This week and next I will be writing about 1) the skewed personal lens through which we view ourselves and the world and 2) how difficult it is, because of this lens, to actually take in God’s love. It’s been a great surprise to me how we are bound by how we view life and particularly ourselves.
I think that there is one quality that we Americans have that determines so much of how our lives go and it this: we are all hurt. Even in the best of families, I don’t think that we’re given parents who really get who we are, who can affirm and accept us just as we are. So there is damage to the child even in a loving family. If a child lives in an abusive family then the damage to our self-image is so much worse. And if we add in the misunderstandings of a 3 or 4 or 5-year old about how long it takes for a child to learn to obey his/her parents the way they want him/her to, well then, maybe you can see the damage to a child’s self-esteem as he/she grows up. And then there are the expectations of the culture that are overlaid on all the above without reference to who the child is or whether the cultural stuff is a good fit.
If our parents don’t get us, accept us for who we were created to be, and we struggle to obey when we’re too young to actually be good at it, if we grow up in an abusive situation, if we grow up in a culture that does not recognize individual differences, then maybe we can see how our own self-image gets impaired and that self-image is the lens through which we look at the world and our place in it. Once that lens is in place—say by the age of 6 years old—we can only see through this personal and flawed lens. And for the most part we spend our lives trying to make up for what we lacked as a young child, we try to hide these imperfections from others and ourselves so that we don’t have to feel the pain that is the result of all this conditioning.
We can spend our whole lives escaping or hiding from this pain or we can begin to parse it out and understand how it happened and what it has cost us. The rule of thumb on suffering is this: the more we resist it or try to escape it, the worse the pain gets. Any resistance at all to our own pain and suffering just multiplies it. And when we try to hide it, build walls around it so we and others can’t see it or feel it, it takes a lot of our most creative energy to hide it away. It’s like grief. When someone close to us dies, the best choice is to grieve thoroughly, as long as it takes. In our country there are unspoken rules about getting on with our lives, so any grief that is unexpressed just grows and gets shoved down and then grows and gets shoved down again, until it is a weight dragging us down, a burden we have to carry.
There is no way that we can escape pain and suffering while we’re embodied here on earth. It is a part of the interdependent system of plants and animals and humans, part of the life and death cycle we participate in. Every person suffers if only from the damaged self-image I am writing here about. Others may suffer illnesses or bodily damage or loss of possessions or dear friends or relatives or other difficulties. No one escapes. It is what we choose to do with our pain that can limit how bad it gets. Any attempt to deny or hide our suffering will only multiply it.
If we look at our pain and suffering as offering us lessons to learn from and not pain to be resisted, then we are on the road to releasing their burden on us, their influence over us. If we don’t resist them at all, but see them as natural to our human circumstances, then it’s our choice how we deal with them. These are the questions we need to address. 1) What am I to learn from this? 2) How can I deal with this in a healing way? 3) Will I lean on the Lord to help me through this?
There are two practices that I have found useful in facing up to my own suffering. One is to journal about it as often as needed; the other is to say it out loud to myself or sometimes I tell it to someone I trust, like a therapist or a close friend. Both of these practices make concrete what was hidden in us. When it is just rattling around in our minds or hidden deep in us, it is unacknowledged. Writing it down and saying it aloud makes it real so that we look at it differently. It’s true; it’s our truth. And once we acknowledge it fully, that begins the process of becoming free of it. The Holy Spirit than takes up the healing in us. And over a period of time, that burden is lifted from our shoulders.
The yoke that Christ puts on our shoulders in following Him “is easy; my burden is light.” But what He removes from us, heals in us is so heavy and costly to us. Just think of how much more clearly we will see the world and God when that burden of our own self-image and the cost of hiding who we think we really are is lifted. Freed of what is not true, we are revealed to be lovable, forgiven, and needed in God’s kingdom. We are free to be who we were created to be instead of being burdened by our family and our culture. We get to see ourselves and every other person with new eyes, with the truth. How much easier is that?
Next week we’ll address how difficult it is to actually take in God’s love for us…
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I aware of my personal lens through which I view myself and the world? Am I willing to look at each and every element of it and to see who or what was the source of the thinking? Will I ask the Lord’s help in addressing each issue? Am I willing to stand in the truth about myself and recognize that this is a process, not a single action?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who are not afraid to stand in the truth about ourselves. May we acknowledge all that we are, all that we have done, all that was done to us. May we seek to love ourselves as God loves us, warts and all.
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Check out my other website, deepeningyourfaith.com, for information about spiritual practices and more writings about the spiritual life. New posts 2x a month. June 19th is titled “How to be present to God’s peace.”
 Matthew 11:30