“To yourself you seem of little worth, but in reality you are precious. Insofar as you forsook Him whose image you are, you have taken on the colors of strange images. But when you begin to breathe in the atmosphere wherein you were created, if perchance you embrace discipline, you will quickly shake off and renounce this false make-up which is only superficial and not even skin-deep. Be wholly present to yourself, therefore, and employ yourself wholly in knowing yourself and knowing whose image you are, and likewise in discerning and understanding what you are and what you can do in Him whose image you are. Stand in your rank; be not overcome, be not dishonored. The strength of your position is the knowledge of grace, if you are not ungrateful that you were foreseen, predestined, preferred and foreknown.” (William of Saint Thierry)
Lent is a time of atonement for our sins. But proper atonement isn’t self-denigrating. A proper sorrow for sins is the natural response when realizing how much God loves you. For 40 days we are reminded how Jesus dies for our sins, because of our sinfulness, and this is true. Missing is that He chose to do this as the ultimate demonstration of His love for us personally. Too many people experience Lent as a reminder of their unworthiness. Their self-talk tells them that they are ‘bad’. It can be a time of hidden shame and interiorly crippling. It should be a time of the heart bursting wide open in loving awe of God and in response to the love poured out upon them from the Cross.
We lose knowledge of our true identity in God whose image we share. God’s grace builds upon our beautiful nature. If we try our best to overcome our weakness, He will give us the grace needed for His victory. But with some weaknesses, this takes a long time. He wants to do more than just help us conquer anxiousness, worry, anger, and addiction. He wants to heal the deep, underlying wounds from which these come.
“It’s said that the words “Be not afraid” appear in Scripture 366 times — one for each day of the year (leap years included).” … “There’s a saying that “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” Prayer is indeed the key to overcoming or coping with anxiety, for it reassures us of God’s presence and reminds us of our need to rely on His strength, not on our own. As St. John Vianney said, “God commands you to pray, but He forbids you to worry.” (Fr. Joseph Esper, Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems)
It can be scary to “go there”. It is easier to stay stuck in the muck of life as we are accustomed to our brokenness. We know what to expect from it. We don’t know what to expect from God. We also don’t quite trust Him. Any father figures we’ve had in life typically have hurt us in some way. We can’t imagine what a perfect Father is like, a Father who loves unconditionally. A Father who cannot cause harm because He is love itself. A Father who never takes back His love and gifts because He can’t. Since His very essence and existence are love, He can’t change or make mistakes. He is always in the mode and action of self-giving–giving Himself fully to us. To you personally. God cannot NOT love. That’s profound.
Scared of God, we turn to Jesus. It can be difficult, however, to be close to Him. To be intimate with Jesus requires being vulnerable. Maybe I’m willing to let Him be in control of most of my life, but I retain control over part of it ‘just in case’. It is a subconscious self-protection; instinctive. We hesitate to give up and give in entirely. Yet it is through the Son, the Divine Physician, that the Father wants to heal us. What thoughts, what self-talk, are blocking this? I know I am loved but am I loveable? Does my self-talk say I am bad, unworthy? The world treats women as sex objects and emasculates men…do I believe in the sacredness of my body? All these things make us afraid to go near God or be intimate in the heart with Jesus. The pain in our heart says it isn’t that I did bad things in my past. It is that I am bad. And we stay stuck in the shame cycle.
“The first condition for carrying out God’s Will in our regard — the sanctification of our soul — is to believe we can do it. … God is much more interested in our sanctification than we are ourselves.” (Fr. Daniel Considine SJ)
Lent is a time of giving up the self-talk so we can hear God talk. Rather than giving up the common, do the uncommon. Step out of the shame cycle. Let God take care of you. Take in the reality of a God who loves you so personally and immensely that He suffered and died for you personally so you could live with Him intimately for eternity. And eternity begins now. Every moment is an experience of your infinite God.
For you every day should be solemn, always a new moon, always a sabbath. Therefore, let your lips be like a trumpet of beaten silver, a trumpet which summons not to strife but to gladness, celebration, spiritual canticles. (Gilbert of Hoyland)
Image courtesy of Unsplash.
This article originally appeared on SpiritualDirection.com and is reprinted here with kind permission.