Your Online Cup of Tea
Last time we dealt with knowing our identity. This involved understanding that our identity is the image of God, which consists both of being and become. Our nature and our person. We don’t make up an identity for ourselves, rather as creatures we are given one by our Creator. A nature, made after His own image, created in order that we may know and be like Him. This default relation and state is our primary identity. The uniqueness comes in how we express that as individuals. But that expression must come from a place of knowing that our identity is secure, invaluable and intrinsic to ourselves. That the expression of that identity meets its fullness in the context of being united to Christ, who is the archetype of this divine image.
So when we talking about “finding ourselves” or “finding our identity” what we are really talking about removing the hindrances which prevent expressing what we already possess. As opposed to finding something that we are trying to grasp. We are not like a person looking for the perfect outfit to put on, but seeds that need nourishment in order to naturally become what we are by nature. These thoughts came to me in the context always defining myself by the validation of others. This neediness poisons relationships by giving others a false image of yourself. Since all you do is to change or conform to what you think they like and want. It shows little value of yourself, since you find nothing good about you worth keeping or developing. And it puts the weight of finding your fulfilment and security in others, a weight made only for your Creator to bear. A good and healthy relationship with others is about two persons meeting. In order for that to happen both need to be themselves. This will only happen once you know firstly who you are and then live accordingly.
The first half of this two part series dealt with knowing our identity. The second part will be about how to live accordingly. There are a lot of things that one could say on this particular aspect. What I’m sharing comes from the insights I received whilst pondering about these self-same issues in prayer.
1) See the image of God
It’s all well and good saying that we need to grow into the fullness of the image of God. But what exactly does that image and growth look like? It can feel like telling someone who has never seen a dog to draw one. The image of God covers a wide variety of things. It is after all the fullness of God’s glory, which we are continually being changed into. On this side of eternity however, much of that will primarily consist of our character. Which scripture calls the “Fruit” of the Spirit. Notice the organic nature of our transformation? Fruit don’t just happen in an instance, but take time. They start off as seeds and then grow ripe. This is not something you’ll be able to force. Rather for you it will mean continually communing with and being guided by the Holy Spirit. It is about working on the soil of your heart and being open to God, so that He may transform you. It is God’s love which transforms us. As the psalmist says “thy gentleness has made me great.” This love will only work in us if it is a two way thing. How we partake of God’s love is through prayer, the sacraments, meditating on the word and loving others. A life characterised by worship. Each of these elements will be two ways. In prayer we communion with God, but God also communions with us. In the sacrament of the Eucharist we offer up worship to God but He also offers life giving Body and Blood to us. We also don’t just receive love from God, but we manifest that we love Him by being obedient to Him, primarily in how we demonstrate His love to others. The greatest commandment. Then when we fail we come and receive forgiveness and cleansing by the sacrament of confession. Where Christ in the priest, comes to meet us where on our level.
The more all of this becomes a part of our lives, the more the fruit of the Spirit in us grows. The Holy Spirit continually cleanses our hearts, and our spiritual eyes are opened. This is how we “see God.” By communing with Him, and the more we do that, the more we see His glory and know what it means to live in a God glorifying way. It’s also in this context of openness that naturally, the hindrances to our growth are removed and we just *become* ourselves.
2) Love the image of God in You
Once we realise our identity in Christ and learn to love the image of God in ourselves, we will be in a better position to love others. To be in a good healthy relationship with anyone requires that two persons meet. If you are secure in your identity and realise that you have value, it lessens the need to change in order to receive validation from someone else. It means you put your true self forward, because you see it as worth being known. It also means you can be vulnerable and open about the aspects that areas in which you feel insecure. Since your value is *ultimately* not rooted on rejection or acceptance of others. The one who does not view themselves as possessing any value will not see anything in themselves to love. And will not be able to accept that others can truly love them. They are like a bucket with holes constantly needing to feed off of another in order to remain full. But nothing will ever be enough. Which means they’ll drain those around you. This is not truly loving them. This isn’t truly valuing the person for who they are, but rather you treat them as means to mask your insecurity. They are not valuable to you per se, just how they make you feel. In a sense they’re dispensable since you only need the feeling, and anyone at all who can give it. It’s like someone only liking you for your money. If they had money they wouldn’t care about you. All their kind words and gestures, are just means to an end, as opposed expressions of delight in your person. So too the needy person thinks they are being loving and considerate of the other persons, when really everything they do is in order to get constant reaffirmation, security and validation from the other.
Jesus said “Love others as you love yourself.” On the one hand, everyone loves themselves in that everyone seeks their own happiness. This isn’t wrong, all things move in order to fulfil the ends prescribed by their nature. Those ends are the goods for which they exist. The final causes towards which they all move. So we are to seek and live for the happiness of others as we do ourselves. However in another sense we loving oneself can be taken to mean more than just seeking ones own happiness. But an appreciation for ourselves too. If we don’t have that then we won’t be able to appreciate *others*, rather we’ll try and make up for our lack by appreciating only what they can *give us* to mask it. As shown by the examples above.
However knowing this, and living accordingly is another thing. I was trying to think about how I could apply those principles consistently throughout my daily interactions. It’s true that the more I walk with the Lord, the more being authentic and secure will become second nature. But virtue, like driving, requires practice. It starts off by conscious efforts and decisions, which at the beginning are often painful and loaded with mistakes. Then the more we learn, the less we need to think as we just *do* what comes naturally. As I reflected being myself, I wondered how can I act consistently with who I am, according to the image of God? That is, if I’m not living and defining myself by others and their validation, and God’s concern with me is less about the particular decisions but rather that they’re holy, what will then determine what particular choices I make? How do I choose how I’ll live? The same way God does. God does what He does because it’s what He likes. His joy does not depend on the validation of others in His choices, but in knowing His choices are good and delighting in their goodness. Jesus didn’t care what people thought about Him. He didn’t care that people would talk behind his back for eating with “sinners.” He knew that it was a good thing, and He enjoyed doing it. So if people have a problem, the issue is not with them, but with Him. God created a myriad of wonders in space and under sea, which happen all the time without our knowledge. Yet it makes it no less glorious, nor does it diminish His delight in them. If God had not created anything at all, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be complete in themselves and no more or less eternally blessed.
This I believe is the paradigm and framework of how we are to live. As St. Augustine said, “love God and do what you want.” We ask ourselves “why are we doing such and such? Is it because I appreciate it for what it is or is it a means to get something from someone?” So am I doing piano lessons because I enjoy the piano, or because I enjoy the status playing it well will give me? Do I want this person to like me because I need to be liked, or is it because I actually value their companionship? Am I buying these gifts for my girlfriend in hopes that it’ll make her love me more? Or because I’m pleased in her and want to show her that?” These are the questions which can help highlight whether we are acting from a place of security and being ourselves or a lack of identity and trying to use things as a means to an end. The example in my life I come back to is being on a retreat or sharing a house with others. At times when I felt insecure, I would forgo a good book that I really wanted to read in order to be in the next room with everyone laughing and talking. Not because I don’t normally sit with them. Not because I’m trying not to be antisocial. Or not even because I want to be there at that particular time. But from the insecurity of being left out or forgotten if I’m not in sight. That I’m of so little importance and value that if I don’t show my face, no one remembers and no one cares. So I’d be there absent minded, thinking of the book, but hey at least I’m not left out right? Or even there were times when I wanted to both read and to be with others as well. But the idea of missing out on *any* social interaction, was too much. In case I “lose my place”.
Acting out of fear, and not love for yourself and others is one key way of knowing you’re not being yourself. Since that’s not the image of God, and it’s not even consistent with your true expression of that image. You deny what you actually want out of fear. I tell myself that between a problem and an ideal, there’s me. I’m not perfect. I can’t be a perfect version of some static image in my head, nor can I be that of anyone else’s. Plus this ideal differs from person to person anyway. The only thing I can be, is who God has designed me to be by His grace. And that means, so long as I’m not being disrespectful or unloving so someone else, that they may not like me is not really my concern. When you cross out unloving and disrespect, the only sources of conflict you’re left with are mistakes and simple differences in preferences. Everyone makes the former, you learn from them and move on. As for the latter, either you learn to live with the difference or you respectfully move on. But feeling constantly feeling because others don’t like you for those two things is really not helpful. Especially if they stop you from being yourself. It is only at the end of the Age, when Christ returns that we will all see the image of God clearly and living accordingly. At that time each of the unique and individual manifestations of the divine glory will be both diverse and harmonious.
But right now, even when we express it we don’t do it perfectly. And even if we did, not everyone would appreciate it since they have not yet been perfected. It is only later on that we will be able to have perfect openness and vulnerability with each other without fear. Since each one of us will be perfectly complete in God’s love for us, and will perfectly love others, and so no one will have any need to hide. As there will be nothing to hide and no one to hide it from. Until then, let’s continue to live in God’s love for us, and delight in that image which He is working out in us, and doing so love others and help them work out their salvation as they grow in love as well. It’s only in this kind of mutual self-giving that any real relationship can form. But before we can give ourselves, we must love ourselves, and before we can love ourselves, we know see ourselves as having value, in order to see ourselves having value, we must know ourselves as we are, and when we know ourselves as being made in God’s image and loved by Him, we find a true anchor for our souls, from which self-giving and love can flourish.