Abba's Child - Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life
One of the most shocking contradictions in the American church is the intense dislike many disciples of Jesus have for themselves...it is the dominant malaise crippling Christians and stifling their growth in the Holy Spirit. 19, 20.
I can testify to the validity of this both personally and professionally.
Personally, I am easily harder on myself than anyone else. When I make mistakes or don't live up to my high standards, it's easy to rattle off the well rehearsed verbiage that shame-whips my soul: "You should know better, Paula. Why can't you...when will you ever...you are so pathetic." Sigh.
When someone feels disappointed in me, I feel it deeply and brood over it for weeks trying to figure out how to "make it up" and "try harder." Having been relinquished at birth, my deepest and ongoing fear is that the other will leave me. And...sometimes they have. So the thread of my fear is well frayed. When I'm disappointed in myself, though, I prefer to distract myself - and I spend a little bit more time on facebook or binge streaming shows...with a side of nachos and a second (or third) glass of wine. In such moments, I fail to recount Abba's open hearted invitation to come out of hiding and experience a healing embrace.
Please tell me I'm not alone.
Well, actually, I know I'm not. In my profession as a Spiritual Director I companion other souls that also have a well worn shame-whip. Sometimes it's obvious, "I'm so tired of being a disappointment!" or "When will I ever learn?" Other times, it's a tad more subtle and even disguised as a spiritual statement, "Well, God has to hit me over the head with a 2x4 to get my attention."
In such moments I feel the flagellating whip stinging my own soul. I pause the conversation, gently repeat the phrase and ask: "What do you think is true about you that God has to hit you to get your attention?" There's always a story - a narrative - a event or relationship in the past that where similar words were actually spoken or just "absorbed" through the dysfunction or wounding. And even though it happened decades prior, it stays barbed in our souls impacting the ways we live and move and have our being in relationship to God, ourselves and others. There becomes a "great divorce between [our] head and [our] heart" (22) and we so easily don what Manning calls, an "imposter" self in order to try and regain our sense of worth, power, or approval.
Henri Nouwen put it this way:
Over the years I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection....When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, 'Well, that proves again that I am a nobody... Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us 'the Beloved.' in Life of the Beloved, 21 (Emphasis mine)
What is the solution?
"We learn to be gentle with ourselves by experiencing the intimate, heartfelt compassion of Jesus. To the extend that we allow the relentless tenderness of Jesus to invade the citadel of self, we are freed from dyspepsia toward ourselves. 21.
The voice that calls us beloved - the heartfelt, intimate, compassionate, slow to anger and forgiving God is the one in whose Abundant Love nothing can separate us. NOTHING. NOT A THING. ZERO. ZIP. ZILCH.
Learning the voice that calls us beloved - this voice that delights in us IS, I sometimes think, THE work of this spiritual journey. Just as Jesus learned to hear Abba's voice: "This is my beloved One in whom I am delighted" (Matt 3.17; Mark 1.11; Luke 3.22) - so we need to learn to hear and believe in this absolute delight our Abba has for us. So how do you begin today?
Psalm 23. 6a in Eugene Peter's translation (The Message) says this:
"Your Love and Beauty chase after me every day of my life..."
So our work is this: if you awake with breath (and I'm assuming that you did because you are now reading this), it is a day that God's love and beauty will be chasing after you - perhaps in a well timed letter or visit from a friend. Maybe this love will come in the simple delight of watching a bird frolic or overseeing a mother tenderly care for her child. Maybe you'll see the beauty of a neighbor helping a neighbor - or helping you. As you step into your day simply set your heart toward "seeing" Love and Beauty. Consider praying something like this (but in whatever words reFlect your own heart's longing):
Lord, your word says that your Love and Beauty will be chasing me today. Grant me both the grace and attentiveness to see all the ways you are bringing Love and Beauty to my world. Help me to not be either so busy or so despairing that I fail to let myself be caught by your love.
At the end of the day - take 5 minutes to reflect on the ways you encountered God's love and beauty. Then take a few minutes to ask God, "In what ways did I rush past or choose to linger in self-rejection instead of receive your embrace in Love and Beauty?"
My prayer for you is that you'll continue to lean into the Love and Beauty chasing after you - the voice of God rehearsing the refrain, "You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased and delighted." Choose to believe that your struggles are a gateway to God's grace and love.