Hopefully, we take advantage of Lent to slow down and think about our life. Has it become a busy string of events, entertainment, and rushed busyness, and less than God intended? If we strip away all the noise and time spent on meaningless things, what part of us is focused on the things that matter in life? Don’t get me wrong, there is a rhythm to life that includes the very simple and mundane things we do that become special moments when the focus is on doing them together with loved ones, family, and friends – or those that need our loving support. However, when the focus is on ourselves, that empty busyness can be a sign of something deeper that keeps us from living life abundantly in deeply meaningful relationships. The subconscious focus can often be on avoiding and protecting ourselves from dealing with difficult issues or risking rejection and pain. Many times wee find it is not the things that happen to us in life that causes most of our difficulties and anxieties but our avoidance of dealing with them.
Henri Nouwen said, “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to 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” We fail to love who we are and what we are – beloved and precious sons and daughters of God. Sadly, most people do not see their self-worth through God’s eyes, the only source that can satisfy our desire to know we are worthy of love. We look desperately for other’s approval and validation but it does not satisfy. We look to popularity, success, power, wealth, pleasure or busyness to fill the empty void, but it only makes us more distant from ourselves and more anxious. Instead of pursuing fewer of those things that were never made to work, we tend to pursue them even harder.
It would be great if we just needed to hear someone tell us, “God loves you unconditionally and you are worthy of that endless love because he made you worthy,” and we would be all set to go. Most of us have psychological resistance or walls that keep us from believing that statement could be true for us and that we are worthy. We believe we need to either hide our true selves behind our self-made protective armor or that we are the exception to the statement – or that we need to make ourselves worthy and acceptable. Along the way, we develop distorted thinking and empty or negative self-views that keep us from fully living out our relationship with God and others. Some of those feelings and fears are so deep, it takes more than simply hearing the possibility of these truths to truly have the freedom to trust and accept them.
Sometimes those experiences that lead to our negative self-views, while they are distorted and destructive, can be seen as protective. Everyone needs to be able to process the world coming at them, our perception of reality and meaning as they come to know the world. If we develop a distorted and negative self-view, it still gives us a means of processing our experiences, of having a sense of coherence. If we have developed negative self-views or were even abused, it should be great news to hear someone tell us that we are good, worthy of love and not deserving of less, but those words can test the validity of our perceptions, beliefs and our very sense of self. Those positive words can initially create a sense of disorientation or even threaten our very existence. We have developed adaptations that may have helped us cope as a child but now they have become maladaptations that keep us from living fully and joyfully as adults. We need to be able to slowly tolerate the discomfort of recognizing ugliest parts of ourselves and push through our biggest fears to grow to a healthier place.
The good news is that God is always where with open arms. The moment we surrender and trust him completely is the moment we begin to feel true freedom and unconditional love. We can begin to take that risk of being our true selves and being imperfect without fear of rejection from those that matter in our lives. We will no longer constantly look to others for validation of our self-worth but to the only source of knowing it. When we present our false self to the world, we continually live in fear that our true self is not worthy and will be rejected. Adopted children may feel very loved by their adoptive parents but often want to know why they were given up – were they rejected because they were not lovable? Even when we play the tape all the way back to our birth and find out we were loved as we were, there is still a longing that can only be satisfied by the one who created us in love. He knows the truth and it is always the answer we longed for.