never found guilty of violating the school’s dress code. So it wasn’t necessary to tremble each time a popular girl was summoned from class to the vice principal’s office. I had no fear of being next.
In seventh, eighth and ninth grades, I managed to survive the mortification of nudity in the showers that were required after P.E. class and the forced slow dancing with slowly maturing, petrified young men in the cafeteria on rainy days. It wasn’t difficult to think more highly of others back then. And I took comfort in the fact that I was doing something right. Loving others more than I loved myself was hardly a challenge.
In high school, life began to brighten a bit as I met teachers who recognized my talent for writing. My name appeared on the “accepted” list for the newly formed drill team, and physical education took on new, invigorating meaning. I snagged my first date and became engaged to my beloved during my senior year. All that helped me feel motivated to move confidently ahead on my journey into the future, as I traveled the road to “happily ever after.”
It took many decades of life experience before I realized that my God had placed a hedge of protection around me early on when it came to boys and dating and remaining chaste in the face of temptation. But within the first two years of my marriage, I felt as if I’d been blind-sided by reality, and it would be a very long time before I managed to comprehend truth that set-free my self-esteem.
In 1980, I turned all those negatives into a positive — my first published article focused on the true, though often misunderstood, meaning Leviticus 19:18b.
“‘Love the Lord your God
with all your heart and all your soul
and with all your strength and with all your mind’;
and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
(Luke 10:27 and Leviticus 19:18b)
A RUST REMOVER …
In your journal or on a sheet of paper or on a napkin, make a list of five characteristics that you dislike about yourself. Offer a prayer to the Lord asking for perspective. Then counter-balance the negatives by WRITING DOWN five of your attributes. For example, let’s say you wrote down, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.” Next to that you could write, “I can make a joyful noise to the Lord!” (Psalm 66:1, King James Version) Post the list where you will see it often, and learn to move forward with a more positive frame of mind.