In some circles, the world “self” has gotten a bad rap. Some seem threatened by discussion of the self, afraid that it will spiral into self-absorption. How I relate to and care for my self can be rescued from the condemnation of selfishness. They are not the same.

In the church circles in which I grew up, I learned about Total Depravity. Total Depravity means that I, being human, inherited sinfulness like my Dad’s blue eyes. I then choose to run from God in my thoughts and actions. Total Depravity explains why children have to be “raised right.” There’s a pleasure in being naughty, and we are drawn to it. Our wills and desires are enmeshed in things that draw us away from God instead of towards Him. I’m totally messed up, and without God intervening in my life, there is no hope for me.

Fast forward to college, where I read Walking With the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. Community developer Bryant Myers describes poverty as brokenness in relationships: relationship to God, relationship with other people, relationship to the created world, and relationship with self. They are interconnected. All were intended for our good, and all of them of have been warped by sin.

Yesterday, my friend Hannah came over for tea. A bridesmaid in my wedding, Hannah is always up for adventure and vulnerable conversation. As we caught up on each other’s lives, our conversation turned to destructive thought patterns that have kept us from resting in God’s love. Where do these patterns come from? Why are they so powerful?

These three vignettes have in common what Myers calls Person to Self: how we relate to our own selves.

My sinfulness, as hammered home in Total Depravity, can be twisted into a condemning voice that sees my self as bad, evil and always lacking. I struggle with taking care of my body and battle negative, condemning thought patterns. My relationship with my self is broken.

There is more to the gospel than this.

In one of his letters, Paul tells the church at Rome that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (3:23). He also heartily encourages the believers with, “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (15:14). How can this be?

The answer lies in between these parts of the letter (8:1-2): “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

The dark mental struggles that I face pale in comparison to the life and the freedom that God pours out on me each day. Every broken relationship I have is being restored through His love.

I sin and fall short of God’s glory, but I am not condemned. I am vindicated. I am free. I am full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct others.

I am whole.

With the Holy Spirit’s breath in my lungs, I can care for my body and reject condemning voices with the truth about myself. Out of my healing relationship to self comes not self-absorption but empowerment and gratitude. Empowerment in knowing my true identity, and gratitude to Jesus for winning it back for me in His matchless, ceaseless mercy.