Yesterday I was sent  an intriguing quote taken from the book Psychology and Religion: West and East by C.G. Jung.

Jung wrote,

…simple things are always the most difficult.

In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life.

That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ – all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ.

But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea the very fiend himself – that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved – what then?

Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed: there is no more talk of love and long-suffering; we say to the brother within us, “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world; we deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves, and had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed.

(C.G. Jung, CW 11, Psychology and Religion: West and East, Chapter V, “Psychotherapy or the Clergy,” § 519-520)

It is important at the outset to be clear that Jung is not excusing Christians from feeding beggars, forgiving insults, or loving enemies. He affirms these are all “undoubtedly great virtues.”

But he goes on to pose a challenging question. What if the darkness I see so easily in others and to which I feel called to offer compassion and grace, in reality dwells just as much within me?

Jung suggests that I am less likely to extend gracious acceptance to my own flawed reality than I am to treat with “love and long-suffering” the brokenness and failure I see in others. I am, Jung argues, quick to “condemn and rage against” that part of my life I view as “despicable”.

Acceptance of oneself is the essence of” the spiritual life.

I may believe that, if I hate those things in myself I find unacceptable, I will be motivated to change. But if I start with judgment, condemnation, and rejection, I will be less inclined to open to the power of love. Openness, surrender, and expansive embrace are the vehicles of change. When I condemn and reject any aspect of my experience, I sentence myself to live out of that hidden shadow side of my life. Transformation starts with acceptance of what is.

When I surrender to the realities of my life, I will not stay in judgment, condemnation, and rejection; I will open to love which is the power that moves me away from death to true life.

Jesus is reported in John’s Gospel to have said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

The thief of self-rejection brings destruction. You cannot get to a life-affirming outcome, in a vehicle marked with death. The power of love embodied in Jesus opens us to the possibility of new life.

When Jesus went on a little later in John’s Gospel to say,

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6),

he was affirming that we only open to God, with the tools that are part of God’s nature. Only love, grace, and surrender have the power to move us into the realm of transformation.