Insecurity and Self-Acceptance

Latin mass was interesting this morning, for the tone of the bulletin seemed to contradict the tone of the homily.

The bulletin had passages like these:

Don’t be so sure that you know who is and who isn’t, who will and won’t be joining you in the kingdom of God.  Don’t be smug in your assumption that you’re going to be on the inside; you might be mistaken.

We must keep striving through the narrow way that leads to heaven.  We cannot merely assume that because we have the Lord in our midst on a regular basis we can be lazy, thinking that our earthly lives are merely a “waiting room” until we enter the reign of God. 

How are others transformed when they see how you have accepted and grown from your sufferings?

When I read these passages—which are based on Luke 13:23-30—I feel insecure.  Entering the kingdom of God looks like an arduous task, as if I need to give up things that I enjoy and consciously do good deeds in order to get in.  I feel as if I’m not all right, and I wonder if I am or ever shall be good enough.  I may have given to the poor months ago, but I haven’t lately, since I can’t afford it.  Have I disqualified myself from the kingdom of God?  I may have reached out to others lately because I feel personally and inter-personally integrated and am in a fairly good mood, but what will happen when I feel isolated, alienated, bitter, and timid about reaching out to others?  Will I then be outside of God’s graces? 

I have enough difficulty being responsible for myself, but then this bulletin tells me that I’m also responsible for the transformation of others!  The bulletin asks if others are transformed when they see how I’ve accepted and grown from my sufferings.  Look, there are times when I have accepted my sufferings, and there are times when I have not.  It depends on my mood.  There are areas in which I’ve grown, and there are areas in which I’ve not grown.  How do I know that I’ve not grown?  Because I still complain about the same stuff that I’ve complained about for many years!

There are people who remark that I appear to be calm and collected during times of crisis.  And I guess that, good Christian boy scout that I am, I should attribute that to the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, right before asking them to accept Jesus into their hearts so that they, too, can experience inner peace.  Then I’d be a good witness and get brownie points from God and the Christian community!  But it would be a false advertisement, for, while I may appear to be calm on the outside (due perhaps to my Asperger’s, which makes me appear emotionless), inside, I may be full of nervous fear!  

Then there are times, when, on the inside, I may feel at peace, but, on the outside, I appear to be angry (since there are people with Asperger’s who look angrier than they really are, or so I’ve read).  In that case, I may have arrived at a state of peace—through prayer, or watching a good show, or reading, or attending a meeting, or whatever.  But I’m not transforming others because they may be getting a different impression of me, an impression that isn’t entirely accurate.  That’s why I hate the idea that I must be a walking advertisement for Jesus Christ, someone who brings transformation into the lives of others.  Others can so easily misread or misunderstand me.

I think that the bulletin is trying to promote in readers an attitude of humility: we shouldn’t smugly look down on others, while assuming that we have everything together in our own lives.  Paul in Romans 11 exhorts the Gentiles not to get cocky just because they are now part of God’s people, whereas many Jews have been broken off due to unbelief.  Paul warns that the Gentiles, too, can be broken off, if they do not continue in God’s kindness.  But why must we be insecure about our standing before God to feel humble?  Can’t we feel humbled by the idea that God loves all of us, whatever our flaws?  Couldn’t that improve how we view and treat other people?

The homily was more about God’s grace, and how we should be thankful for it.  I appreciated the reading of Galatians 3:17, which states that the law cannot make the promises of none effect.  I’m not a Galatians scholar, but what that text says to me is that our poor performance of the law cannot nullify God’s grace.  I’m far from perfect.  I do good things and I do bad things.  But God’s love for me does not depend on my performance, for God’s love just is.

I wonder if self-acceptance is somehow linked with one’s relationship with God.  I’ve been reading Steven Greenberg’s Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition.  Greenberg is an orthodox Jew and a homosexual, and his book is an attempt to justify homosexuality halakhically (or so is my impression thus far).  Greenberg states that homosexuals feel more comfortable with God once they accept their homosexuality as the way God hard-wired them.  When they reject themselves, they have a hard time praying.  But when they accept themselves, they can open themselves up to God.

Many evangelicals have said that the opposite is the case: that sin makes us feel guilty, as if we can’t look God in the eye.  If my memory is correct, one of the authors of Every Man’s Battle said that: that when he was promiscuous, he did not feel comfortable with God.  A Bible study leader once told me of homosexuals he met who found prayer to be difficult.  “Why should prayer be difficult?  It’s talking to God!”, he said.  His answer was that the homosexuals’ sin (homosexuality) is hindering their relationship with God—creating a situation in which they can’t look God in the eye.

But do I believe that our sins shouldn’t matter?  I have a hard time accepting that sort of idea.  People can swap wives in churches without even blinking, and then comfort themselves with the notion that God loves them unconditionally?  I have a problem with that.

Then there’s something that Russell Miller said in his post, The Fall and Salvation:

And if we are living in the moment, in the now, there is no way that we should feel any guilt or shame for how we are. Because we are as we are, no more, and no less. And it is only by surrendering to that, that we can go forward.  It is the ultimate paradox that only by fully accepting our “carnal” nature that we can move out of it.

For Russell, self-acceptance does not imply “anything goes” in the area of morality.  Rather, it’s a path for us to become moral people.

I’m not sure what exactly I’m reaching for in this post.  Do I want God to love me as me, not in spite of me?  Partly.  Do I want to have a relationship with God while maintaining a healthy self-esteem?  Yes, and yet I realize that I have great flaws, something even pro-self-esteem people (i.e., therapists) could point out to me. 

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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