Lately, I have perceived that I do not love myself. While reading, I have recoiled whenever the author talks about self-esteem or self-worth. I do not like the idea of being worthy of love. Something deep inside me reacts negatively to that. Which reminds me of something from a long, long time ago, when I was sixteen. I was dating someone who was an artist, and she painted a picture for me, a picture of an eagle soaring in the sky, with a quote on it:
“People need to see themselves as basic miracles and worthy of love. – Virginia Satir”
That painting was on my wall long after we broke up. It was so meaningful to me. In fact, I used that painting in the very first sermon I preached, while still a teenager. (It was no homiletic masterpiece, but it shows how precious the artwork was to me.) I’m honestly not sure where it is now…in our attic, perhaps? But as meaningful as I say it was, I think its message never truly sunk in. Or maybe it’s a message that I need to hear over and over, over and over, again. Because I do not see myself as a basic miracle. I do not see myself as worthy of love.
I have been reading books about meditation and a book by the Dalai Lama. One common thread I’ve perceived over and over these past few weeks is this: Love is something that we receive, and which we then give away, like breath. You cannot exhale without first inhaling. You cannot inhale without first exhaling. Love is the same. Or call it compassion. Or God’s grace. I believe that I am a conduit of God’s grace. I believe that God has, on occasion, used my hands, my voice, my money, my time, my mind…and done great things with them. But what I cannot believe is that I am “worthy” of any of it. I started picturing it this way:
God’s grace comes into me, and then goes out again. But it does not reach my heart while flowing through me. There is a kind of “shunt” that diverts it around my heart. I am grateful that I can be used by God in this way, but I do not experience the love. I have probably built this shunt myself, because I do not want what I do not deserve.
This morning during meditation, while focusing primarily on my breath, I received another image relating to it.
Breath flows into my lungs, rich with life-giving oxygen. In the lungs, this air is transformed. The oxygen enters the bloodstream through the pulmonary vessels, and is replaced by carbon dioxide, which is a poison, and needs to be exhaled. The process continues…good in, bad out. Good in, bad out. The breath in and the breath out are not the same. Health in, poison out. God’s grace comes into me, but inside me it is transformed into poison…my heart alters it, makes it dark and wrong, and what comes out through my mouth is not what came in. And so, the only way to ensure that God’s love re-enters the world without my poison is to somehow short-circuit the pulmonary exchange, so that what goes out is what comes in. So my lungs inflate and deflate, but they do not perform their life-giving miracle. They are no more than balloons, filling and emptying, filling and emptying.
What I missed in this metaphor is that it’s biologically impossible. A bellows cannot work itself. Lungs cannot do their work without the miraculous transfer. If the oxygen does not enter my bloodstream, the lungs will stop working in minutes. The metaphor falls apart, dies, quite literally. I know it’s not true. I know that I am God’s beloved child, not God’s bellows. Scripture tells me that…my baptism tells me that…friends and family tell me that…my congregation tells me that. Yet I don’t want to believe it. I invent mythical Rube Goldberg devices to replace my internal organs. I believe things I know aren’t true. All because I refuse to see what’s on this painting:
“People need to see themselves as basic miracles and worthy of love.”
I found it, by the way. That’s how there’s a picture of it above, obviously. On the back, it says, “To Myke: Happy Valentine’s Day! Love, Dana 1992” Twenty-five years tomorrow I’ve had this painting. Twenty-five years, and I still don’t believe it. Twenty-five years ago, a young woman I’d been dating for less than a month already saw that it was a message I needed to hear, and it’s a message I still need.
And yet…it’s where I’ve been drawn to put my energy today. It’s where I’ve been drawn to put my journaling and meditative and prayer work right now. And I can see that it’s something I’ve been fighting against for a long time, even though I know it’s true. It’s not the first thing I’ve fought for a long time only to eventually give in. I wonder what it will look like if I really do keep working on it.