When I am in the middle of a conversation with a friend about another person and I hear, “That guy is socially awkward,” I think to myself, “But, I’m weird and socially awkward also.” Over the years, I come to understand that my shyness is the result of inordinate self-preoccupation and worry about the persona I am projecting, especially in social settings that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable. The dialogue in my head resembles something like, “No one would love me if they really got to know me as I am, so I’m just going to keep to myself. Or maybe they would accept me if they thought I was more successful, articulate, talented, charismatic, etc. than I really am.” If I were to go deeper and do some self-psychoanalysis, I would arrive at the struggle with worthiness and belovedness.
I am not unique in wrestling with this struggle. For some, it may stem from being abused from a loved one or someone they trusted. For others, perhaps it was growing up in a household where one or more parent was negligent or did not know how to express love. I look back at my childhood as a blessed time. I played with the neighborhood kids in our front yard, had music lessons, and was never really pressured to get stellar grades as one might hear from children of “tiger parents.” I was never feeling wanting for more love or attention. I know deep in my heart my parents loved my sister and me as best as they knew how. So why do I sometime see myself as unlovable? I think it is because I get hyper-sensitive.
I am naturally sensitive. It is a gift that God has given me. However, I distort it by assigning the inevitable and unavoidable criticisms and setbacks that happen in life to my identity. Making a mistake meant I am stupid. Not being able to play a piece flawlessly affirmed I am untalented. Not having an attraction reciprocated was evidence that I am undesirable. Life turning out not as I planned proved that God does not love me. I fully realize how these thoughts come from a false reality, but they are so deeply ingrained within me. I put these narratives on repeat in my head because they are the tracks I am used to, and confoundingly, comfortable with hearing. But what if God wants to play another song?
I went on a silent retreat and received a grace of a lifetime. The parable of the pearl of great price (Mt. 13:45-46) goes as: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” When I first reflected on this passage many years ago, I saw the pearl as my vocation. I prayed to have the courage of the merchant to be able to seek my vocation whole-heartedly, whether it was religious life, married life, or single life. However during the recent silent retreat and a revisitation of this parable, I was graced to see God as the merchant and myself as the pearl of great price. God, with reckless abandonment and foolishness, gives up his lofty perch in heaven to be here in this fragile world and with our tattered humanity. Why? Because he loves us. Because he loves me. Because he saw me as his pearl of great price and chose to give up everything for me.
My nephews teach me a lot on living life with more love and joy. There is a picture of them mischievously jumping into a pile of leaves my sister had just raked together. What strike me are the expressions on their faces...complete joy and playfulness. Both have their eyes closed lost in the moment. John, the younger brother, has his mouth agape and is in the middle of laughter. James, the older brother, has a serene countenance and a body posture in full receptivity of the delight he is experiencing.
What if I took myself less seriously and treat each encounter as my nephews playfully treat a pile of leaves? Am I able to surrender my focus on my ego and be lost in the play that is happening before me? Life would be less exhausting, and there would be less second-guessing. My natural sensitivity would be more honed to experience the beautiful details of the journey rather than an avenue to a distorted reality. I would learn to be gentler with myself and love myself more. I would be able to flow despite the bumps that happen along the way. God loves me and desires for me to own my belovedness.