Thursday, July 21, 2011

Overcoming Self-rejection

Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen suggested that the biggest obstacle in our spiritual lives was self-rejection.

"Success, popularity and power," he wrote, "can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of a much larger temptation to self-rejection."

Most of us have had our share of negative criticism, rejection, and perhaps even abandonment. These experiences are like voices in our minds, echoing the message that we are pitiful, worthless or unlovable.

Franciscan friar Emmet Murphy remembers a time when his life was a mess, when he felt abandoned by God, that no one loved him. In the midst of that depression he received a letter from his Aunt Anna --three pages of family news about who was in college, who was expecting, who was fighting with whom.

At the end of the letter his aunt wrote a PS. It said, "Remember --you are loved!"

Those words, he recalled, jumped off the page. As he studied those words he heard God say to him, "Wake up, Emmet! Believe! Accept the gift! Embrace yourself."

It's hard to say what prompted Aunt Anna's postscript, but it had a profound effect. In the light of that PS, Emmet escaped his depression and set himself on the road to recovery.

Jesus' parable of the lost sheep can have the same effect on anyone who chooses to hear it and accept its message.

"What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of these goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hill and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray!" (Cf. Matthew 18:12-13).

Jesus did not teach catechism questions and answers. His favorite mode of teaching was the parable. He told stories which invited his audience to enter into the scenario and discover a truth for themselves.

Jesus preferred to have his hearers reach inside themselves and come to a "aha moment" of discovery. If "Amen" had not become our customary way of expressing faith, I think we could just as easily have chosen "Eureka!"

In his book Abba's Child, Brennan Manning offers several quotations which are pertinent and encouraging for anyone who doubts his own self-worth, especially vis-a-vis God.

He recalls Thomas Merton's advice, "Surrender your poverty and acknowledge your nothingness to the Lord. Whether you understand it or not, God loves you..."
Fourteenth century mystic Julian of Norwich said, "Our courteous Lord does not want his servants to despair because they fall often and grievously; for our falling does not hinder him in loving us."

And returning to Nouwen, we read, "Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us 'Beloved.' Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence."

God's love for us is real and enduring. He is the hound from heaven who dogs our steps. He is the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to go in search of the lost one.

Emmet found the consolation and the courage to accept himself when he read and reflected on his aunt's postscript.

It is most helpful for us when we read and reflect on Jesus' PS: "It is the will of your heavenly Father that not one of these little ones be lost" (cf. Mt. 18:14).

Read his message and respond "Amen" (or "Eureka!")

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