The Secret to Loving Yourself

“I wish you could see yourself the way I see you, Michelle.” I can’t tell you how many times my husband has said that while I looked in the mirror, complaining about the dimples showing on my legs (thank you, cellulite). The same goes for the wrinkles that are slowly growing on my face as I wander deeper into my 40s or the heavy sigh as I realize my pants are a little tighter…again.

I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t struggle with loving myself in all things. Over the years, I’ve definitely gone through layers of healing on this and am a long way from the woman who used to tell herself all day how unworthy and ugly she was. It used to be an all-day battle for me. 

Between being a difficult child, socially awkward, struggling with taking hints, and my own stubborn and hard-headed nature, I’ve lost quite a few friends. Every time someone would walk away, I would hear that “reassuring” voice in my heart…“See? You just don’t measure up. Proof is right there.”

As I’ve grown wiser (because once we hit our 40s, we start changing the word “older” to “wiser”), God has healed much of that. I’m no longer making my way through each day, saying things like, “I hate you. Eff you. I hate my life.” 

God has been so good in showing me my value and my worth over the years, as He will for you, too. It’s always in layers, though. So just when we think we’ve been healed and we think we’ve “arrived,” we discover a new layer and start the whole process over again.

I like to think of our healing and growth as a rising circular cylinder. We grow, grow, grow, struggle, struggle, feel like we hit bottom again, then grow, grow, grow. The reality is even if we feel like we’re getting nowhere, we’re slowly growing higher and higher towards heaven. We’re not quite as stuck as we think we are.

For the past year, I’ve been in one of these struggle phases. My heart took three big hits within nine months of each other. This past January was like the final blow, and I started that downward spiral. My heart crying out to God, knowing I am enough, but not really feeling it. I was feeling defeated. Completely and utterly defeated. 

Even though it didn’t feel like He was working on healing my heart at the time, as I’m slowly beginning to make my way toward that upward part of the cylinder of growth, I can see Him at work… and it’s beautiful. I can see my Abba scraping off another layer of that lie that always pierces straight through my heart. The lie that says, “I’m not enough.”

For years, I thought I was alone in these battles and was convinced that everyone else had it together, just not me. But eight years ago, when I began to coach other women, and then again as I interviewed woman after woman, gathering their stories for my book, I realized something – I’m not alone.

Ladies, we are not alone in our struggles. Whatever we’re going through, there are other women out there fighting similar battles. 

THIS is why I open my heart to you on these blogs. I welcome you into an intimate view of my heart on the prayer that God will use the lessons I’ve learned to speak to your heart. That He’ll use the healing He has brought me through to encourage you in yours.


THIS is why I open my heart to you on these blogs. I welcome you into an intimate view of my heart on the prayer that God will use the lessons I’ve learned to speak to your heart. That He’ll use the healing He has brought me through to encourage you in yours. And in the middle of the muck, when we’re just trying to stay afloat – that He’ll give you the comfort of knowing that you’re not alone. NEVER alone.

A year ago, I finally finished reading St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue. It took me about nine months to get through the book, and in those nine months, my heart went through a major conversion. By the time I was through reading the book, I knew nothing about St. Catherine of Siena, as the entire book is solely His dialogue with the saint, but so much more about God, about Heaven, about our calling as His children.

God the Father loves us so much that He took the time to open up so many mysteries to us by simply answering her questions. How amazing is that?

Throughout the entire dialogue, God the Father is constantly referring back to the three powers of our soul: memory, understanding, and will. Every time those words would pop off the page, I’d be brought back to a childhood memory in Prayertown, Texas, where I spent most of my childhood years.  Another nun would be taking her vows, and then right after they changed her veil, she would lay prostrate before the Lord as they sang, “Take, Lord Receive.”

Take, Lord, receive.
All my liberty.
My memory, understanding, my entire will!
Give me only your LOVE, and your Grace,
That’s enough for me!

St. Louis Jesuits

That song has stuck with me over the years. There have been times I’ve cried as I sang it to my Jesus. Times where I’ve just begged him to heal my heart as I played the tune on my piano.

So when God the Father kept referring back to the powers of our soul being memory, understanding, and will, it all began to make sense. I finally understood the gravity of what the sisters were doing. They were giving their everything. All powers, all faculties, everything to Jesus.

I began to say my own prayer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “I’m a hot mess. A REAL, hot mess. I can’t do this on my own. I want to shine Your light, but I keep messing everything up. So take my memory, my understanding, my will. It’s yours. Yours to lead and to guide. I give this mess to you. It’s yours now. YOU clean it up.”

That prayer was pretty powerful. I’m so glad I journaled about it because I can look back today and see how my God rescued me from multiple situations, even though it felt a lot like rejection, hurt, and “not enough.” 

The day I said that prayer, God was on the move, and he’s still moving. It began nine months of hard lessons, goodbyes, and something that felt a whole lot like failure. It left me back to the point I was talking about at the beginning of this blog. Hurting and feeling a whole lot of “not enough.”

Around the time that all of this change and transition started to take place, I was in my early morning prayer time and read a passage in the Dialogue that I’ve been unpacking ever since. God the Father tells St. Catherine of Sienna that to be pure, we need to do three things.

Three things? That sounded pretty simple. I was like, sure…I can do three things. Sounds easy enough. Right?

Simple – yes. Easy – no. Not when we really unpack them.

Here are the three things that God the Father told St. Catherine of Sienna that we need to do to be pure.

  1. “You must be united with me in loving affection, bearing in your memory the blessings you have received from me.”
  2. “With the eye of your understanding you must see my affectionate charity, how unspeakably much I love you.”
  3. “And where the human will is concerned, you must consider my will rather than people’s evil intentions, for I am their judge-not you, but I.” 

He concludes by saying, “If you do this, all perfection will be yours.”

All perfection. WOW! That’s pretty powerful. The amount of information that’s available to us in our day and age is crazy. So many saint books. So many books from Christian thought leaders. We could be searching high and low for the secret to becoming a saint, and it’s all right here.

I wish I had time to unpack all of this today, but God has put a particular message on my heart, so I’m only going to focus on one of these ways. 

With the eye of your understanding you must see my affectionate charity, how unspeakably much I love you.”

He doesn’t say you need to go out and love others. He says, know how unspeakably much I love you. 

I have spent hours pondering on this, especially because I’ve struggled with loving myself over the years. At first, when I would sit and try to think about how much God loves me, I couldn’t come up with much. All I saw were my failures, my mistakes, and my sins. WHY would He love me so much when there were so many others who were way more loving, caring, and saintly than I’ll ever be?

Know how unspeakably much I love you.

Unspeakably. That’s hard to unpack when you’re sitting there just trying to think of a couple of reasons why He’d cherish you at all. Not only does He love us, but it’s so much that words can’t describe it.

I also wondered, why did God say that to be pure we have to know how much He loves us and not give a command to love others, as Jesus reiterates in the Gospels?

As I prayed for understanding, it became so crystal clear. My friend, if we can begin to understand even a little bit how much God loves us, then we cannot help but love our neighbor, because we will know that He loves them just as much as He loves us. When our “neighbor” is hurtful or unkind or does things we don’t understand, we won’t focus on that. We would truly see them how God sees them. Our heart would hurt for them, and we would be compelled to pray that they, too, would experience His love.

Talk about mind blown! It’s so simple.

So I began to say a prayer that I still continually pray and sometimes, in my childish way, demand of my Abba, “Show me how unspeakably much you love me!” I want to know! I must know.

I’m convinced that the cure to the battles many of us fight – the “I’m not enough. I’m not worthy. I’m unlovable,” <Insert the lie you hear the most here>, rests in this prayer: “Show me how unspeakably much you love me.”

Once while praying this, I was reminded that God is our Father. As a mom, even when my children are naughty, even when they break my heart, I truly SEE them, and I love them – unspeakably much. And it dawned on me. When I’m struggling with understanding His love for me, think about how much I love my children. What if I really knew their every thought, their hurts, what they do when I’m not looking, tears they cry that I don’t know about. How much more would my heart ache with love for them?

“Show me how unspeakably much you love me.” 

The other night on our Little With Great Love team/editorial call, Danielle Knight shared a scripture that I know God wanted me to hear, and I absolutely know that He wants you to hear it, too. So, I’m going to ask you to read this Scripture, and then take some time to sit in silence and ponder these words as you pray, “Show me how unspeakably much you love me.”

Oh Lord, you have searched me and know me. You know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My journeys and my rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar. 

Truly you have formed my innermost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”

Psalm 139 1-3, 13-16

When we feel unlovable, or not enough, or even forgotten, we need to ponder this Scripture. He knows us. Before we were formed, He knew us. He knit us in our mother’s womb. He took the time to form every day for us before we even existed. 

Have you ever knit something? I tried once and made a haphazard scarf, but I’ve seen other women knit together blankets with such care and love. So, when I heard this Scripture the other night, in light of my constant cry to understand His love for me, it hit me in a new way. The thought of God knitting me together in my mother’s womb, forming every day for me in preparation of my arrival.

Wow. Pretty amazing, right?

God knit you together in your mother’s womb, forming every day for you in preparation for your arrival.

While pondering on this scripture, I had this image in my mind of God the Father, sitting down at a desk with His planner and smiling as He marked off each day once He had completed forming it. Then sitting with an air of satisfaction once all the days were formed, just anticipating our arrival.

So. Much. LOVE.

When we’re feeling lost or unlovable or not enough, I’m convinced the secret to turning it all around lies in our ability to understand our Father’s love for us – how unspeakably much He loves us.

So, I’m going to take this Scripture (and recommend you do the same), meditate on it in the silence, and increase the intensity of this child-like demand. 

“SHOW me how much you love me!” 

Increase my memory – remind me of all the ways you show your love for me. 

Open the eye of my understanding – give me the grace to comprehend your unspeakable love. 

Strengthen my will – that I may choose daily to reflect on your love for me and radiate that love to others.

I’m going to leave you with this. Sometimes when I’m standing in front of that same mirror and I find myself falling into the trap of criticizing my looks or my body, I purposefully stop my critical thoughts and immediately work to gain some eternal perspective. I’ll often think of one of the most beautiful women of our time. Someone I absolutely admire and would love to be just a little more like her – “Mama T.” 

Covered in wrinkles, body stooped by time and hard work, the light of Christ always shone from her eyes – she was so incredibly breathtaking. So I’m going to leave you with these words from this beautiful woman, Saint Mother Teresa, and ask you to take them to prayer as you lean in to your own heart’s cry of asking God to show you His incredible, unchangeable, unspeakable, incomprehensible, unfathomable love.

Am I convinced of Christ’s love for me and mine for Him? This conviction is like the sunlight that makes the sap of life rise and the buds of sanctity bloom. This conviction is the rock on which sanctity is built. The devil may try to use hurts of life and sometimes our own mistakes to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you. This is a danger for all of us. And is so sad, because it is completely opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. …He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. Jesus loves you tenderly, you are precious to Him. Turn to Jesus with great trust and allow yourself to be loved by Him. The past belongs to his mercy, the future to his providence and the present to His love.”

St. Mother Teresa

About Author

Michelle Hillaert brings more than 25 years of experience in roles relating to technology and communications to GIVEN. With an undergraduate degree in Communication Arts from Franciscan University of Steubenville, her portfolio includes emergency management, web, application and graphic design, marketing and social media management, podcasting, and online consulting. In her previous employment, Michelle played a major role in the development and improvement of internal systems as well as the development and expansion of the Quality Management System. She also managed processes and communication with stakeholders in major application builds of state-run programs. In addition to this work, Michelle has dedicated herself to helping women live their full potential as a doula, life and fitness coach, motivational speaker and author. Having four daughters, nine sisters, and having journeyed with many women over the years, Michelle has experienced first-hand how as women, we often hesitate to respond with our gifts because we don’t recognize that we are uniquely gifted and that the world – especially those we encounter on a daily basis – needs us to share these gifts. In light of this, she has a passion and proven capacity for flourishing young women in the Church through mentoring and leadership development. Michelle has found that transformation often happens in those quiet moments of prayer and reading the works of the saints, such as the “Dialogue” by St. Catherine of Siena and makes daily reading and continual growth an essential part of her day. Outside of work, Michelle has been married for over 23 years to her husband, Trent. They reside in Front Royal, Virginia and together have six children, 2 in college and four still at home, along with three dogs, a cat and 27 chickens. She is a soccer mom and singer who loves leading praise and worship. “It’s only when we truly know how unspeakably much we are loved by our Father and how He is constantly pursuing us – even in those moments when we’re running in the opposite direction – that we can come to understand that our identity lies in His love. With this knowledge, we are able to step out in confidence and as inspired by St. Pope John Paul II, live fearlessly.”

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