“When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.” — Henri Nouwen
I called my former teacher to talk. My confession came quickly: “I don’t think I’ve liked myself much over the years.”
His reply startled me. “Son, I don’t think many people like who they are. At least if they are being honest. That is why Jesus offers to make us new creatures.”
Is this true? I wondered. So many others appear so composed, so at ease in their lives.
Then I thought about friends whom I love dearly, but who don’t always love themselves so much. What of the class president scared witless to ask a girl out? He feels shame at his trepidation. Or the friend who hasn’t yet finished college in the decade since he graduated high school? He loathes his shortcomings. What of those wrestling addiction? They hate their dependence. The overweight guy who makes everyone laugh at his jokes so they won’t laugh at him? Even the girl who is too pretty, and thus a threat to all other girls? She feels alone.
We’re a people ignorant of ourselves, with what we’ve done or endured.
“For I gave you an example, that you should also do as I did to you,” Jesus said (John 13:15). He loved, forgave, emancipated. He gave us these tools that transform us, tools to make us new. Witness his love for Zacchaeus in Luke 19, his emancipation of Peter from the guilt of his betrayal in John 21, or his forgiveness of the adulterous woman in John 8.
Do we forgive ourselves for failures in friendships? For wounding ourselves and others out of uncontrolled desire? For squandering money, time, talent and opportunities? For circumstances and traits beyond our control? We treat ourselves and each other with contempt because of these failings and life fixtures.
Jesus says we’ve been forgiven, though we haven’t begun to see ourselves as forgiven, but as those under our pasts, as people worth less. He’s offering us the chance to see ourselves differently, to see ourselves as he sees us, but we keep returning to the familiar grounds of guilt and self-loathing. Greed, lust, judgement, arrogance, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension and ambition-worship occupy places in us. We don’t like who we are as a result.
Will we follow Jesus into those places? Will we walk with him into those parts of ourselves that won’t change overnight, but will require daily attendance, confession, forgiveness, daily transformation and re-creation? If we’re to love ourselves, and somehow others, we have to do these things. The peace and joy in living wit who we are as we are require following Jesus’ example, self-help gurus all merit some respect, but Jesus alone says he’ll make us new, not just effective. Becoming new contrasts greatly with simply being re-worked and rearranged. Becoming new, a freshness and health and an emergent cleanliness speaks to the soul.
Lamentations 3:22-23 says God’s mercies are new every day. That’s fortunate, because so are our failures. If his mercies are new everyday, we can believe we’re becoming new creations, people we can like, people whose lives respond to mercy and not guilt, to love and not the presence of the past.
Do I like who I am? All of me?
Who or what do I want to be?
How do following the teachings of Jesus make me new?
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