How do I get Rid of my “inner ugliness?”

Dear Father John, I have been struggling with some interior trials with forgiveness, resentment and jealousy. I call this “inner ugliness.” I have been praying fervently, going to confession, and receiving excellent spiritual direction. I have been willing myself to be charitable even when I am not feeling it. So here is my question. What am I missing, why do I still feel “inner ugly”? How do I let go of all of this?

OK, brace yourself for this really blunt answer: You still feel “inner ugly” because you still are “inner ugly” – at least partially. Let’s be blunt again: It’s obvious from your question that you feel frustration at the stubborn persistence of some of your faults, in spite of your efforts to extricate them. Where does that frustration come from? Does it come from God? Is God frustrated with you because you aren’t perfect yet? Is he up in heaven tapping his watch and raising his eyebrows? Not a chance. Let me tell you, as a Catholic priest, that he is OVERJOYED with the fact that you have followed his nudges and made your way through the wilderness of our secular society onto the one path of holiness. Yes, you are on the path of holiness; you are on the “steep road” and passing through the “narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13) that leads to salvation, wisdom, Christian joy, everlasting fruitfulness, and eternal beauty. He has been trying to convince you to get onto that path for a while, most likely. Now you are there, and you are traveling it, and you are following the road signs (prayer, confession, spiritual direction… You’re in the fast lane!), and he is delighted!

So, if your frustration doesn’t come from God, where does it come from? I am sure you have already guessed it: your pride. You want God to go at your pace, but God is not always going to go at your pace. He knows better; he is going to go at his pace, and we (all of us) need to learn to follow that pace. If not, we will never grow in humility, the bedrock of all holiness and true happiness.

Baking School

Imagine: You are teaching your teenage daughter how to make an angel-food cake. First you make one together, and she really just watches and assists you a tiny bit. So then she gets really excited about it, and she wants to do one all by herself. She is so excited that she tells you, “Mom, you go running or something; I want to do this myself.” So you go running. And you come back to find her huddled over a rather floppy, lopsided, misshapen, and gooey culinary mutant. She is either crying or fuming. She is an impatient girl and wants to do everything perfectly right away, but the reality is that some things can’t be rushed. If she were a bit humbler and more patient, she either wouldn’t have tried to do it all on her own so soon, or she would have had more of a sense of humor over her delicious dessert disaster.

Transitioning the Garden

Here’s another analogy. Think of your soul as a large garden. You haven’t always been attentive to taking care of the whole garden. In fact, there were parts you didn’t even know you had, sections with amazing potential. So now the Lord has shown you the potential of your garden, and together with him you have rolled up your sleeves and gotten to work to make your garden into what it should be. There are various phases to this work. First, you have to repair the broken fences, cracked fountains, and disheveled walkways. Then you have to extract the weeds that have been growing freely for a while (maybe for a long while), so that the good plants (the ones already there and the ones you want to plant) have room to grow. Then you have to dig up the soil, aerate it, water it, fertilize it. Then you have to keep tending the good plants (protecting them from rabbits, deer, birds, etc.), repair things that get broken during storms, keep weeding, etc.

That’s the process. It’s long and hard, but it’s what matters most, because the flowers and fruits that come from our spiritual gardening are the ones that matter most: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22). That’s the opposite of the “inner ugly” that you are striving for.

Right now, you are working hard, sweating, and doing all the right things. But you are discovering that the weeds had deeper roots than you thought. You are discovering that the broken fences are taking much longer to mend than you anticipated. You are finding out that the soil is extremely dry and alkaline in certain areas and needs a lot of deep digging. You like the look of the new plants, but they are still so little, while some of the older, ugly weeds are still big. So you see the fresh inner beauty, but you also see the stubborn inner ugly, maybe even more clearly (more realistically) than before.

Letting God Be God

God can speed up the process whenever he wants (and in some aspects, he probably already has, whether or not you realize it). But when he doesn’t, he has his reasons. We can only make a decent effort to do our part (what more could he expect from us?). God’s part is up to him. If he is going at a pace that makes us uncomfortable, we need to trust his wisdom. The worst thing to do would be to let your frustration get the better of you and give up. The best thing to do, being the little and beloved daughter of God that you are, is to wipe the sweat from your brow, smile, and keeping following his lead: “But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance” (Luke 8:15). He has guided you faithfully so far, and he won’t lead you astray now. And remember, the frustration doesn’t come from him – he is DELIGHTED with you!

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. He has also published two other titles: “Meditations for Mothers” and “A Guide to Christian Meditation”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN’S BOOKS include: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”, Inside the Passion–The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Meditations for Mothers, and A Guide to Christian Meditation.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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  • Chris Jasek

    My advice to this person would be to gain a better understanding of how the evil one uses unforgiveness, resentment and jealousy to keep us trapped. By gaining this understanding with God’s grace you will move closer to freedom from “inner ugliness.” Jesus wants us to be free! I would recommend getting a copy of Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance by Neal Lozano and reading it. This is an excellent book and will give you a deeper understanding of these things.

    http://www.amazon.com/Unbound-A-Practical-Guide-Deliverance/dp/0800794125/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_pap?ie=UTF8&qid=1404749175&sr=8-1&keywords=lozano+unbound

  • peacebwu12

    Fantastic understanding and advice by Fr. Bartunek, I’m printing this one off for my records! May God bless you all.

  • Rae Marie

    Thank you. As a person who frequently feels displeasing to God. I needed this.

  • Blobee

    Father, I hope you will answer this question about what you have written:
    Should we from time to time survey our garden and look at the beautiful things that have been fixed and the beautiful flowers that are growing, (in spite of the work that we know still needs to be done), and take a little consolation from that, thanking God for the beauty we find there (in ourselves), or is that prideful, and going in the wrong direction? So should we only focus on all the things yet that are broken, weedy, and need work? My question is because, in the analogy, every gardener from time to time surveys the garden and the work already done, and allows themselves to feel good about how things look and what’s now fixed, but do we just feed our pride if we do that in the spiritual life? Or do we need to sometimes survey how far we have come, and take a few minutes to be happy about it? Will that lead us to pride?
    This is a question that has perplexed me for some time.

  • Deoacveritatimyfaithsustainsm

    Thank you father great advise.

  • noelfitz

    Is it an insult to God to say that he has created anything that is ugly? Does the Bible not teach us that everything created by God is good? I agree with Fr John that the
    questioner is probably on the right path.

    I sympathize with priests at the present time who are considered potential paedophiles and also members of the LC who were associated with a person, Fr Maciel, who seems to
    have lacked some virtues, but all of us are sinners, but not inherently ugly.

    I am encouraged by the final comment that God is delighted with us.

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