Watch this for wisdom, from about 37 minutes on. What I write below is a pale reflection.
Two quotes from St Francis have come my way recently:
- You can show your love to others by not wishing that they should be better Christians.
- We must bear patiently not being good . . . and not being thought good.
Yes, they are correct. Those three nots are there.
Read the quotes again, and this time leave out the nots. ‘That’s more like it,’ you say. Those piously corrected versions give us an illusion of superiority that appeals to the ego. ‘After all’, you say, ‘I am not like other people. I am a Christian’.
Now, delve into you heart and mind. Ask yourself why do I think what I think? Why do I do what I do? Why do I react as I react?
When you lift up the stone, you see all sorts of grubs wriggling about that you never knew were there. You see such things as having always to be one-up, having to be ‘right’, always criticizing and finding fault, and so on.
These are addictions. They are just as harmful as booze or fags or drugs—worse, in fact, for they are demons that melt into the surroundings like chameleons. They are vain things that charm me most; they rob us of our personalities.
All of us have them: we can be addicted to power, controlling, wanting to change other people, protecting, pleasing, TV, internet, Facebook, criticizing, moaning. They developed when we were little in response to our circumstances and our experiences. We kid ourselves that we are well-adjusted, and if we are careful never to step outside our comfort zones, never to stray beyond the circled wagons that we have become used to, our illusions are not challenged. But the truth is we are all wounded—because of the things we experienced as we grew up.
And now we are all in recovery. Every single one of us. It’s hard to accept it. It’s as hard for you and me to quit finding fault, or whatever, as it is for others to put down the drink and quit the drugs.
Now, read those quotes of St Francis again. Do you see why the nots are essential?
Each one of us has to face those things in us that we’d prefer to pretend are not there. When we do, we begin to come to terms with who and what we are. This is hard work, but I would go so far as to say that we don’t begin to grow up until we begin it.
If you persevere with honest self-observation, you begin to accept your own addictions when you look them in the face. You begin to understand humility. Your heart softens towards yourself and other people. Do not harden your hearts. You begin to see your weaknesses in others, and others’ in yourself.
This is what people call the “integration of the negative.” It is Jesus’ teaching (Jesus was a mystic). It is Paul’s teaching (Paul was a mystic: see Romans 8), and that of all great spiritual writers. They honour the things that society dismisses, like not winning, not acquiring, not collecting, not imposing.
We can only do our best in the circumstances we find ourselves. We will make mistakes and we will get things wrong. But we will get many more things right and light up the world as only we can. It’s so much easier to love people who acknowledge their inadequacies than people who stand on their dignity and pretend to be perfect. Read The Water of Life by The Brothers Grimm, and you will see why people get stuck on their high horses.
There’s no need for us to be perfect. We do a better job when the soft and vulnerable centre is exposed, rather than the smooth exterior. Like chocolate éclairs: that lovely moment when the goo inside is reached. A lamp inside a vase is no use unless the vase is cracked. Only through your cracks, defects, and wounds, will your true humanity shine out.
Love your faults and frustrations, for they are the making of you. Indeed, there’s a sense in which you need to welcome them and embrace them. Only that way can you love the hell out of yourself.