“Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, No. 1 of 4 Quartets
Some people keep dirty little secrets from their friends and loved ones.
I keep dirty little secrets from myself. Or at least I fear that I do.
Like my nagging question, “What if I am worth hating?,” I’ve been scared that one day I’ll wake up and “realize” that all my worst fears are true: I’m ugly and fat and boring and awful and entirely unlovable. That somehow I’ve tricked myself into believing all of this unconditional love stuff.
I’ll be found out. More than that, called out, exposed.
I’ve always been mildly (to put it mildly) obsessed with self-examination. But I could only go so far, look so deep, before I came unglued. My “perfectionism was so pronounced that I was not sure I could bear facing the truth of my own darkness without becoming completely unraveled.” (Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton)
I spent most of my life unraveled. Unraveled and weighted down by the sheer depth of my failure: my failure to love others well, my failure to connect with God, my failure to be popular and happy.
I could only bear so much reality. Self-examination was a form of cruel and unusual punishment. And my prayer life was nothing more than glorified guilt trips.
This was before I learned to bask.
In the spring of 2010, I took a spiritual disciplines class at my church where we read through the book, Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton. It rocked my world. For the first time, I learned to engage in healthy self-examination. In life-giving self-examination.
Since then, I’ve been learning to examine my life and God’s presence without the harsh condemnation and self-rejection that used to paralyze me. It is with the grace of God that I can even believe that self-examination could be something uplifting and transformative.
I began to find that, “When practiced rightly, [self-examination] leads us into a greater sense of God’s loving presence in our life, it fosters a celebration of our created self…”
NOT to shame and guilt and self-hatred.
It sounds so straightforward. It sounds so logical. Of course God loves us. Of course Jesus came to set us free. But I just couldn’t get it for so long. I loved to rebind the chains that God so desperately wanted to release me from.
But little by little I began to discover that self-examination could spark a journey that leads us to be fully loved and fully known by God.
A journey to be fully honest with myself about my flaws and shortcomings and failings—my reality. A journey to wake up to this darkness within me without becoming unraveled.
This week I will continue to explore self-examination and share tips and practices that have led me to greater joy and freedom and a Truth that continues to set me free.