Beginning to bePublished 8:19am Wednesday, August 14, 2013
By Rev. Bob Henderson
An important question for us is “Who am I?” because our answer says much about how we see ourselves, how we value ourselves and how we love ourselves and others.
This seems an easy question to answer – at least at first. Think about all the things we can say about ourselves, how we can list many, many things that describe who we are.
For me, a partial list might include husband, father, priest, son, brother, musician, aspiring writer, brown-haired, cook, teacher, lover, fat, middle-aged, reader. All of these things say something about what I am or what I do; but, none say anything about who I am.
It’s easy to get caught up in these descriptions – so caught us that we start believing we are nothing but what we do. Our worth and value become dependent on what we do and how well we do it.
Without our jobs, our children, our school work, our ability to play musical instruments, football, cards, fish, cook; without our ability to do something and do it well if not perfectly, it’s easy to believe we are nothing – at least in our own eyes. We feel like we must earn our worth and by earning that worth, earn the love of others.
That attitude is not all bad. People who build their worth on what they do are usually self-starting, highly motivated, competitive people who accomplish many things in this world. You probably know people like this. Maybe you are one. If so, you know that the cost of this kind of life is high.
When we earn our worth by what we do or accomplish, we find that we must be continually proving our worth by doing more and more, accomplishing and achieving more and more.
Most of the time we find in the process that nothing is ever quite good enough to satisfy us for long; that the doing must always increase. Then, one day, exhausted and unable to do anything else, we start wondering why we feel so empty, so alone, so unsatisfied, so worthless. We wonder if we can ever be loved for who we are rather than for what we do.
How do we go about finding our worth, finding out who we are when we’re not doing something? How do we learn to be rather than do?
It’s not easy, especially when our habit is to judge ourselves by what we do. If we’re honest, we usually find that our “doing” is simply a way to avoid looking at ourselves and who we are. It is easy to mask interior self-examination by being too busy doing to stop and look at who we really are. And, there is the fear that if we do stop and look deeply inside for our worth, we’ll find nothing.
There are many, many ways to learn who we are without our compulsive and constant doing, and to find our worth absent that doing.
One way to begin is to take five uninterrupted minutes each day to sit alone. Take the first minute to let the cares, concerns, problems, plans, all the things you need to do, have to do that day, wash over you without any attempt to control or suppress them.
Then take another minute to begin detaching from them, putting them in your mental “Hold for later” file. Then, strip away how these things describe you. Discard parent, spouse, job … peel away the layers and keep looking for what’s left. Each day, try to go deeper.
Don’t be surprised when it gets scary, when you begin feeling like you are balancing on a tightrope without a net or when you feel alone or worthless, like there’s nothing of you left.
The idea is to get to that place where no description is left; that place of vulnerability; that place where we begin to see in our fear and loneliness perhaps a glimpse of the child and gift of God we are. In God’s eyes and, if we let ourselves believe it, in the eyes of those around us, we have worth, we are valuable, we are lovable, just because we are.
Pray, then, to learn to be.
The Rev. Bob Henderson is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Wetumpka.