Last night the topic of the healing of memories was raised. Rather than finding healing, though, I was hit afresh with a deep sense of shame I feel over a few memories from my childhood.
They were still bothering me deeply this morning during a scheduled time of silent prayer.
In this time of silent prayer, though, I began my time with God in a way that Brennan Manning encourages. I opened my palms upward toward God (in a posture of being ready to receive from Him), and I prayed simply, “Abba, I belong to You.” It hit me that all of me belongs to Him—not just the things that I fell glad about in my life but also the things in my past that I feel ashamed of. But the sense of shame still nagged at me.
Then I got to thinking about the promise in Isaiah 53:4 then when Jesus went to the cross for us He picked up our griefs and carried our sorrows. It struck me that as much as I have taught about that for years, I have never applied it to the matter of these things from my childhood that I have felt ashamed of. That still bothered me. Those things just seemed to me too disgusting for Jesus to pick up and carry to the cross.
Then I got a picture of Jesus with just one hand nailed to the cross. As I took in that picture in my mind I realized that I was rather saying to Christ, “Just go through a partial crucifixion for me. Just hang partway upon the cross so as to cover just some of the things in my life. Other things in my life cannot be covered by Your death, so don’t bother hanging there for those.”
How ridiculous is that thinking! Either all of my sins and shame are covered by Jesus’ death on the cross for us or none of them are. He hung fully on the cross to cover me fully! Hallelujah!
Something happened recently that stirred up the fearful, panicky side of me. When that happens, it is easy for me to get discouraged in my life and in my faith. In a walk through the woods, though, I had a chance to practice the PAPA prayer which includes the challenge to “attend” to who God is in the midst of our situations. As I contemplated that, I recalled a passage I read the other night from George MacDonald’s children’s book At the Back of the North Wind. In this book the North Wind is presented as a good and faithful instrument of God, always doing what God bids it to do. A boy named Diamond falls in love with this good instrument of God but cannot understand one night when the North Wind is sent on a mission to overturn a ship on the ocean that will result in the deaths of nearly everyone onboard. Diamond cannot understand how the North Wind can be so kind toward him then turn around and do something so horrible, so Diamond asks her, “Why shouldn’t you be good to other people as well as to me?” When the North Wind asserts that she is always good, Diamond presses the question, “I don’t see that you are. It looks quite the other thing.” Listen in to their conversation:
“Well, but listen to me, Diamond. You know the one me, you say, and that is good.”
“Do you know the other me as well?”
“No, I can’t. I shouldn’t like to.”
“There it is. You don’t know the other me. You are sure of one of them?”
“And you are sure there can’t be two mes?”
“Then the me you don’t know must be the same as the me you do know—else there would be two mes?”
“Then the other me you don’t know must be as kind as the me you do know?”
“Besides, I tell you that it is so, only it doesn’t look like it. That I confess freely.”
This passage reminds me to trust in what I know of the goodness of God even when I cannot see His goodness in any particular situation I may be facing. God is not two; He is one. And the one I know is good and loving, so I will trust Him even when I do not readily see the good that He will yet do.
Lost & Found
I took a walk this afternoon to Kinnoull Tower in the hills above Perth. It was a beautiful walk through the woods, so I decided to take a different trail back from the tower. I got terribly lost. By my instincts I kept thinking that I needed to go further south to get back to the trailhead where I started, so I kept travelling further and further south. Eventually, I looked at my watch and realized I didn’t have much time before the late afternoon session would begin. I knew I needed to try a different plan. Since I was well up in the hills above the city, I could look down and spot the tall steeple of St. John’s Cathedral (where John Knox preached). I decided that I needed to head downhill toward the church steeple, knowing that I could find my way home from there. It worked, and I got back to the monastery in time for the session.
I find this to be a fitting allegory for my life. When I follow my own instincts I get lost; when I look to the cross lifted up I find my proper way home.
For example: By my instincts I have thought that the way for me to grow stronger in my spiritual life had to do with trying harder to be good and suppressing anything in me that seemed to be contrary to what a good Christian should be and hiding from myself and from others my faults and failures. But following that route actually kept taking me further “south.” It was leading me only to Pharisaism not to intimacy with God. It kept me in the company of the older brother in the story of the prodigal son—working dutifully in the Father’s fields but missing out on enjoying the grace of the Father. But when I turn and look to the cross then I begin to understand that the key to spiritual growth and intimacy with God does not have to do with my great efforts but with ever deepening dependency on and gratitude for the grace of Jesus. When I turn back to the cross I focus on His love rather than my efforts, and I encounter His kindness rather than my works. That’s a much better place to be.
In this morning’s lecture, Sister Marie Hogg, the co-presenter of the workshop A Spirituality of True Self-Esteem, talked about the “inner critic” who resides within us. She pointed out that this critical inner voice:
– Blames us
– Compares us to others
– Reminds us of our failures
– Reminds us of our weaknesses
– Never compliments or praises us
– Exaggerates our faults and failures
– Calls us names like Stupid, Incompetent, Ugly, Weak, Boring
– Beats us up over what we “should have” done or how we “could have” done better
She included a quote from McKay and Fanning: “The first and most important thing you must know about your critic is that no matter how distorted and false his attacks may be, he is almost always believed.”
One person in the class commented that he has always sought perfection and now he has found it: his inner critic is successful at each of the items she listed. I am right there with him.
Marie brought up two other points that are helpful.
1: In no area of life do we get better (come to better health) just by wishing it; we come to better health by changing our behavior.
2: Changing our behavior is awkward and uncomfortable. (She had us cross our arms then cross them the other way and notice how different and our awkward that felt. I know that every time I have begun a new exercise routine, my muscles have been sore until they get used to the different way they are being pushed and stretched.)
So where does this leave me?
I recognize that much of the success of my “inner critic” has to do with me finding my sense of identity in being a “good” person. So how do I change that behavior? The solution will not be found in taking up some bad habits. But I can think of at least two things I need to practice doing differently:
1: I need to find my sense of identity not in being a “good” person but in being loved by God. In Changes that Heal Henry Cloud points out that approval is something we can earn; love is not. Love is given. It resides not in what we earn but in the heart of the giver. I need to recognize this in my relationship with Christ. I am loved by Him simply on the basis of His love for me, not on the basis of my “goodness.”
2: I need to own my “dark” side. Since I have tended to find my identity in being a “good” person, I have suppressed and disowned negative sides of me like hurts and resentment and anger and jealousy and pridefulness and greed and lust and pettiness. I need to practice facing those things in me and being honest about my struggle with them and confessing my sins.
It is interesting how God has the capacity and inclination to bring things together that cause us to take to heart the lessons He wants us to learn.
Jim McManus’ lecture today had to do with the difference in us between our true self and our false self. The “false” self is not so much a hypocritical self. It is not so much that we are deceitfully pretending to be what we are not. Rather our “false” self (or our “ideal” self as Henry Cloud refers to it in the book Changes that Heal) is the kind of person we want to be and the kind of person we strive to be, but it is not are “true” self for we are not always that person we wish to be.
One of the great dangers we face with concern to our false self and our true self has to do with an inability to accept our true self when who we really are does not match up with who we want to be and/or who we think we ought to be.
By “coincidence” these are the very chapters I happen to be reading in Henry Cloud’s book Changes that Heal. By “coincidence” this happens to be some of the stuff God wants to address with me in my personal life.
I want to be a good person. I want to be a kind, considerate, patient, loving, understanding, persevering, righteous person. I want to be a good husband. I want to be a good neighbor. I want to be a good citizen. Unfortunately, I do not always live up to what I want to be. When I do not live up to what I want to be (when I do not live up to my “ideal” self), I have the strong tendency to get very down on myself, to berate myself, to kick myself.
I know that God is holy. When I have to face the fact that I am not holy I do not tend to hold together very well God’s call to me to be holy along with His abiding grace toward me.
Gratefully, this is especially where God is “coincidentally” pulling some things together for me. In Henry Cloud’s book I am have found these words of perspective and encouragement: “Good relationship [including my relationship with myself] involves holding on to the ideal and lovingly accepting the real. If the real is loved and accepted, it can be encouraged to grow toward the ideal.” Later he adds, “Acceptance of good and bad is the biblical alternative. It is called grace and truth. In this alternative, we deny neither the ideal nor the bad. We accept and forgive the bad, while clinging to the ideal as an unrealized goal that we strive for in an atmosphere of full acceptance.” I believe that Christ is calling me to hold onto both His call to me to grow into the person He would have me to become while firmly embracing His grace for me along the way.
“Coincidentally,” in another book I finished this morning, The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning quotes Julian of Norwich: “Our courteous Lord does not want his servants to despair because they fall often and grievously; for our falling does not hinder him in loving us.”
Most encouraging of all is the quote I shared previously from George MacDonald’s book The Lost Princess. When the princess faces her “true” self and admits to her faults, she asks the wise woman, “How could you love such an ugly, ill-tempered, rude, hateful little wretch?” What MacDonald writes next is powerful: “‘I saw, through it all, what you were going to be,’ said the wise woman, kissing her. ‘But remember you have yet only begun to be what I saw.’” I need to and want to remember that God sees both my true self and what I will become in Him…and He loves me through it all!
The course I am taking this week at the Kinnoull Centre for Spirituality in Perth is “A Spirituality of True Self-Esteem.”
In the opening sessions this morning Fr. Jim McManus stressed that how we view ourselves should be shaped by what the Scriptures say about who we are. He asked us to consider this question: If I don’t see myself as God sees me, who has it wrong?
What is the nature of the Bible (which is the authority about how we are to view ourselves)? McManus pointed out that the Constitution on Divine Revelation put out by Vatican II gives this description of the Bible: “In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children and talks with them. And such is the force and the power of the word of God that it can serve the church as her support and vigour, and the children of the church as strength for their faith, food for their soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life.” Isn’t that a great description of the Bible? Scripture is where God lovingly meets His children to talk with us and to fill us with the support and vigor we need for our daily lives.
Looking at some of the things Scripture tells us about who we are, he pointed out that we are:
– Made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1)
– Fallen and restored (Genesis 3 and 2 Corinthians 5:17)
– Precious in God’s sight (Isaiah 43:4)
– A little lower than God and crowned with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5)
– Reborn of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5)
– God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16)
– Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)
– God’s work of art (Ephesians 2:10)
– The body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27)
McManus had the class go down the list, one at a time, saying our name then the statement from Scripture about who we are. For example, “I am Tom, made in the image and likeness of God.” Or “I am __________ [insert your name], fallen and restored.”
It is quite moving to take to heart what Scripture declares about who we are and to express that truth aloud. I invite you to try it with each of these Biblical descriptions of who we are.
It’s funny how the greatest wisdom is sometimes communicated through children’s books written by brilliant authors.
In The PAPA Prayer Larry Crabb encourages the reader to pay close attention to how we are perceiving God. He points out that we often have faulty perceptions of God that get in the way of deepening our relationship with the true God. He especially stresses that we need to value the fullness of who God is: God’s gentleness and powerfulness, God’s kindness and justice, God’s truth and God’s grace.
I find this reinforced well in the other books I have been reading. In the book The Wisdom of Tenderness Brennan Manning quotes Therese of Lisieux: “I hope as much from the justice of God as from his mercy. It is because he is just that he is compassionate and full of tenderness…for he knows our weakness. He remembers that we are dust. As a father has tenderness for his children, so the Lord has compassion for us. I do not understand souls who have fear of so tender a Friend….What joy to think that God is just, that he takes account of our weaknesses, that he knows perfectly the fragility of our nature.”
In Changes that Heal Dr. Henry Cloud challenges me away from my tendency toward self-containment and self-sufficiency into the greatness of God’s heart toward us. He remarks, “Think of how frustrating it must be for the biggest giver in the universe to not be able to give to one of his children because they do not realize that they desire what he has to give.” This is a call to me (to us) to realize that what we most deeply want is in God and that God truly wants to give it to us. Julian of Norwich prays it this way: “O God, out of Your goodness, give me Yourself. I can ask nothing less that would be fully to Your glory, and if I do ask anything less I will always be in need for it is only in You that I have all.”
Perhaps the most helpful insights (for me at least) come from George MacDonald’s children’s book The Lost Princess: A Double Tale. In this book we meet a “wise woman” who represents the Holy Spirit. The princess is a spoiled, mean child who needs to be reformed (like all of us). The Wise Woman sets about that task with a combination of tender love and strong discipline. A few quotes from the book speak powerfully to me. One of the first things we are told about the Wise Woman (the Holy Spirit) is this: “And the kiss of the wise woman was like the rose-gardens of Damascus.” For me, that ties in with the prayer of Julian of Norwich: There is nothing sweeter in life than the intimate connection with God through the Holy Spirit. Later in the book the Wise Woman says to the princess, “Every time you feel you want me, that is a sign I am wanting you.” Wow! Every time I find myself wanting God it is a sign that He is wanting me! Perhaps the richest and most encouraging quote in the book follows a question from the princess to the Wise Woman when she has begun to change. She asks, “Will you forgive all my naughtiness, and all the trouble I have given you?” The Wise Woman replies, “If I had not forgiven you, I would never have taken the trouble to punish you. If I had not loved you, do you think I would have carried you away in my cloak?” To this, the girl asks, “How could you love such an ugly, ill-tempered, rude, hateful little wretch?” Here is the wonderful answer the Wise Woman gives to her (and to us): “‘I saw, through it all, what you were going to be,’ said the wise woman, kissing her. ‘But remember you have yet only begun to be what I saw.’” Wow! How wonderful to think that the Holy Spirit may be saying that to me as well!