In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Saint Paul reminds us that we, even though like broken earthen vessels, hold a wonderful mystery and treasure of the Lord. However, there are so many of us who have spent a lot of effort running away or denying that we are broken. There are so many of us who cannot stand accepting ourselves as imperfect and broken. Many of us, myself including, have spent much time trying to pretend, hide, or make things look perfect on the outside as to hide the hurts, pains, sufferings, or chaos that are within us. Many of us want to have things perfect and in control, as to feel like our lives are in order, yet denying and forgetting that we are broken. Yet, the greatest healing and liberation come when we are able to love ourselves in our own brokenness and embrace our imperfections without the need to hide or transfer our self-created righteousness, justification, or excuses to others.
It might sound oxymoronic but it is very extremely hard for many people to truly love and be able to love themselves the way they are. Why? We have oftentimes allowed ourselves to buy into the lies of this world, telling us what we have to be or what we have to do in order to be accepted, successful, and appreciated or we have permitted past hurts, pains, or sufferings to define and make us think of ourselves in certain ways. As a spiritual director and parish priest, I often deal with many people who think that they have to do more of something in order for God to love them or that they think that He cannot love them because they are not worthy of His love. Many people often live in the two extreme polarities of low self-worth or not knowing who they are so they spend a lot of time trying to be someone else except who they truly are. It does not seem like a typical problem, but all of us, in one stage or another of life, struggled with our identity, trying to understand and know who we are. We, in one stage or another of our lives, had tried so hard to be someone that we think would be likable, stand out, or attract attention, someone that we would like to be or emulate, or simply someone else than our very self because we hate ourselves and who we are.
While our society is telling us that we have the power to define ourselves, our sexual attraction and gender, or our identity as we think ourselves to be, it never solves the problem that is much more deeply rooted than a social or psychological issue. I am not even going to try to analyze the validity of the different claims and their presuppositions that one somehow knows who he or she is without human errors and with perfect self-knowledge. While many behavioral scientists, sociologists, and psychologists accept and push for greater understanding of underlying and complex psychosomatic issues behind each person, when it comes to self-identity there seems to be no real problem or consideration of how one identifies or feels has potential psychological issues, problems, or discrepancies. Social conventions and psychological presumptions are based on one having a clear and immaculate understanding of who one is, yet ignoring family of origin issues and past matters that could affect the person’s understanding of his or herself. Nevertheless, as Christians, our identity is not simply a human nor natural issue, it is also an ontological and soteriological one. Who we are as human beings have to be understood from our very self’s understanding and relationship with the One who created us. This is not just a sociological or psychological matter, it is the matter of the heart, of who we are deep from within, especially who we are in relation to the One who creates us out of love and for love. Who we are is much more than what society says or who we think we are! We are not simply products of past and present, rigid or fluid, outdated or non-binary social conventions or limitations, popular opinions, gender identity or sexual orientation. We are who we are when we are able to understand, embrace, and love ourselves in the light of His love for us.
Our world wants to deny the reality of original sin and its consequences. It does not believe that our human nature has been injured, intellect darkened, freedom affected, and especially when we have a desire to sin or seek lesser goods that are worldly or self-centered in nature. If people believe that there is nothing wrong, then everyone can believe that he or she is always right, especially the personal and psychological choice of how one wants to be or identify himself or herself. Yet, we cannot deny that we all have some types of baggage and presuppositions that were created by our past and family of origin issues. We are not completely perfect or without past baggage that often hurts, distorts, confuses, or locks us up in our own fears or despair.
Therefore, it is important that we are genuine to ourselves and to others, not trying to have things be perfect to hide the imperfections within us. We do not have to pretend to have everything in order to hide the chaos inside. We do not have to be in control or put up a false perfectionism to ignore the pains, hurts, sufferings, and struggles that we are going through. This is very important and crucial in our self-understanding! We cannot be who we truly are if we are not able to embrace who we are in all of our interior, personal, or intimate cracks and brokenness. We have to allow ourselves to stand in front of God and to love ourselves as we are. This is extremely hard (as I have said before)! Yet, this is what it truly means to love ourselves and allowing ourselves to be loved by Him. It is love that makes us willing to be vulnerable and it is love that motivates us to help us grow and become what He wants to break, (re)form, and (re)create in us.
Our journey of faith often consists of four general but distinctive periods: (1) from when we were formed by our family and society, (2) the decision to break away or become what we would like for ourselves, (3) the encounter with God and allowing ourselves to be reformed by Him as we are truly called to be, (4) and allowing ourselves to live in this new-founded liberation, intimate, and personal knowledge and relationship. In many of these periods, there are always growing pains, sufferings, and struggles tie to them because it is never easy to figure out what is going on and what we think we need to be. Yet, the most crucial and important hinge of life is to figure out who we are in the light of our loving relationship with the Creator who formed us out of love for love. The hardest part has always been rejecting and letting go of what is not of God in order to mature and grow in the wisdom He has desired and meant for us.
At the end of the day, we can only accept who we are in all of our blessings and limitations, gifts and struggles, treasures as well as broken hurts and pains. Yet, the most beautiful mystery that defines and interweaves everything that we have is that God loves us and wills our good. Even though there are so many “experts” trying to sell us an ideology, a self-made system, some revolutionary methods, none of them have really taught us how to seek and attain wisdom. Everyone is so worried about making a name for themselves, getting attention, be successful, self-made, powerful, or influential, no one has really spent enough time to help us become wiser, especially to attain the everlasting, never-changing, perennial wisdom that is beyond manmade standards and comes the Most High. Our life of faith invites us to seek, discover, love, and become the people that God wants us to be, created in His image and likeness, formed out of love and for love, meant for higher, transcendental goods that are beyond this world. Therefore, no matter where we are or what is currently going on in our lives right now, I would like each and every one of us to enter into a personal, intimate, trusting, and loving relationship with God as to understand, know and embrace who we truly are in all of our brokenness and imperfections.
When we are able to be who we are, with everything that we have, we will able to bear all things and use everything as testimony and witness of His wondrous and loving works in us. We are not ashamed to let people see our imperfections. We do not have to pretend or put on a show, nor do we have to let people think that everything is perfect and fine, in order to be and live as people of faith. In our imperfections and brokenness, when united with the love of God, give testimony that His grace is at work in us so that people around us can see that He is living in us and His light is shining through our cracks. When we know who we are, we become people who preach Jesus Christ and not ourselves so that our hearts shine forth the everlasting and transformative love of God, that His life can be manifested in our very human nature. This is a real, personal, and intimate faith for we have believed and spoken from our very experience of His love for us.
I will leave you with Saint Paul‘s words for your own personal reflection:
For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus. For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ. But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we too believe and therefore speak, knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence.” (2 Corinthians 4:5:14)