The Frivolous Road Trip
There is something so incredibly compelling about the road trip. Not a road trip based in utility, I’ve done my fair share of those moving with the Navy. No, I’m talking about the frivolous road trip, where you load up the car with snacks and playlists, and hit the road.
One of my dear friends from high school took one of these road trips across the west coast. And, in full disclosure, there was much scoffing about the foolish nature of the trip. But, behind the scoffing, I must admit, was a fair amount of jealousy.
I think for how pragmatic our society might be, or at least, how pragmatic I was in face of this friend, we still hold a romanticism towards that road trip. The road trip you take to explore and to discover. To encounter new places. To have the freedom to turn left or right, to pull off the highway to watch the sunset. To have an openness and freedom in an unfamiliar environment. And, in doing so, you learn something new about yourself, you “find yourself.”
And, to be honest, I think that this element more than anything enamors us to the road trip. We search for…for someone. Someone that we might call “my own self.” We quest and we search for who we are, who we could be. Road trips take us out of our own patterns, or own structure in life, and invite us to examine who we are at the core.
“You’re Right There”
Perhaps my skepticism for the road trip comes from my mother. My mother is an incredible woman who taught me so many things, among which was a great sense of practicality. Growing up, my mother always scoffed at the idea of “finding yourself.” Which sounds harsh, but in the end has a great truth to it. “You’re right there,” she would say. And, of course, there was no real way of disputing her. Of course I’m right here.
What grounded this comment from my mother was the fact that she has this firmly rooted identity. She is who she is, and she knows it. At the center of that, the foundation that could not be shaken, was that my mother was a child of God. She never had to travel around the country in a beat-up Mercury Sable to figure that out.
Careful What You Look For
I was not quite like my mother. Up through my sophomore year of college, I had not quite yet “found” myself. I had taken the big trip from Minnesota to Virginia to college, but that sort of adventure hadn’t yet given me the romanticism I had anticipated in “finding” myself.
Instead, I was finding someone that I didn’t really like.
See, in the process of “finding yourself,” we imagine the road trip of movies—cut scenes to good friends, smiles, a great soundtrack. My first couple years of college left me with more than my fair share of broken relationships, tears—the soundtrack would definitely be more morose than upbeat.
Maybe this is true for everyone, but I can definitely attest to the fact that as millennials we’re told to love ourselves, to love our uniqueness, to foster a strong self-esteem. And there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that. But we’re not given a roadmap as to what exactly we should do when we unearth things about ourselves that we don’t like.
I’m beautiful and unique just the way I am…but sometimes I gossip and say really nasty things about “friends” of mine. Sometimes I lie to make myself look more impressive. Sometimes I abuse the love and trust of a boyfriend. I’ve been told to love myself…but how could I ever love someone who makes the mistakes I do?
How can I love myself, how can I have self-esteem, when I “find myself”…and encounter the reality of sin?
The summer after my sophomore year, I traveled to Peru to live with nuns. These vibrant, powerful women taught me lessons about life that I will never forget. However, what they taught me were habits for how to live—habits that I have struggled in articulating to others.
Ven. Fulton Sheen, in his book “Three to Get Married,” has given me an incredible gift by articulating some of the things I learned about self-love in Peru. His philosophy and insight are both so incredibly profound. I’m a third of the way into the book, and already it’s presented me with truths about so many aspects of my life. I wouldn’t recommend this book for everyone, it can be dense and theoretical and leave me wondering: “but what’s the point?”
But I am grateful for these four insights on self-love, which I hope will help others find a path to true self- love:
- On its own, self-love is just ego
“Love of self without love of God is egotism, for if there is no Perfect Love from Whom we came and for Whom we are destined, then the ego becomes the center… If the ego is an absolute, its perfection consists in having whatever will make it happy, and at all costs; this is the essence of egotism, or selfishness” (43).
I’ve always sort of wondered about this. When does self-love just become selfishness? We talk about authentic self-care, but what really is the line between taking a bath with chocolate cake to relax or to just indulge your selfishness? If we pursue self-love just to make us happy, with no other purpose, then this will lead to selfishness.
- What’s more, self-love alone is unfulfilling
“Loving self alone has many disadvantages: it forces us to dwell in quarters that are too cramped and squalid for comfort, it confronts self with a self that in some moments is not only unlovable but even intolerable; and it makes us want to get away from ourselves, because we find we are not very deep. Probing into the depths of our ego to find peace is too often like plunging into a pool without water. After a while, our self-centeredness ends in self-disruption, as we discover we have no center at all” (42).
This was incredibly compelling for me. As I mentioned before, when I embarked on the journey of finding myself, I didn’t really like what I found. When I searched deeper and deeper to find who I was, I kept on finding less and less. Sure, there was goodness too. I wasn’t all bad. But in the end, putting myself in the center didn’t satisfy what I was looking for.
- Self-love requires purpose
“No one can love himself properly unless he knows why he is living” (42).
Bam. I love this. So concise, so powerful, so true. When I was searching for myself, I found all of these pieces—I was extroverted, a good listener, a leader, but I was also stubborn, proud, quick to lose my temper. What good was knowing all of this about myself if I didn’t have a why? A why to be this way, a why to develop my strengths and work out my flaws? To love myself, I needed a why for the way I was.
- We can, and should, love ourselves because God loves us
“Fundamentally, it is because God loves us that we ought to love ourselves. If He sees something worthwhile in us and died to save us, then we have a motive for loving self rightly. As a person feels ennobled when a beautiful and gracious friend loves him, then what shall be the ecstasy of a soul at that moment when it awakes to the shattering truth: God loves me!” (45-46).
The Perfect God, with Perfect Love, saw me, in my fullness. He saw everything I saw in my path of self-discovery. When I saw myself, with my flaws, I struggled to love myself. I could not see myself as worthy of love. But when God saw me in my fullness, He did not hesitate in dying for me. This is the true path to finding myself, to loving myself. To recognize that God loves me, just the way I am. I cannot love myself on my own, but with God, I can love myself in the most true sense.
Sheen, Fulton J. Three to Get Married. Scepter Publishers, 2004.