I was amazed at how much the spiritual formation class I took actually formed me this semester. Although I found it quite confirming, the part that was most intriguing to me was the realization that I am blessed and have been for my whole life, really. Although I have experienced some pain and suffering, like most people have, it has not been debilitating. God has been with me. And I have more faith in him than I often give myself credit for!
In his book Discernment, Henri Nouwen comfort me in my struggle to move from my false self to my true self. Though I confess, I sin when I am grandiose about my grandiosity—when I am narcissistic about my narcissism—when I utter like the Apostle Paul that I am the greatest of sinners. My description and writing about my trouble, thanks to years of listening to artists with a large degree of angst and depression, is often more epic than the reality is. I am afraid that in my circles to be in despair has become somewhat fashionable. One thing I have learned in this class is to be honest about who I am, and not to feel guilty about the relative peace and fortune in my life.
But, still, my false self weighs on me, and even if I am overemphasizing it, that overemphasis weighs on me too. Nouwen writes in Discernment that he is “still the restless, nervous, intense, distracted, and impulse-driven person [he] was when [he] set out on this spiritual journey.” Some days I feel that inadequate, but most of the time I realize focusing on my own guilt about my problems is counterproductive. I would much rather take a page out of Roberta Bondi’s playbook and realize that I can perfectly love, too. To love and to be loved is one of our goals. And we can do it like God. We can love ourselves, love others, and love God, too. Humility compliments Bondi’s idea of perfect love. Though we often view humility as insecurity, low self-esteem, and self-hatred (much like we view perfect love as arrogant and self-righteous), Bondi says it is quite the opposite. “Being a doormat is not being humble.” Rather, it is in our posture to be responsible, to know that we are likely to sin, and to let go of how others perceive us that we are truly humble.
I do not want to be my own doormat. I do not want to falsely elevate myself, but realizing that things are OK, and I am OK is truly helpful in thinking of myself less, as opposed to thinking of myself poorly. Perhaps that is true definition of selflessness. As I looked back at my life in the autobiography, I am thankful for the hope I have experienced, and it is not just the result of my own work, or even faith, or even upbringing. But really because God has been faithful to me and I feel blessed.
I took an inventory of my whole life for this class. I was curious about what I might uncover. So far, though there have been some trials and tribulations, things have been smooth. Here are some things I learned.
- Develop your instincts. Pray that God gives you discernment to wade through the waves of the world. If I had not listened to what God was telling me, I would have believed lies and falsities that would have led me far away from where I am today. Trust your gut, and test it.
- Don’t believe what the TV tells you. So much of my faith journey revolved around questioning what the authorities were telling me. Questioning racism, capitalism, and militarism helped me understand how Jesus was creating the alternative and how I could be a part of it.
- Take it a day at a time, and take the opportunities you are given. I think that’s exactly what Jesus did too. Rather than get anxious about what may or may not be, see what is before you and concentrate on that. Don’t worry about tomorrow; today has enough trouble.
- Find trustworthy people. And do what they say. I wasted a lot of time doing things “my way,” but eventually realized the advice of the people around was right on. The pastors in Circle of Hope were crucial to how I grew in Jesus. But there were others too. My therapist. My friends and family too. The numerous cells I have led have been places of safety and process too.
- Try the spiritual disciplines, even if they don’t make sense. I certainly started fasting before I really understood why. Same with going on spiritual retreats! I even helped people follow Jesus before I had really worked out my relationship with him. My faith guided me, and God blessed me. Fake it until you make it.
- Give attention, don’t try to get it. I’m still learning this one, but I am most like Christ when I am giving him praise and showing how great the people around me are. Honor the folks around you, don’t criticize them. Treat the people that love you well and praise them (publicly too). You’ll get yours too, but you don’t need it. Trust God.