Today I woke up feeling disappointed in myself.
I was angry with myself eating a cupcake last night. If I hadn’t eaten anything “bad” I might have woken up angry with myself for having a glass of wine, or not being a good enough wife, or not studying enough during my free time, or watching lots of Netflix, or sleeping in on my day off.
So I began the day by punishing myself, berating myself, and instructing myself to go the gym and try harder to be perfect today.
By the grace of God, my husband broke the spell, as he often does (truly I believe God reaches me by working through Drew). “Did you enjoy yourself yesterday?” he asked me. Well, yes! I loved sleeping in and watching Netflix and going to a friend’s birthday and eating the cupcake!
It occurs to me, once again, that I am finding reasons to criticize myself. Since I’m on my spring break and not in school, I have more time to come up with such reasons.
Why am I so afraid to love myself? Why is it to hard for me to forgive myself when I am imperfect over and over again? Why am I always looking for something to “fix” about myself instead of celebrating my health and my love and my career?
I think I am falling susceptible to something that is inherently human. The need to prove oneself, the need to perform in order to feel loved and accepted and enough. I am never enough for myself, and it is exhausting attempting to become enough.
I recently read a beautiful book by a Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen: Life of the Beloved. The book is the author’s attempt to explain his beliefs and his faith to a friend who was not raised in a faith tradition. Nouwen explains my struggle exactly:
Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.
Nouwen believes that our biggest downfall as humans is our refusal to accept that we are inherently beloved by God— that we are The Beloved.
Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved”. Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.
I have heard this concept expressed in different ways. Father Thomas Keating, a former Trappist monk and leader in Christian contemplative prayer, said:
The notion that God is absent is the fundamental illusion of the human condition.
I think this is synonymous with our inability to accept that we are enough, that we are beloved. We already have God with us and in us and as a part of us. As humans, we just can’t seem to accept that. If we truly believed that we were sacred beings created in the image of God and chosen and beloved by God then surely we might like ourselves more!
Of course, sometimes guilt serves a purpose. When we over indulge or neglect our responsibilities or put continuously put ourselves before others, guilt can help put us back on track. But the type of guilt that happens as a result of our inability to accept our imperfections is not constructive. Because we, as humans, are not perfect and cannot become perfect.
The miracle of it all: we are already more than enough for God.
I pray that all of you reading this (and me) can accept God’s love today— and maybe even spread it to others.