Christian practice today requires acceptance, tolerance, and inclusivity in order to reach those not being reached by the church. Without those values, conversations either can’t begin or won’t go far. They must stem from a humble spirit, but contrary to what you might expect, the path to acceptance, tolerance, and inclusivity begins with an inward, not outward, journey. In order to accept others (because acceptance is the height of tolerance and inclusivity), you must first be able to accept yourself. In order to truly be a presence of love for someone else, I have to first accept myself as I am. If I’m unwilling to accept myself, all of my relationships are beginning from a place of intolerance, because I’m unable to tolerate myself as I am.

Theologically, the need to accept yourself in order to accept others is due to the origin of love in God. Our ability to love is a response to God’s love of us, individually and as a part of humanity.To accept yourself means to accept the fact that God loves you as you are and that God created you with purpose. To not accept yourself, flaws and all, is to claim that God is making a mistake by loving you. With this attitude of distrust for God, it becomes difficult to truly relate well to other people: God also claims to love them, but are they truly valuable, truly good, truly worth the effort of being compassionate? Are they really in need of my love, or am I in need of theirs? Without accepting yourself, you are in danger of relating to others selfishly. Your acceptance may not be unconditional: it may simply be a skin-deep gesture contingent upon the other person accepting you. If this is the case, they are no longer a person to you, but only an object designed to fulfill your own desire to be loved and accepted. Knowing you already are loved and accepted by God must be the first step to accepting others not as objects, but as people who are also loved and accepted by God.

Accepting yourself does not mean only accepting the good parts of yourself. Accepting yourself means especially accepting those parts of you which are imperfect, broken, or even unknown. Accepting those parts of yourself, however, does not mean pretending they are good. I accept that I tend to get angry with other drivers on the highway; this does not mean I won’t work to change it. I accept that my knees don’t work like they used to, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to get medical attention for them. In fact, accepting my flaws is often the first step towards making positive changes in my attitude and in my life. And if a consequence of acceptance is being able to accept others, there’s no reason not to begin accepting myself: flaws and all.