The Unnecessary Burden of Manufacturing Our Own Worth

We feel, in our society, a very strong pressure to prove ourselves. To show we are successful. Worth knowing. Accomplished. We define ourselves by our external achievements, and are in turn crushed by our external failures. Is this necessary?

Does our value indeed come solely from what we do? I don’t think so!

But before I explain, let’s consider what kind of world we create when we do think this way. When we determine human worth based on externals, we claim the right to judge others. What’s in their soul doesn’t matter, because it’s all about results. Did they succeed in this job interview? Did they obtain this degree? How much is their salary? Is it more than mine….because if so they must be better than me. 

See the trap we set for ourselves? Not only do we judge others harshly, which is a terrible thing, but we also do the same to ourselves, and risk falling into depression and despair. We feel we are not good enough–that we are failures. Well, you can’t be a failure, you can only be a person, a human being…perhaps one in challenging circumstances, but a human all the same. No one is a failure.

We are not defined by what we do, but who we are

So who are we anyway? We are children of God, called out of all eternity to love and be loved. Each one of us is precious and utterly irreplaceable. We all have unique talents we are called to generously share with the world…and this despite all our weaknesses and mistakes. God made us as we are, fragile and beautiful, so that when we are humble enough to acknowledge the cracks in our hearts, His light can shine through us. 

So when the sirens of the world lure you to the rocky reefs of self-doubt, remember He who made you is perfect, and has a plan for your life more beautiful that you can imagine. It is cooperating with this plan, with all its challenges and opportunities for interior growth, that makes everything worthwhile. 

At the end of our lives, we will be judged on love. St. John of the Cross

Compassion

Let it go, little mamma.

You have deeply entered their pain,

lived it with them,

prayed and suffered.

Their burden is not yours.

You can love

but you cannot hold the whole world

in your heart.

Don’t try to steal God’s job.

Only He, the eternal one,

can bear all the world’s suffering

without breaking to pieces…

Your call now,

is to go dig in your garden

and plant flowers of hope

in the simple brown earth.

Your call is to smile again

and find joy in the little gifts of each day.

Tears have washed you clean.

Now, little mama,

let it go,

trust more,

be silly and laugh again.

Insecurity

There is the illusion

that ‘the woman next door’ has everything figured out–

that the insides of her underwear drawer

are as neat as her perfect front lawn–

illusion of insecurity.

There is the nagging feeling

that you should be more like her,

so confident and productive…

It eats you up inside

until your walls crumble and collapse

into emptiness.

Voices of self-doubt echo

in the hollow chamber of your head:

“Are you sure you’re good enough?

Can you really do this?

What gave you that silly idea?”

You’re tempted to crawl under the covers again

but that’s just where the demons are hiding–

alone in your head.

Instead, throw back those blankets and step into the sun,

don’t give up without a fight,

empty rooms are good for being filled with light.

Empty hands are good for holding little hands.

Empty hearts are good for being filled with love.

Empty heads are good for listening.

So, instead of dwelling alone

in the harsh prison of your self-judgement,

reach out,

be open to other people’s stories,

listen to their hopes and cries of pain.

Everyone has their struggle,

and everyone has their blue flame.

Realize you are not alone

in all your broken beauty…

like them you’re just a tiny little human

entrusted by God

with the great task of love.

On fighting discouragement

The other day I was reading a little book of Lenten meditations by Pope emeritus Benedict about the true meaning of fasting. He describes how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fighting the temptations he was offered…to the world’s power, to enslavement to the physical world (bread), and to spiritual pride. It made me think…what temptations do I need to fight to be more free? And I don’t just mean the temptations to scarf boxes of chocolates…but deeper things.

Are we tempted by discouragement? By anger? By sulking and blame? These are the kinds of demons we can fight off during Lent, so as to become more happy and free. So how about instead of giving up something we like, or maybe as well as that, taking up arms to fight harder against what we don’t like…what drags us down and brings misery and isolation.

It is amazing how these demons of discouragement prey on our weakness. We recently watched the excellent movie “A Man For All Seasons” as a family. What struck me most this time, because I have seen it before, was what great destruction came through a weak man. Richie Rich, poor and soft man, is corrupted by bribery and the lure of wealth and power. He becomes a powerful man externally, but inside is still incredibly weak and can no longer follow his conscience when tempted, and ends up perjuring himself. St. Thomas Moore is killed because of Rich’s lies in court. It is very sad to see how Rich destroys himself and others…perhaps after certain point he no longer believed it would be possible to reform. It is so important to be both humble enough to receive mercy and forgiveness and strong enough to persevere in the truth when times are tough.

So why do we fail, make mistakes, commit sins? Many times out of weakness. Why do we yell when tired? Weakness. Why do we slam drawers when too hungry? Weakness. Why do we fall into discouragement when the house is exploding with mess and the floor seems a distant memory? Weakness. But if there is one thing we must always hang onto despite our weakness, it is hope, and the knowledge that we are loved. Discouragement comes when we look only at ourselves and all our failures, all at once. Then the amount we need to change and then improve becomes utterly overwhelming.

Can you imagine a baby looking ahead and envisioning all the things they would have to do and learn as one giant, looming to do list? Learn to walk, run, jump, speak thousands of words, dress themselves, read, write, learn sports, to cook, get a job, change careers, etc. It’s exhausting to think about all at once. But why aren’t babies stressed like the rest of us? Because they live in the moment and in trust: “Mommy and Daddy are here and they will teach me.”

What we adults have to do is spend less time looking at ourselves and more time looking at God, who is perfect love, who is infinite mercy, who is glorious king and wise and loving Father. It is he who will give us the strength and grace to improve. It is he who will teach us. Of course it won’t be all at once, but a little bit at a time, each day hanging on to hope despite our failures. Babies are so delighted with life…it would serve us well as adults to spend more time marvelling at the beauty of life as well, practising gratitude and making a point of savouring the good little memories each day provides.

Ultimately, Lent is about learning to love better, and we have opportunities to do so every moment of each day. St Josemaria said to be a true friend is to honour the image of God in others…”as you do to the least one of my brothers so you do unto me.” No matter how long our to-do list, we can always afford time for a smile. May God give us all the strength to love well, and the hope to grow each day, seeing self-knowledge as an opportunity to improve, rather than a cause for discouragement.

Solitary Light

Suffering friend,

your brightness bursts

through the dark like lightning.

People are awed by your strength and beauty.

They do not hear the cry of your pain–

your anguish always swallowed up by thunder.

They see only your power,

blinded to the pain that rips

your heart in half with such terrible violence.

They do not realize that you yearn

to be a candle–a warm light

shining in cosy concert with others–

the same simple joys lighting up your face.

Gorgeous, devastating lightning bolt,

strike no more alone,

surrounded by the cold empty air

that crashes through your lungs in suffocating silence

while your tears invisibly drown in the storm.

Reach for me,

let me feel the sting of your pain,

absorb some of the shock,

connect with the current coursing through you.

Illumine my ignorance.

Unblind me so I can see with you

the world from the eye of the storm.

Image from https://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2015/10/06/student-voices-thunderstruck-by-pride/

Wounded Heart

God’s heart broke open 
when we chose to leave it,
bursting through walls of warmth
meant to nurture,
but misperceived as barriers to freedom. 

Out here in the windswept world
where many wander alone,
each their own god
confusedly crashing into each other,
our hearts are often wounded 
—and burst open— 
red mouths gaping with sorrow.

Who can understand our pain?
Who can heal our shattered souls?
Is there one who has suffered like us,
and survived? Yet more…has triumphed?

Go to Him.

His heart is open still
yearning with the vulnerable expectation of love…
Will you have the humble courage 
to enter? 

  

“The Wounded Healer” by Henri Nouwen 

  

Shortly after I lost my baby Josephine in labour nearly 6 months ago, a friend lent me this book by Henri Nouwen: “The Wounded Healer: In our woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.”  The idea expressed in the subtitle caught my attention, because it spoke a truth that I had recently discovered myself…that my pain and brokenness had become a means of connecting deeply with others, and of helping them release their own pain. 

This process is not one of having all the right consoling things to say, or of having found a magic solution to blot out pain. Emotional healing is not about making pain disappear, but about learning how to live with it while maintaining a sense of hope and joy. 

There is a huge difference here, because one involves living in the reality of our broken world, with a hope that transcends it, while the other involves hoping in a world that doesn’t exist in the present…one without any suffering. 

Acceptance or denial, peace or rebellion. Choices we make every day when we live in pain. 

The world may tell us that life is not worth living when there is deep pain, and that the supposed nothingness of death would be better. But I can honestly say that there are things pain does which are very beautiful: 

Pain breaks down barriers between people and connects hearts. 

Pain makes beauty stand out in sharp relief, and helps one appreciate what was previously taken for granted. 

Pain burns away the fear of being authentically yourself, because the petty concern of what others might think ceases to matter as much. 

Pain rips open your heart to let the world in; no longer do you judge those who are struggling. 

Pain makes you rely on God, because your spirit needs support to bear this weight gracefully. Meaning with God’s grace. With prayer. 

Connection. Gratitude. Authenticity. Compassion. Interior growth. These are all pretty big gifts. They make life more beautiful and worth living. 

When you truly suffer, your heart hurts deeply, but loves more deeply as well. And this love, coming from a humble place of pain mingled with hope, can be a source of life for others. 

  

humble offering

Sometimes when life is hardest

and we feel the need to draw our swords

and brandish a flaming torch

it is precisely the moment

we need to put them away

and instead wrap our hearts

in silken handkerchiefs

to cushion their fall

They may be broken

but with gentleness

perhaps they won’t shatter

With no words

to really console 

your broken heart

I can only offer

mine