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Looking Myself Straight in the Eye and Being Honest Is Harder Than I Thought

August 2, 2009

I’ve been having a rough go of it lately when it comes to how I view myself. Anyone who reads this blog has perhaps seen through my thinly veiled musings about self-esteem and the battle I’ve been fighting lately. The spaces inside my head and my heart are battered and bruised with the sharp punches I’ve been dealing myself and I have reached the point of exhaustion with it.

Now I know that everyone has times when they are feeling a little blue or insecure — it’s natural. However, I loathe dealing with it so much that if it begins happening to me, I instantly ignore it and refuse to actually work it out. I just keep going so I don’t have to stop and stare myself in the eyes. I avoid mirrors and silence, and instead, fill myself to the brim with every distraction I can grab.

However, now that I am officially living alone, it’s a lot harder to avoid myself. In fact, I am my only constant company and in a studio, I wear out pacing and cleaning a lot faster. (I can clean the entirety of my apartment in about 20 minutes. I could probably somersault from one end of it to the other in about 15 seconds. Needless to say, it feels even smaller when I am surrounded by personal demons, who seem to take up an awful lot of room.) When it’s dark and quiet, and I am staring at the ceiling fan, trying to fall asleep, my inner voice is really, really loud — like screeching-at-the-top-of-its-lungs loud. And there is nothing to drown it out.

The other night, I picked up my Message translation of the Bible, hoping that somehow, God’s voice would be louder than mine and I can concentrate on something easier, like peace or justice or loving other people or righteousness. Anything sounded better than admitting to and dealing with the fact that I was having self-esteem problems. Only weak, sad people have those — the kinds of people who watch Dr. Phil and read “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. I am not one of those people. So I sought refuge in the Scriptures, foolishly forgetting that they are not as much of a shield against problems, but rather a mirror for them.

I turned to Romans and came across this verse in chapter 15 — “It’s resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection.” It would be easy enough to pass this off as only the physical resurrection of Christ, but I knew that Paul’s nuance was a little different — I knew that in following Christ, we must pursue resurrection in all things — in creation, in love, in relationships, even those tricky ones with ourselves. I kept paging through the New Testament, hoping to find some better refuge, with tighter locks and better security. I came to 1 John, which explodes in exultation about love. I figured this was a perfect hiding place — the idea of “love” is broad enough that if I hide here, no one can find me. Well, as usual, God slipped through my defenses quietly and gently turned my head, removing the bandages I had wrapped so tightly around my eyes.

“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the only way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God!” -1 John, ch.3 (The Message Translation)

Umm, hey, God.
[uncomfortable silence]
Wasn’t expecting You to find me…errr, see You, here.
So, uh, what’s up?
Self-criticism? Accusing? Condemning? Me? Nah. This is just…a phase. I’m cool.
Seriously, no need to worry. I’m already “bold and free,” right? I’m all set.
[more pointed silence]
…right?

I felt that center-of-your-stomach-twisting kind of conviction, and I knew that a painful recovery was up ahead. I knew that I would have to face these poisonous little demons face to face and deal with every single one by name if I would have any hope of healing. But I’d put it off for one more day.

The next day, I settled into a cozy chair at Madcap Coffee with an iced Americano and my copy of Engaging God’s World, which I had been intending to start for a week. I began reading and found myself quickly tiring out my pen with underlining passage after passage. I felt like something in me had re-awoken and was fighting to get to the surface where it could break through whatever I’d been holding it under. I knew whatever it was, it wanted nothing more than to remind me of who I was.

Then I read this:

“For the sinful self is not my real self, it is not the self You have wanted for me, only the self I have wanted for myself.¬† And I no longer want this false self. But now, Father, I come to You in Your own Son’s self…and it is He who presents me to You.” – Thomas Merton

It was at that moment that the shade sprung up, the light clicked on, the sawdust from the plank in my eye began trickling out. The weak self — the one that criticizes and tears apart and sucks in my stomach and fights back the tears and envies¬† the success of other writers — that is not my real self. It is the self that I thought I deserved because I’m not perfect yet. I haven’t tried hard enough to eat entirely healthy or read enough books or been asked out on enough dates or found the right hairstyle or written a bestseller or garnered enough attention yet. And until I’m there, this critical, mean-spirited self is all I deserve.

But that false self died a Cross 2,000 years ago. That self was soaked in the blood of a Savior who cloaked me in His love so that when I looked in the mirror, I could see His face in mine. That self that thrives on manic control and expectations needs to be placed on an altar day after day, sacrificed so that my true self can emerge from the smoke. That self has no place in a soul that is brimming with the Holy Spirit.

I am peeling away each false self, like Eustace and his dragon skins in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Jesus leads me into the pool and tears away each layer of falsehood and lies, knowing that I have to experience the pain in order to heal.

I would open my arms to your prayers, if you’re reading this and pray. I am searching out faithfulness to this true self, to healing for the wounds that I have ignored and covered up for so long, for love that I have been denying myself for as long as I can remember. I am beginning this conversation with myself and my God in whom I find my ultimate self. Pray for the courage to dialogue, to listen, to read, to seek, to cry, to ask, to be silent, and to heal.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2009 6:27 pm

    Dear Caroline,

    I don’t think anyone is immune from self-esteem issues, so it’s not a matter of “do you have them?” but “where are they?”

    I am happy that you know where to start in this search for your true self (that you have already begun), and am keeping you prayer. :)

  2. Caroline permalink*
    August 3, 2009 9:52 pm

    @ Sabrina!

    I think that’s a good point — not “if” but “where.” (And it helps — it’s pretty easy to get lost within oneself, especially when feeling pouty. I need to remember I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE.)

    Thank you for your prayers — they are truly appreciated!

  3. Tom permalink
    August 7, 2009 8:15 pm

    Thank You.

    “Resurrection, Resurrection, Resurrection” – St. Paul

    But, always preceded by a death.

    I fear it to much. Death I mean. Not so much physical death, but the death that is required. “Sacrafice and offering you do not want, but ears open to obediance You gave me. Holucausts and sin-offering You do not require; so I said (Here I Am)” – Psalm 40. It’s the presenting my-self (Here I Am) to Jesus so Jesus can present me to the Father; that true-self. That CONFUSES me. Obedience I have learned means -to listen- I’m a lousy listener. Its the doubt that I have in myself that muffles his voice, the doubt I am able to hide so well from everyone; maybe not so much anymore. I can come across so confident! And there are times I actually belive myself!
    Oh—-who am I? I know it. Do I believe it.
    Psalm 40 “I waited, waited for the Lord who bent down and heard my cry”. I come to him everyday now and I waite. I ask him for three most important things to me; patience, gentleness and most important, obedience – to listen.
    We’re not the only ones. Your obviuosly very talented. I hope you share your talent, (your knowing) not only here, but with other people who need desperately your wisdom.
    God Bless

  4. Tom permalink
    August 7, 2009 8:59 pm

    Caroline:

    Previously I had jumped to your sight looking up some things about T. Merton. I read the this blog and (it made me answer) before I had looked through the rest of your site. My last comments were a bit presumptuous. You do obviously share; a lot.

  5. Caroline permalink*
    August 9, 2009 6:05 pm

    @ Tom!

    I appreciate your comments and your willingness to be honest and share. There are moments where all I need to hear is that — “We are not the only ones.”

    I pray for patience, gentleness, and obedience for you (and for all of us weak-hearted, who struggle with the death that we need every day). Thank you for stopping by and reading what I have shared, and for commenting.

    Grace and peace,
    Caroline

  6. Louise N permalink
    January 17, 2010 3:06 pm

    Hi, I am from sweden and I don’t know how I ended up here, but I just wanted to say that I am currently struggling with my own demons, well, actually it feels like i’ve been struggling for a VERY long time now…and it sure is exhausting…

    Anyway I wanted to say that your words are very encouraging and I wish I could think the same way!

    So keep it up! :)

    Love from Sweden

  7. Caroline permalink*
    January 18, 2010 1:31 pm

    @ Louise!

    Hello from Michigan! Thank you for (accidentally) stumbling onto my blog and engaging with the story that I’m living.

    I know so well the exhaustion you speak of — it’s numbing, hollowing, draining. It takes everything out of you and, at times, it seems unfair that you have to keep going on with living and finding the energy to pour into everything going on around you when you feel so empty. I am so glad that my words could bless you and encourage you. I pray for transformation for you and the realization that you are incredibly, wholly Loved — sometimes, things take awhile to sink in for different people. I know it’s been a long journey that continues for me.

    Thank you again for reading all the way from Sweden!

    Grace and peace,
    Caroline

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