Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Ms. Ego aka the Inner Critic Strikes Again

The past few days I've been wrestling with the ideas of success and failure, coupled with a dose of envy and dollop of jealousy. At the same time I've been working on a bible study in which I am telling people how God will bring consolation, answer prayer and generally be a loving father.

Since I'm not feeling much consolation, seeing many answered prayers nor feeling the touch of a loving father, this whole thing is adding to my sense of failure. Here I am telling people that God will do things that I'm not experiencing. It's not wonder I'm having a bit of writers' block.

Ms. Ego, whom I introduced yesterday, is quick to pounce. "Just look at you," she taunts as she points an accusing finger. "Telling people how great God is and how God does all these wonderful things and you don't believe a word that you are writing. Talk about a failure," she adds as she flips her hair (Ms. Ego has long, flowing hair that shimmers like a waterfall in the sunlight) and flounces around the room. (She flounces with vigor.)

I sit in a  blue funk silence in front of her. Her accusations always contain a seed of truth at their heart. That's what makes her such an effective prosecutor of my self-esteem. She knows the soft, secret places where to twist the knife.

"So what do you have to say now?" she asks, her hands on her hips and a sneer on her lips.

"You've got a point," I mumble.

"Of course I do.  I always have a point," she chides.

"Do you think you could leave me alone for a little while?" I ask. "I need to think through some things."

She shrugs before saying like Arnold, "I'll be back."

Why am I always so much harder on myself than anyone else? Why do I have such a difficult time seeing what I've done right and such an easy time seeing all the things I've done wrong? Why am I so prone to criticize myself? And why does it sometimes feel like I'm like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, running as fast as I can to stay in the same place?

Because I've been running here before.  As I wrote in Facing Adversity with Grace:

When I was growing up, I believed that God loved suffering. I erroneously assumed that God thought suffering was the best gift in the world and he wanted everyone to suffer as much as possible, as often as possible. I’m not quite sure where I got that idea, but I do know that the sisters in my grade school were very fond of telling stories about the incredible suffering of the saints, always making sure we got the underlying point that we should be emulating them if we wanted to go to heaven. The reasoning seems to have gone something like this:  God loves his only son, Jesus. God wanted Jesus to suffer and die. God was very happy when Jesus suffered and died. Ergo, since God also loves us, God wants us to suffer as well. When we suffer, God is happy, so God must love suffering.
Since I was a very earnest and pious child, I did my utmost to fulfill what I believed was this obligatory path to holiness. I performed many acts of penance in my quest to suffer to gain the love of God. For instance, the Lent when I was about eight, I gave up all my recesses and lunch hours to pray the rosary in church, even though I hated praying the rosary then and still do now. (Before you are too shocked, St. Thérèse of Lisieux wasn’t very fond of the rosary either, saying that she found it rather boring and sleep-inducing.) Over the years, I denied myself many legitimate and even worthwhile activities, thinking that somehow my suffering was making God love me more. I looked for ways to make myself miserable, believing that there was a direct correlation between my unhappiness and God’s approval and love. I even took Rose of Lima as my confirmation patron because I was fascinated by the fact that she destroyed her beauty in the name of holiness. (Looking back, I was a bit of a morbid child!)
That pattern continued well into my adult life. If I had the choice between doing something that brought me pleasure or something that created pain, I’d almost always choose the pain, earnestly believing that God always prefers agony over joy. After all, the image of Jesus dying on the cross hangs in every church, not Jesus having a glass of wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana. When I didn’t choose the more painful path, I’d make up for it with additional suffering later on, even if it was just mentally berating myself for the failure of my flesh to have suffered in the first place.

Needless to say, my choices were not always the healthiest mentally, emotionally or spiritually and I visited numerous counselors for depression and anxiety. Worst of all, my quest to suffer never made me feel more loved by God, but rather made me feel like I was too worthless to be loved. So I would try a little harder to suffer my way to God’s love, becoming trapped in an endless and increasing cycle of pain, all in the pursuit of holiness.
Now the real question is how to stop this vicious cycle once and for all.

To, perhaps experience what St. Faustina did:
 Once when I was being crushed by these dreadful sufferings, I went into the chapel and said from the bottom of my soul, "Do what You will with me, O Jesus; I will adore You in everything. May Your will be done in me, O my Lord and my God, and I will praise Your infinite mercy." Through this act of submission, these terrible torments left me. Suddenly I saw Jesus, who said to me, I am always in your heart. An inconceivable joy entered my soul, and a great love of God set my heart aflame. 

                                                   Lord, make it so.

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