Many years ago, under the influence of a cherished English Prof, I read Carl Jung’s Memories Dreams Reflections. Most of it went over my head at the time. I certainly was not at a place in my life where I could have begun to assimilate the wisdom of this great teacher.

I was reminded of my early and abortive foray into Jung literature when I was recently sent a Jung quote that struck me with a depth I was completely unable to perceive in my early twenties.

Jung offers a profound vision of a mature human life, writing:

1. The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life.

2. That I feed the hungry, 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.

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

4. As a rule, the Christian’s attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering; we say to the brother within us “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide it from the world; we refuse to admit ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves.

― C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Every part of this passage bears reflection.

1. The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life.

So often I start out wanting to change something. I don’t like this. This is uncomfortable and awkward. I want more of that, or less of something else. I see lack and feel dissatisfaction with what is. I need to be different. I have to do better, try harder, be smarter, measure up to some invisible standard of behaviour. Or, you need to change. You should do better, be easier to live with, cooperate with my plans and schemes for life. Or, the world needs to change. The human community is too broken, too painful, too violent, flawed and unfair. Someone should fix life. Something always needs to be made better.

Jung puts a stick in the whirling wheel of my demand and expectation for improvement. He does not start with the determination that something needs to change. He starts with the “acceptance” of reality just as it is. This is not fatalism, defeat, or resignation. It is simply an acknowledgement of reality. Maturity begins with my willingness to start precisely where I am with life as it is.

This conflicted, confused, chaotic person is the person I am. It is true there have been minor improvements along the way. But, I have not really changed all that much. I remain the same uncertain, insecure, frightened person I have always been. And, any of the small changes that may have occurred in my life have not come from my determination, self-discipline, or self-will. I am not the change agent in life. Christian faith is not a self-help program. Jung is right; spiritual maturity only emerges from self-acceptance, never from resistance, shame, or guilt.

My fear and insecurity are not the problem. My rejection of fear and insecurity are the problem. I do not become more loving if I start with rejection of any part of myself or any other person. The parts of my life where I stumble are a gift. They have the capacity to nurture in me the qualities of compassion, kindness, love, and justice. When I start with self-acceptance, I will live in a deeper more healing encounter with the realities of the world as they are.