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I teach adult community education classes from time to time, and just finished a four-hour class on creativity. Few things are as thrilling as watching someone discover they are more creative than they realized; it’s like watching a toddler taste ice cream for the first time.
I led the class through some eye-opening exercises, and shared dozens of ways to become more creative. One of them was to accept your unique self, to shrug off all the criticism and negative labeling we get as we make our way to adulthood. We are constantly evaluated and “corrected” into groups of average thinkers, stuffed into worlds where conformity is rewarded and ingenuity is, well, not so much.
And it’s a good thing that society is getting on board a bit, to stop making people feel inadequate. All around you hear experts advising self- acceptance. It’s certainly better than telling people they’ll never measure up and be good enough. Look at the decades we’ve had of crazy, photo-shopped images of perfect-looking men and women in ads, convincing us we’ll never be that gorgeous. Celebrities with personal trainers, chefs, and plenty of plastic surgery make us wonder how we missed the Beauty Boat. Yet, thankfully, there’s now some pushback to all that nonsense, and women, especially, are being told they need to accept their body type and not cringe when they look into a mirror. Models of all ages and weights are becoming more and more common.
And that’s a good thing, compared to the old thing. But hold on a second. What if you made a terrific dinner and your guests all patted you on the shoulder and said it was “acceptable”? What if you strived to earn superior marks in school and the teacher simply wrote “acceptable” in the margin?
I think we need to do a whole lot better than just find ourselves “acceptable.” Self- acceptance leaves too much money on the table, and we should strive for Self Celebration. We are far more fabulous as sons and daughters of God, than to merely think of ourselves as “okay.” Are you kidding? God sees us as having limitless potential, created this jaw-dropping world for us, and claims “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) He sent his Son to atone for us, a gift that surpasses all human comprehension, a level of love beyond anything we can imagine.
As sons and daughters of Deity, we automatically exceed “acceptable,” don’t we? To me, self-acceptance implies a whole lot of flaws that you’ve simply chosen to wear, perhaps with a small sigh of defeat. I guess this is the best I can do seems built into that definition. I may not be much, but I can live with it.
Instead, why don’t we celebrate the individuality we each have? I recall a little boy in my ward many years ago who was walking down the hall when a teacher stopped him and asked why his clothes were all inside out. He lit up and said, “That’s my style!” Yes! I want to reach back through time and high-five that little kid.
This doesn’t mean we throw off every commandment or directive that can bring us eternal joy. I’m not advocating rebellion from every social convention or law on the books. And I’m certainly not proposing that we all stop striving to improve. But I wish every one of us could find that lovable spark inside, that little bit of us that makes us unique from every other person, and delight in the little boy or little girl inside each of us.
It’s a bit like a great relationship. Each of us has quirks and foibles—most of them not fatal—that would probably irritate the average person. But if we’re lucky we find that companion who not only tolerates our idiosyncrasies but finds them adorable or hilarious. What others would grit their teeth to endure, our sweetheart finds endearing.
I know a woman who many would describe as controlling and overbearing. But her husband loves it, and even brags about how she keeps the home and family running perfectly, in ways he could never hope to do it. Once I heard someone whisper that a certain man was “an insufferable know-it-all,” yet his wife beams every time he goes off on a rant. She admires him and thinks he’s brilliant.
Another woman I know has a purse that must weigh thirty pounds, jammed full of everything you can imagine. She is forever rummaging, unable to find the Superglue or the Scotch tape she wants. But her husband finds her ingenious, ready for any contingency with a stapler or a Band-Aid. To him, she’s the smartest woman in town. What would be deal breakers to some, are deal makers to others. And we need to see our quirks with that same delight.
Have you ever noticed how parents find their own kids fascinating? There could be a lineup of ten tiny ballerinas in pink tutus, but one spouse has the video going, zoomed in on their little darling, and to her parents she stands out. She’s special. She’s amazing. She’s just as awkward as the other five-year-olds on stage, but the two parents watching her are grinning like they’ve won a million dollars. Same thing on a soccer field, in a school play, pretty much anywhere. This could even explain why some parents are slow to quiet their kids at church or in restaurants. They honestly can’t believe others don’t hear how remarkable and brilliant their children are. Sure, other babies make loud noises, but this—this is actually cute.
That’s how a loving parent sees their child—they look past the average stuff and are genuinely convinced their kid has something extra– that spark of specialness. And they’re right! There’s divine nature in there. Yet so few of us can see it in ourselves.
The next time you hear those inner voices telling you of your shortcomings or insisting you will fail, do more than just resolve to accept yourself. Choose to find yourself engaging, even delightful, and go for Self Celebration. Enjoy the way your brain works, the talents God has given you, the spirit of optimism you will not relinquish. Reread your Patriarchal Blessing, remind yourself of the good and generous things you’ve done for others, and pray for the comforting assurance from the Holy Ghost that God does love you very much.
Don’t stop at self-acceptance. That feels like the bottom rung of the ladder. Climb up where you belong and celebrate what makes you, you.