I decided to turn on a podcast while I was driving into work today. Seeking for a spiritual connection or reminder of what is important in my new, busy world of being a resident physician, I chose a homily by Richard Rohr.
I have heard many people’s mixed reactions to Fr. Rohr. He is a Franciscan priest and published author who resides in the desert of Arizona and frequently travels to preach. Despite the controversial reactions of fellow Catholics and protestants alike, I am a big fan.
I first discovered the teachings of Fr. Rohr when I was experiencing one of my bouts of anxiety over body image during college. I left the Rhodes campus to meet with a psychologist in East Memphis and decided to visit the Barnes and Noble before heading back to school.
It was hard for me during those days– to be honest, sometimes these days too, so not as often–to struggle with “worldly” and simple problems after being transformed by my experience with childhood cancer. My time as a cancer patient and friend to many other patients changed my worldview and my faith. In many ways it changed my identity. Why, then, after going to hell and back, could feeling unhappy about appearance make me feel so horrible? How could I be so simple-minded, so fickle, so faltering in my strength? This dilemma has made me angry at myself again and again. I felt that God must be angry at me, too, for failing to truly change as a person from my near meeting with Death. And in my anger, as is always the case with anger, I slowly withdrew my heart from God’s hold.
Then I picked up a book by Fr. Rohr. Simplicity, the art of joyful living was the title. My memory is not good enough to recall exactly what words touched my heart that day. I just remember feeling calm and understood, feeling loved and forgiven. I remember feeling enough, despite my brokenness.
This book sparked my interest in the Franciscan Catholics and in St. Frances of Assisi. It is not merely coincidence that the hospital where I attended medical school was founded by a group of Franciscan nuns in the early 1800s.
While I was living in Rochester, Minnesota, my emotional/psychological struggles ebbed and flowed. During my third year of medical school, I met Kristin.
Kristin is the only psychologist (now friend) that has helped me to reach the root of my issues. After our first meeting, she asked me to write her an email explaining to her what I stood for a person, a statement of my personal morals and values. No one had ever asked me to do such a thing. We found that the statement I wrote had an obvious theme; my life has an obvious them: love. I believe that love is the most important thing in the universe.
I believe that God is love and that the message of Christ was one of God’s love for us and the importance of our love for one another. I believe that love is healing. I believe that love helped heal me when I had cancer. I feel fulfilled by giving and receiving love. I feel that each and every human that I pass is an opportunity to meet another piece of God. I believe that death will lead us to a state of oneness with all the other souls that have lived and will live, and that this state is with God. I believe my life purpose is to share God’s love and inclusivity as a physician. I am called to love and be loved. I value family, friends, and loved ones above all else in life.
Yet, somehow, despite my focus of and obsession with love, my Achilles heel is my difficulty loving and accepting and forgiving myself. And in my life, this issue has manifested most obviously as an acceptance of my body, an inability to move past my physical imperfections. I have (at other times in the past) been anorexic, bulimic, and everything in between. I have purchased and thrown away at least a dozen scales. I have punished myself by under eating, over eating, never eating, and always eating. After getting therapy and stopping unhealthy habits, I have continued to punish myself by overvaluing my weight and by sometimes refusing myself satisfaction with my life when I am not my preferred weight.
In response to all of this, I have a tendency to respond to all of my feelings and thoughts about my weight with anger– anger at myself for stooping so low, for being so superficial and animalistic. This has been my downfall. This has been that which has separated me from God. This has been my sin.
Kristin taught me to respond differently. She taught me to respond with love, to take my biggest value in life and actually live it out when it comes to myself. She taught me to see myself as worthy of my own love because I am also worthy of God’s love. She taught me to be gentle with myself, even when I am being superficial.
All of these events and realizations came back to me as I listened to a homily on my drive.
Fr. Rohr speaks about the grand realization that we are not separate from God. Christ was both fully God and fully human, proving to us that humanity is divine. Everyone is worthy. Everyone is saved. Everyone is enough. Most of us are unable to surrender or self hatred and accept this salvation until we are faced with death. But we are given the opportunity to do so now, every day, again and again. God’s love is ours for the taking. We just have trouble reaching out and accepting it because we do not believe we could be worthy.
What would my life look like if I treated myself as if I were worthy of God’s love, as if God’s love was embracing me at all times?
What would your life look like if you did the same?