The search for dignity and inner beauty
Published 7:31 pm Thursday, January 27, 2022
I recently paid someone $35 to tell me that I have a problem with practicing self-compassion. That person was my therapist, and she was absolutely right. I suppose I knew it all along, but sometimes it helps to have someone point it out to you. Stephen King said something about this in Salem’s Lot: “If a fear cannot be articulated, it cannot be conquered.” My fear being that, if people got to know the real me, they might not love me anymore. With that fear having a foothold in me, it means that I don’t always practice tenderness and love with myself because if I am convinced that I don’t deserve love, then I won’t be disappointed when I inevitably don’t get love. It sounds so silly to say this out loud, as many of our neuroses do. But that’s my fear. Maybe it’s yours too. As a side note, sometimes I feel like I’m writing what I needed to hear about 10 years ago. If someone had been as open then as I’m trying to be now, well, who knows what a difference that might have made.
Back to the topic at hand, I believe that a good bit of my own internalized shame stems from the way the religion of my youth taught me to believe that, at the core of my humanity, I was broken and disfigured. This being the proverbial ‘original sin’ found in certain versions of Christianity. It’s the idea that humanity is depraved and spiritually disfigured, perpetually broken on account of Adam eating an apple after being lied to by a talking snake. Another personal favorite of my youth was hearing my pastor tell me to be on my best behavior at every moment because “God was always watching.”
It’s ideas like these, when heard year in and year out, that ultimately convince a person that something is fundamentally wrong with them. That at the deepest part of who they are, they’re repugnant to a holy God who has demanded the blood sacrifice of his Son in order to make them clean again. Through preaching and teaching, the religion of my youth taught me that I owed such a God my allegiance and utmost devotion, not realizing all along that devotion to such an idea of God was suppressing my joy and keeping me from true emotional and spiritual maturity.
But that is simply not the God I worship any longer. Never once did Jesus himself suggest that humanity was totally depraved. He never suggested that humanity had no value about from the holiness of God. That simply wasn’t Jesus’ MO. He came to offer abundant life, and he did it precisely by reminding people of their worth and beauty in the eyes of God. The liberation found in his preaching was not the freedom that comes from moral purity, but the freedom that comes from accepting that we have already been accepted by the grace, love, and mercy of God. For it was to the captive, the blind, the beggar, and the outcast that Jesus went, restoring to them the dignity lost not on account of their own sinfulness, but they way their dignity was stripped by the culture around them.
I wish someone had told me long ago that God wasn’t interested in my groveling, or my shame. I wish someone had told me that I wasn’t broken. That I was beautiful and good regardless of the power and presence of my faith (or lack thereof). Maybe someone will read this and recognize something of themselves in my journey. If that’s you, let me be the first to welcome you to a world in which God isn’t watching and waiting for you to mess up, to a world in which all are born with dignity and beauty, and to a world where loving yourself might be a little easier than it was yesterday. It certainly has been this way for me.