The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” My dark side says I am no good…I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence. Henri Nouwen
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Have you ever considered that self-rejection is beneath your continuing struggle with porn or binge eating, codependency or depression? Henri Nouwen thinks so. Sure, he agrees that we battle with idols and addictions. He agrees that reputation and success and work become gods. But he suggests that our bigger problem is that we’ve lost our sense of dignity, our bestowed identity as image-bearers created in and for love. We listen to the voices of self-rejection rather than God’s voice, calling us the beloved.
Now, Christians often become frustrated by the self-esteem movement. Reformed Christians, in particular, remind us that the problem is not self-esteem but a failure to see our selves as depraved, selfish to the core. Now, I wouldn’t argue with that. I have kids, after all. But, Nouwen gets at a bigger issue. He’s interested in who we were made to be, not how we’ve fallen. He’s focused on original glory, not original sin.
And I thinks it’s important to listen in. I sit with people who have been Christians for years, yet still struggle to see themselves as God’s beloved. They know a lot about faith, but know little of intimacy with God. It’s a continuing struggle for me, too, as I find myself continually plagued by voices of self-rejection, whispering to me that I’m a failure, a phony, and certainly not someone a good God would love. Perhaps, you’ve wrestled with those same voices within. Perhaps, you wrestle with self-rejection.
Self-rejection wades in shame, guilt, and self-pity. Self-rejection holds anger tightly, as a way of protecting against further rejection by others. Self-rejection manifests in a false self, imposter versions of ourselves which protect us and others from our real selves. Self-rejection manifests in addictions that kill our very souls. Compulsive eating and drinking, performance-driven workaholism, and sex addiction feed on a basic hatred of self.
I often think that Calvinists, more than most others, struggle with becoming the beloved. Sure, there is good, old Catholic guilt that keeps our Catholic brothers and sisters from enjoying God’s delight in them. And there is performance-oriented and pietistic Protestantism that attempts to appease God through moralistic willpower. Calvinists, more than any others, believe in God’s extraordinary grace. But, our forefathers focused on juridicial language, more often than not. They focused on our legal stance before God, and sometimes missed our relational connection to God.
We’re adopted. We’re no longer orphans. We’re not rejects. We’re loved. Were chosen.
And we’re the beloved. We’re the bride. God sees us, all of us, and doesn’t stop loving and pursuing.
If Nouwen is right, the way out of addiction and idolatry is in experiencing intimacy with God. It’s in becoming the beloved. Isn’t this the point of the great parable of the prodigal son? It wasn’t his counterfeit repentance that won his father over. Rather, the father pursued, humiliating himself to come close, to restore relationship, to bestow dignity and sonship, to embrace his beloved boy.
Do you experience a disconnect with God? Is it difficult, at times, to believe…really believe and know…that you are his beloved? Do you have moments where you run back to old forms of self-satisfaction, saying, “Screw this…I need to take care of myself, meet my own needs, satisfy myself”?
I do too. So, maybe it’s time for us to be a bit more kind to ourselves. After all, Jesus would. In fact, he believes so much in who you really are, at your core, as his unique image, that he’d die for your glory. Can you embrace that? Can you believe that you’re loved that much?
Let’s end with a quote from Thomas Merton: