Many who struggle with body image and comparison also struggle to feel loved. How do I know? Because I struggle and I’ve had this conversation countless times with clients and friends. How do we truly feel loved and know we are loved by God? How do we know and feel loved by our husbands or boyfriends or parents or anyone? Sometimes, it’s just hard to feel love. We may know we are loved, but we may not feel loved.

What Do You Do When You Don’t Feel Loved?

Today we tackle what’s going on and how to get over some of the obstacles that may be keeping you from feeling love. From the narratives and “court cases” we create in our heads to the myth that self love will help us feel more loved, today we’re going to explore this topic from several angles. The timing of today’s episode is on purpose. This is a weekend when many feel sad and wonder if they’re really loved or how they can feel like they are. If you’re struggling with those questions today, I hope you’ll know this episode is for you.

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how to truly feel loved


Transcript of Today’s Show on How to Feel Loved:

It’s Valentine’s Day weekend and we’re supposed to be in one of two camps -culturally – savoring the “love” we have with someone and celebrating it – or wishing we had that kind of love with someone. I know there’s a strong contingent of better off alone out there -but Valentine’s Day weekend and break even the strongest singleness advocate.

But love isn’t what the U.S. commercialized version of Valentine’s Day is all about. There’s a push that “if you loved you would…’ make reservations, buy flowers and candy, cards and jewelry.

Yet I wonder – how many of us have ever felt loved, truly loved by any of these things alone. Maybe you do –but that’s not me. It’s hard for me to feel loved sometimes. Even if all the valentine’s day boxes are checked. It’s hard for me to believe my husband loves me sometimes and it’s even harder to believe that God really loves me.

In fact – when I first got married – I remember Eric and I had so many conversations about love languages because I had such a hard time. I struggled to feel loved. I was quite certain that perhaps the reason why I didn’t feel like he loved me was that he wasn’t speaking my language. I grabbed on to that concept as soon as I read the book. I took the “test” to figure out my language -and we tried to incorporate intentionally speaking each other’s languages.

And, you know what happened? Frustration ensued. I thought maybe I took the test wrong because though he was trying to do quality time and I still questioned if he loved me. We added some words of affirmation – maybe I was two languages – bilingual – and it still wasn’t enough. I analyzed my parents’ love languages. Maybe I needed more physical touch? Maybe I needed gifts and acts of service. Was it possible to be ALL the love languages?

But it was never enough. I felt stuck. It felt too hard to believe he actually loved me. Truth is, it wasn’t until I sat in the counselor’s office probably 5-6 years into marriage and heard the counselor say the words, “It’s obvious just how much he loves you…” that I was finally able to start believing that maybe it was true.

Now, intellectually – I knew that he loved me. I knew that God loved me too. Neither God nor my husband had given me any reasons to doubt their love. But, I did anyone. I had enough self-doubt, questions about my worthiness, and noise in my head asking the question, “Am I really loveable?” -that they didn’t have to do anything at all to cause me to doubt. I still struggled to feel loved.

So what I thought would be interesting today would be to just talk through what some of the obstacles. If you want to know how to feel loved, these concepts can shift our thinking or outlook so these obstacles can be overcome.

And the place I thought I’d start as I was preparing for this episode was with google. I decided to check out what culture teaches on this subject. If someone who doesn’t know Jesus is having a hard time feeling loved -what are they told to do.

What I found was interesting. Almost every list began with self-love. Loving yourself so you can feel more loved by others.

One resource said that it like this: It’s hard to believe someone could love us when we don’t love ourselves.

And, I get that…to some level…but it’s entirely bogus. If this is true -then it will always be impossible for us to accept God’s love. It will be impossible to accept the Gospel message that a God who knows just how truly awful we are could love us anyway and send his only son to die for us and cover our sins.

Some may say – well, I can believe that God loves me – it’s just the “others” part where I get stuck. But, friend, I’d challenge that. There’s a scripture that talks about something similar – 1 John 4:20 is the famous verse about there being no fear in love. I’ll read it:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. … If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

Now, this is a little reverse of what we’re talking about here – talking about how if you can’t love your brother whom you’ve seen, you can’t love God whom you haven’t seen But I wonder if the reverse isn’t also true. If you don’t believe the person you share a bed with or work with or go to school with truly could or should love you, how can you believe a God whom you haven’t seen, can love you?

Do We Believe God Loves Us?

The feeling of wondering if anyone really loves me is often linked to our inability to believe God really loves us.

So this was culture’s first suggestion for the “Googler” who doesn’t feel loved. Have more self-love.

The other problem with that – is self-love always leaves us feeling empty and hollow. Self-love literally only works if you only keep your eyes on yourself. As soon as you start to look at others and see how they are living or what they are doing, comparison sets in—as does doubt as to whether or not you are as good as you think you are. So, the only way self-love stays is if you can keep all your focus on yourself. And, what often happens in these cases – think about narcissists as perhaps the one end of the spectrum here – the more focused you are on yourself the harder you become to love.

And, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. You feel like you’re hard to love. You work on loving yourself. You succeed and fall in love with your own reflection like Issachar from Greek Mythology – and then no one can love you because they can’t divert your gaze from your own mirror.

For most of us, this isn’t the problem. At least not in this obvious of way. But, put your seat belts on here friends, maybe in a subtle way – it is part of the problem.

Do You Have to Love Yourself First?

We’ve been so indoctrinated by this lie of culture that we kind of want to get our acts together before we can believe anyone would love us. When we gain a couple of pounds. The feel like we have let OURSELVES down, we’ve  broken our own imaginary rule for how we should be in this life. Then we let that perceived failure take us to a place where we believe our husbands would reject us. We think things like, “If I’m not happy with me…. then there’s no way that he could be happy with me…”

And then our heads start spinning, right? Then we take that little thought – he can’t be happy with me because of this extra weight – and we apply that thought to every one of his actions for the past few weeks.

Oh, I bet that’s why we didn’t have sex on Friday night.

Oh, I bet that’s why he didn’t tell me I looked nice on Sunday morning.

Oh, I bet that’s why he was so focused on watching the game this weekend and didn’t want to spend time with me.

So, we create our own thesis, and then we go back and scientifically prove our hypothesis to ourselves without actually ever involving our test subjects. Let me be more clear – what if the TRUTH is that your husband didn’t want to be intimate on Friday because he had a really bad day at work and stress zaps libido. What if he didn’t tell you that you looked nice because he was stressing about having to see his boss again on Monday. And, what if he was, just truly, really into the game and oblivious to everything else going on around him.

Then, what happens is…we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re not as loved. We put the jury out there, presented all the evidence, and made the verdict. Without ever calling any witnesses. And we don’t feel loved.

The only reason I can talk about this, friend, is because I’ve done it. So, hear nothing but grace from me in this. But I wonder if we sometimes don’t feel loved because of this ridiculous trial in our head that we – follow and listen to me here – that we believe MORE than we believe the truth.

So, let me dig a little deeper on that one… I talked about this in the marriage series we did last February on Marriage and Body Image- but if your man is always telling you that he loves you and thinks you’re hot – and if you’re always arguing with him that it’s not true –

You’re kind of saying that your opinion is more important than his…
You’re kind of calling him a liar at worst or at best just insulting his taste or invalidating his opinion.

And the noise in your head is given more credibility and respect than your actual man.

Stop the Noise in Your Head

So, one way we can feel more loved – is not to love ourselves more – but perhaps to stop these narratives that play in our heads that convince us that we aren’t enough to be loved or aren’t worthy of love.

I don’t want to oversimplify this. For some -maybe most of us – digging into the why behind this narrative is the first step for stopping it -but going that deep may require you to see help from a Christian counselor or therapist. There’s a good chance that whatever is really going on with that person you want to love you now – goes back to a person who didn’t love you well earlier in life. Or, let me rephrase that – who didn’t always love you well. Which, pretty much, means we’re all eligible to have this struggle because none of us had perfect parents – and we know no perfect friends or co-workers. We’ve long been with broken people and as broken people – we’ll always struggle to love perfectly.

But, let’s get back to the topic here – how do we feel love. I think just even being aware of what you are doing when you trust the narrative in your head -or the lies in your head more than the truth is an important first step.

Now, I’ll be clear – I can’t tell you that your husband only has pure motives and never struggles to love you well and so you can always know that you’ve just made up anything you sense coming from him in terms of struggle. Oh, friend, I wish that was true – but our men are never going to be perfect either. And, so there may be seasons where he’s struggling. But, I will say that the same applies to him. His struggles are often deeper than what you see just between the two of you. His struggles go back to his brokenness from the past. I’ve recorded 2 amazing episodes that are coming up in the next month – one is with my friend Rosie who runs a ministry for women whose husbands are addicted to porn, and the other is with my friend Juli Slattery who helps me talk through what to do when your husband hates your body. So, know, friend, that if this is where you’re at – there’s help coming on those specific fronts.

But, for now – let’s get back to how you can feel more loved – starting now!

So first – to recap – don’t go the self-love route. Instead, I’ve found that the best way for me to feel loved is to love well. I think of the movie Fireproof that starred Kirk Cameron a few years ago. The Kendrick brothers who did that movie put out a marriage improvement kind of book to go with it – and the concept was that for a certain number of days in a row – you did acts of kindness for the person you wanted to grow your love for. I’m oversimplifying a bit -but the concept works because as you start to care for and love and serve someone you find that you start to feel more love for them and you are more open to feeling their love for you.

I told you how I went to Google to see their answer on how to feel more love – one of the recommendations on the list was to volunteer! Doesn’t that sound strange at face value? Why would you volunteer is you want to feel like your husband loves you more. But, the strange reality of how we are wired is that when we give – we are more able to receive. And, although culture and marketing kind of teach us to take, take, take – just become beautiful and the one everyone wants and then you can sit in your house and have praise showered upon you – that’s a really horrible way to love and feel loved. In fact, all you have to do is look at Hollywood to see that this method fails horribly. When two beautiful people who are used to being loved and admired get together and expect the other person to love and admire them like their fans do -it usually goes bad. That’s why I think; if you watch carefully, those celebrities who married people who aren’t famous tend to have better or at least longer-lasting marriages.

We’ll talk more about how to feel loved, right after this break.

Perfectionism & Idealism Don’t Let Us Feel Loved

Another thing that gets in the way of us feeling loved is our own perfectionism and idealism. I talk about this in my book, the Burden of Better – it’s a really good section – one of my favorites -so go check that book out. But, in addition to deciding that “no one could love us with this extra weight” or no one can love us until we get our lives or our appearance or our whatever more together—we can also decide that love has to look a certain way.

Now, where in the world would we get the idea that love has to look a certain way? I hope you realize I’m joking… all around us culture teaches what “real love” should look like. And, especially around Valentine’s – we learn what someone who “really loves you” should do. I was watching a Hallmark movie over Christmas and the romantic lead goes to the love interest’s home and finds this ornament her grandma made her hiding somewhere and gives her that for Christmas and it’s this amazing and sentimental gift – so thoughtful and touching.

I knew that there was not a high likelihood I was going to get something amazingly sentimental from my husband for Christmas.

But, as I watched it I thought. If he gave me an old ornament from the basement that used to belong to MY grandmother – I’d be like – dude – you dug this out of the basement and think that’s a good gift?

I see so many scenarios like that where because it’s done with the right words and lights and clothes it seems very romantic. But, real life, I’ve found, does not match television’s picture of romance.

But, I also think that television’s picture of romance doesn’t match God’s. And that perhaps because we try to be more like the couples on TV – we limit our ability to experience real intimacy and feel real love. If we define love the world’s way – if love means he wears the right shirt and buys the right flowers and says the right things and he doesn’t do or say those things – we feel let down.

Real love is action but it’s not the action we’re shown over and again on TV and movies. Back to the book of John – this time John 15: 13 Greater love has no one than this -that he lay down his life for his friends.

Laying Down Our Lives as Love

Again the ultimate picture of love here is Jesus -who laid down his life for ours. But, there are ways that we are loved by our spouses or can love our spouses everyday that include these sorts of deaths.

What about laying down your opinion of how the dishwasher should be loaded – Could true love be laying down this “life” that you love so much to give your spouse some grace and space to be different than you? Just throwing that question out there.

A better way to say this may be that laying down your life for someone may look like putting that person first, practicing the ability to die to self, and loving them sacrificially.

I’m not talking about putting up with abuse here – so please let’s be clear on that -but I wonder if sacrificially loving our spouse could mean -for us – to lay down those feelings that we aren’t good enough or worthy of their love and instead of sitting there – sitting in that feeling of “I don’t think I’m loved enough” moving forward and trying to love them well.

As we start to wrap up here –  let’s talk about the reality that sometimes we don’t feel like God loves us. In fact, I just had an online conversation in the Compared to Who? Insiders group on Facebook about this topic. I asked the members there (and -by the way-  anyone can join that group. I’m trying to make it a safe place to discuss what you hear on the show -but Facebook works hard to make sure you don’t see the posts to engage…) BUT, on that page the other day I had a back and forth with a friend who lost her husband suddenly – I don’t even think he was 50 years old yet – and he had a heart attack while running. She mentions in that post that she felt like God was being mean to her. That God must not love her because he did this to her.

I know that might not be your story exactly -but we’ve all had our moments where we felt this to some degree or another. Maybe for you, it’s feeling like If GOD really loved you, he would have given you a different body type, size, or shape. Or, if God really loved you – he’d have sent you a spouse by now, or if God really loved you -he’d help you get the job or get the body or get the house… or whatever it may be.

There’s an amazing quote from John Piper which says, listen carefully to this, “The ease with which the human race presumes to tell God how he should love is breathtaking. There’s only one way to know how God loves me: Listen to what he tells me and believe him.”

Woah. That made me pause. That we PRESUME to tell God how he should love us. Wow. Anyone else feeling a little stunned right now?

But let’s go back to Piper’s last sentence as we close today. There’s only one way to know how God loves me – listen to what he tells me and believe him.

And, maybe beyond that – it’s listening to what he tells me, and DOING what he tells me so that I can see his love in action – and all the while believe him.

What Do You Love?

As I’ve written in my books about comparison and even body image to some extent – you can figure out what YOU love by what you feel like you couldn’t live without. In many ways this exposes our idols. What is there in your life that you feel like, “If I don’t have this, I’ll just be ruined…or my life will not be a success…or my life will not be what I wanted it to be” and that reveals the idolatry in our hearts.

But to another extent, my friend, it also reveals what we love. And, sometimes, I wonder if we don’t have a hard time feeling loved by God and by others in our lives because we have other secret things we love more. I think about the commands in Matthew to love Jesus first and then to love others as we love ourselves. It’s hard to think about others as much as I think about myself—my own wants, my own needs, my own desires.

And, to take this full circle -the more I’m thinking about me, me, me the harder it becomes for me to love you, you, you. And, the more disconnected I feel from you. I want to blame you. I want to think about all the things you didn’t do. I want to focus on why you don’t love me or why you don’t love me well -but really what I’m thinking about is me, me, me.

How to Feel Loved by God

So, as we close today, my friend, my challenge for you this Valentine’s Weekend or whenever you get a chance to listen to this episode is to consider how well you are loving others – in your heart. I don’t mean serving others, doing things for others, etc… Most of us are always busy with that. But, what’s your heart in all of that. Are you serving out of obligation or out of love? Are you giving out of obligation or love? Are you loving without the expectation of something in return or is your love conditional – are you secretly hoping that if you do this thing – then the response will be what you desire?

None of this is easy, my friend. But I do think the better we learn to love others, the more we feel loved ourselves.

And, to conclude my story – I think it’s easier for me to believe my husband loves me today because I don’t spend minutes or longer a day thinking about how and why he doesn’t. I don’t get caught in the trap of meditating on his missteps or over-analyzing what he didn’t do or didn’t say. It has taken 17 years of practice. But, it’s so much easier to be married and enjoy marriage and feel loved when you aren’t caught up constantly questioning how the other person feels about you.

As we close today – I want to read the lyrics to you from one of my favorite songs. I love this song because of the lyrics. It’s written by John Mark McMillan and sung by David Crowder- it’s been around for years. But, I’m hooked from the first line.

God is jealous for me. God cares enough about me to be jealous. He loves me so much that he cares how I respond to him. He doesn’t want to share me with my idols or vain pursuits. He loves me too much to share.

Anyway – here are the lyrics. I hope they minister to you today if you struggle to feel loved. (Listen to the song by Crowder titled How He Loves here: )

He is jealous for me
Love’s like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me

And oh, how He loves us, oh
Oh, how He loves us
How He loves us all

And He is jealous for me
Love’s like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me

And, oh, how He loves us, oh
Oh, how He loves us
How He loves us all

Yeah, He loves us
Oh, how He loves us
Oh, how He loves us
Oh, how He loves

And we are His portion and He is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking
And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about, the way…

That He loves us
Oh, how He loves us
Oh, how He loves us
Oh, how He loves

I pray that you have a blessed and beautiful weekend and that today you can truly know and feel just how loved you are. Thanks for listening.