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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Accepting Ourselves Part II

The other day while visiting a religious book store owned by friends of mine, I confessed how terrified I am as to what is going to happen once I finish with school. I'll have my Master's, but still in a job that pays less than peanuts (I work for the Church, after all), and with yet ANOTHER summer of unemployment stretching before me. How am I going to pay my loans? How am I going to pay my regular bills?  I'm rushing towards that wall and it's bigger than the wall of Jericho...and I have no trumpet!

She pointed out that now, three times, I've had to take this leap: first when I quit my job having nowhere to go, and then since I began this one, somehow God provided what I needed to avoid bankruptcy, foreclosure, etc.

On a whim, she ran to a particular shelf and handed me the book I quoted yesterday:  "Interior Freedom" by Jacques Philippe.  "Merry Christmas!"

This little book HAS been packed with solid stuff that, in fact, I DO need to read!  It's intense, it's to the point, and even as it relieves a burden, it really shifts it to the painful points I'd rather avoid.

In reading it, I have to admit, it is an exercise in self-knowledge. I've been on the alert a couple times as it seems to begin to "water down" certain teachings, but the author comes around and refuses the allow the reader to ignore the hard moral teachings.

Yesterday I quoted about "Accepting our Defects"

And today, I quote a little from the other topic:  Accepting others:

Often we fail to accept others because deep down, we do not accept ourselves.  If we are not at peace with ourselves we will necessarily find ourselves at war with other people....if we close our hearts against other people, make no effort to love them as they are, never learn to be reconciled with them, we will never have the grace to  practice the deep reconciliation with ourselves that we all need. Instead we will be perpetual victims of our own narrow-heartedness and harsh judgments toward our neighbor.  
~ Philippe, p.43-44

Oh, yes, I totally agree. That's not to say I've overcome it, but I think my own problems with others stems from this very thing.

There's a lot more to the book, but as I've read it, I've come to recognize my own self-loathing.

That's exactly what it is and I must say it again:  absolute self-loathing.

So often, even as I look back on my life, I haven't so much been sorry for my sin or my foibles, but rather, my apologies have come from my complete repentance at even being alive. I've felt that I should apologize for my very existence.

It's as if at some point in my history someone told me that I was never intended or even a mistake of God, yet I am "tolerated" for the sake of "charity".

Do I really BELIEVE this?

Intellectually, no. I know it's ridiculous.  Yet as I read, I can't deny the reflection that I've had to confront about myself, my perceptions, and my life. How I've reacted to others, how they've reacted to me. It's painful.

Accepting ourselves is much more difficult than it might seem. Pride, fear of not being loved, the conviction of how little we are worth, are all too deeply rooted in us. Think how badly we react to our falls, mistakes, and failures, how demoralized and upset we become, how guilty they make us feel. 
Only under the gaze of God can we fully and truly accept ourselves. We need to be looked upon by someone who says, as God did through the prophet Isaiah:  'You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.'  Consider a very common experience: a girl who believes she is plain begins to thing that she might not be so frightful after all on the day a young man falls in love with her with the tender eyes of someone in love.
We urgently need the mediation of another's eyes to love ourselves and accept ourselves. The eyes may be those of a parent, a friend, a spiritual director; but above all they are those of God our Father. The look in his eyes is the purest, truest, tenderest, most loving, and most hope-filled in the world.
~ Philippe, p 35-36

I've not spoken to anyone of this, as it's such a painful part of my own history, but I identify strongly with "the girl" Fr. Philippe cites above. I was in a three or so year relationship with a man I thought I wanted to marry, and whom I believed wanted to marry me...eventually.

Then I found out through a mutual friend that one day when they were talking he said to her that he stayed with me because he was afraid I'd have a "hard time finding someone else."

I don't think I've EVER had anything so cold and cruel said to me in my life - before or since.

I confronted him on this statement, which he denied, but I knew him well: he was lying and couldn't look me in the eye.

It didn't help, either, that since that breakup (which I forced) I never really dated again.. I just wasn't interested. Sometimes I've wondered if perhaps I've discerned religious life because I refuse to entrust myself to a man ever again, in any way.  And it's a serious question.

But no; I did honestly explore whether I was called to marriage, and I did honestly and purely seek a call to religious life. And my vocational ramblings continue, at least in some way I can't ascertain even now.

When I look back on that horrid day, with that horrid bit of news, what shocks me the most is not how cruelly it cut me, but how completely unsurprised I was to feel that dagger twisting in my back and ripping my guts out through my spine. It was as if it was expected.  I was supposed to apologize for being alive again, for wasting his time for those years.

What we need to realize, all of us, is that while we are flawed, we are all WILLED by God, and LOVED by God, even that waste-of-skin-and-oxygen-amoeba who thought that I'd never "find anyone".  It might be hard, but I have to acknowledge that even HE is willed by God and held in existence out of Our Lord's love for him.

Maybe I have a hard time accepting that, and I don't know why. I don't know how far it goes back, but as I've written before, I've never felt like I'm a part of this world. More and more, I feel like the eternal pilgrim, but even pilgrims have a place...while on pilgrimage.

We find it so difficult to accept our own deficiencies because we imagine they make us unlovable. Since we are defective in this or that aspect, we feel that we do not deserve to be loved. Living under God's gaze make us realize how mistaken that is. Love is given freely, it's not deserved, and our deficiencies don't prevent God from loving us - just the opposite! Thus we are freed of the terrible, despair-inducing sense that we must become "good enough" to deserve to be loved.

I'm grateful to my friend for giving me this book - it's exactly what I needed to read, and re-read, and re-read again.  Although so far I've only pulled out a couple bits that focus on the self, do not be led to believe it's a bunch of "self-help" pop psychology! It doesn't deny sin, it forces one to accept responsibility, but in such a way that can help both a scrupulous soul and a lax soul alike.

** all quotes taken from "Interior Freedom" by Rev. Jacques Philippe, Scepter Press, New York, NY, 2007