This morning, on the best five minutes of the day with my friend Mark Halvorsen, he began by asking the question, “What is one thing you’re thankful for this year?” He was surprised when I didn’t mention the release of Letters to the Beloved. To be sure, I am grateful to see that project come to fruition, but that isn’t what I said. I told Mark that I was thankful for the difficult inner work I’ve been doing this year. Quite coincidentally, I came across this quote from Richard Rohr in his excellent book, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps:
The more you are attached to any persona (“stage mask” in Greek) whatsoever, bad or good, any chosen and preferred self-image, the more shadow self you will have. So we absolutely need conflicts, relationship difficulties, moral failures, defeats to our grandiosity, even seeming enemies, or we will have no way to ever spot our shadow self. They are our necessary mirrors. Isn’t that sort of a surprise? And even then, we usually catch it out of the corner of our eye—in a graced insight and gifted moment of inner freedom.
As I survey the past year, it has been among the most challenging in my life. Like many others, the 2020 election, the January 6th insurrection, the pandemic, and national unrest have taken their toll. Amid this broad-ranging disintegration, I have continued to work on knowing and loving myself. This inner work involves pulling ideas and beliefs off of the cluttered bookshelves of my mind and carefully examining them for elements of truth. Every person has a unique story with different shaping influences, some healthy and some toxic. I find it uncomfortable to confront my core beliefs and presuppositions, but in my experience, standing confidently in the truth is much more challenging, especially when it leads to conflict and relationship difficulties.
Looking back, there has been a cost to living from my most authentic self as I currently understand it. Some people have criticized. Others have misunderstood. Some relationships have grown cool. Some people have checked out. Others have called me names. Still, others have questioned my beliefs and even my salvation. As a life-long people pleaser, all of these encounters have been challenging, but I’m still standing.
My life looks far different than it did five years or even one year ago, perhaps especially on the outside. My journey has been upsetting for some people. If I am honest, it is often unsettling for me. Still, my journey is my own. One thing that is increasingly true is that my path is not to live to appease others but to become more deeply myself, which involves pressing into my discomfort and standing firm in the truth of who I am. I have been working with two counselors who are helping me to become who I am. I am also attending a 12-step meeting, which has also helped me on this journey to know myself. Let me conclude with the adaptation of the Serenity Prayer that we use in our weekly meetings.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change,
the courage to change the one I can,
and the wisdom to know it’s me.