What does it mean to know and experience my own “nothingness”?

It is not enough to turn away in disgust from my illusions and faults and mistakes, to separate myself from them as if they were not, and as if I were someone other than myself. This kind of self-annihilation is only a worse illusion, it is a pretended humility which, by saying “I am nothing” I mean in effect “I wish I were not what I am.” 38

Self-hatred is a potential pitfall never far from the exalted vision Christian faith holds of what it means to be fully human.

I see that I was designed to embody,

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and inner strength. (Galatians 5:22,23)

As soon as I grasp the magnitude of this vision, I am assaulted by my failure to live fully these beautiful values. I fall short of love. I am often impatient and ungenerous. I fail at faithfulness.   I am not gentle; I frequently lose connection with that deep inner strength that is my true self.

I want to change. “I wish I were not what I am.”

But God does not “turn away in disgust from my illusions and faults and mistakes.” Jesus did not die for me because I am a perfect person. Jesus died for me in the midst of the mess and conflict that is my life.

Paul says,

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

How can I reject the person God has chosen to embrace?

God’s grace does not wait for me to fix my life. God does not hold back love until I am good enough. It is at the very point of my failure that God’s love is born, because God’s love becomes most real where I am most unlovable.

Later Merton will write,

The more we are content with our own poverty, the closer we are to God, for then we accept our poverty in peace, expecting nothing from ourselves and everything from God. 52

What parts of my life am I tempted to “turn away in disgust from”?

What happens when I refuse to turn away and instead choose to see that God has embraced all the broken bits of my fragmented being?

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