Our culture is saturated with messages that we, as women, are “not enough.” Everywhere we look, there are billboards or commercials advocating weight loss, looking more “youthful,” or even something as simple as, “being more refreshed,” or having our teeth whitened. Eventually, those subtle, and more often than not, blatantly apparent images begin to toy with our psyche, and the focus shifts from a healthy outlook to one that focuses on our imperfections. The messages begin to take root in our souls, and we find ourselves on a slippery slope of chasing untenable perfection, while offering justification for the focus on outward appearance.
St. Teresa of Avila is credited with saying, “Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.” And, when it comes to chasing the outward perfection, how frequently are we stern with ourselves? One can argue we truly are our greatest critic. When we look in the mirror, it is apparent how quick we are to be stern with ourselves. We give ourselves little compassion when we judge our weight, the size of clothes we can no longer fit into (or, the length we will go to stay the exact same size we were in high school), the crow’s feet developing around our eyes, or the gray hairs lining our head. We are quick to reassure our friends how youthful, how slender, how beautiful they look, while in the next breath, bemoaning (whether verbally or not) our own imperfections.
A long while back, I wrote about loving ourselves as Christ loved us. As He hung on the Cross for our sins, He was loving each and every part of us! He despised the sins we would commit, but when it came to our appearance, He lovingly embraced all the warts, all the bumps, all the bruises, all the moles, and all our seeming imperfections. And, the challenge from that particular article, and the series after that, was to encourage each of us to embrace our imperfections, and the ones in others. What we see as a flaw, Christ sees as radiant beauty.
Taking the sternness with ourselves a further step, too often we, as women, have a tendency to fall into thinking our personality is flawed. We are too meek and too mild, or we are too brash and too bold. We critique how we interact with others, we have a tendency to ruminate on conversations long after they have passed, and we are quick to find fault. Usually, that begins to manifest by putting ourselves down – belittling what may, possibly, be some of the greatest gifts we have been given by our Creator. We begin to shrink back from allowing those gifts to fully develop and grow, too hesitant to see how the gifts will manifest in the society around us. We become too concerned with others’ impressions, and in the words of wise St. John Vianney, we forget that God, the angels, and the saints are our public audience. Or, they should be our public.
This past month, I stumbled on a quote by St. Therese of Lisieux. It reads, “It is enough to humble ourselves, to bear patiently our imperfections. There lies true sanctity for us.” That quote embodies the essence of this particular piece.
Christ loved us as we are today while He hung on the Cross for our sins. He loves us as we are today, while He offers us His companionship on the journey of life. Christ loves us as we are today, while He invites each of us gently into a tender relationship with Him, in which only love is tolerated.
God is love. God created each of us, without reservation, out of love. He invites us into a relationship of love and challenges us to extend that love toward others. Perhaps the greatest challenge, though, is remembering to have love toward ourselves.
When we fall into society’s trap of self-love, we begin to lose sight of the unconditional love God offers to each of us. We begin to forget that we are called to love others unconditionally.
When we are in a healthy romantic relationship with another person, we often want to better ourselves so that we, as a couple, are the best version of “us.”
Yet, how often do we apply that same principle to our relationship with God?
We focus on putting ourselves down, on tackling our physical imperfections, on making our outward appearance look better. Yet, are we truly focusing on the issues of eternity?
Do we recognize the imperfections that we bring to the spiritual table?
The tendency toward greediness;
The tendency toward lust;
The propensity to have pride in ourselves, or the contribution we bring to those around us;
The quickness with which we turn to someone with wrath in our hearts;
The ease with which we enter into envy of neighbors or even family members;
The comfortability of sliding into sloth.
And, when we recognize those, what do we do about them?
Are we quick to run to one of our Sacraments of Healing? Do we humble ourselves and turn to Christ in Confession? Do we accept that we are struggling, and truly focus on ways in which we can be stern with ourselves in order to work on these spiritual imperfections?
Or, do we embrace those spiritual imperfections, and instead focus on the physical, outward imperfections that we try so desperately to change for the sake of the peers around us? Do we become complacent in seeking eternity with God, and allow our interior imperfections to be overshadowed by the exterior flaws so loved by our Creator?
Only perfection can enter Heaven. Yet, contrary to what our society tells us on a daily basis, it’s not physical perfection which will enter Heaven. Instead, it is spiritual perfection.
Those sins that we would rather avoid discussing, facing, or recognizing? Those sins will keep up from God. Yet, as uncomfortable as it may be, when we accept that we are sinners, and we accept the ways in which we sin on a daily basis, we can find motivation for change. We see the true wisdom behind St. Therese of Lisieux’s words, “…humble ourselves, to bear patiently our imperfections…” because when we take account of those spiritual imperfections, we begin to tackle them.
We begin to root them out.
We begin to orient ourselves toward the public that really matters – God, the angels, and the saints.
So, if it’s been a while since you last sat with your spiritual imperfections, I encourage you to join me in sitting with the Ode to Feminine Genius: the Proverbs 31 Catholic Women Introduction, and truly praying through that embedded examination of conscience.
Squirm a little. Humble yourself a little.
Meet Christ confidently in the Confessional. Humble yourself a lot.
And join me in working toward spiritual, rather than physical, perfection.