There is a love that goes beyond who I am to the point where I can forgive myself
I was sat by a lake last summer. It was one of those incredible English summer days. The breeze was warm and sweet. As I looked into the water I could see my reflection. I looked intently at myself. I took in all my features - the clothes I was wearing, sunglasses on my head, my hair, chin, ears, mouth and nose. I finally settled on my eyes - looking straight into me. A pang of pain shot down my spine as I saw myself. A moment later I splashed the water, distorting my reflection. Why is it so hard to look at yourself sometimes? We can be very hard on ourselves, can’t we? Sometimes we don’t want to see what’s there, either because we are a little scared of what we might find or we already know what’s there and it’s too painful to face up to - to look deep into the water.
I don’t know about you but I am my harshest critic. The father of modern psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud, would possibly call this our ‘super ego’. It functions as the ethical component of our personality and provides the moral standards by which we operate. The 'super ego’s' criticisms, prohibitions, and inhibitions form our conscience. It can be seen as that critical voice in our head saying, “we shouldn’t have said or done that” or “we’re not good enough to do that” or it can stop us from truly accepting praise from another. It has a good function too; it forms our positive aspirations and ideals that represent our idealised self-image.
This brings up a challenge for me. What if our idealised self can’t be seen because we are feeling overshadowed by feelings of brokenness? How can we be ideal when we feel so un-ideal? I wonder if our ‘super-ego’ kicks in when we decide to splash our reflection in the water or stop to look at our natural beauty in the mirror? Can we even bear the thought of seeing ourselves as naturally beautiful? What a painful thought. But maybe, just maybe there is a glint of truth in some of these words. It’s like that for some people (myself included), that brokenness is an area we can’t bare to visit for too long.
Stop a moment. What if brokenness wasn’t this bad, dark, “no-go” area? What if brokenness wasn’t about being broken but about beauty and value and worth? Many people I know who feel broken struggle to accept themselves for who they are. They struggle to see themselves as ideal in their own right or even ‘good enough’. All they see is brokenness and forget that they are indeed loved - warts and all - and lose sight of the fact that they too have the ability to love. I am reminded of a French film, Angel-A, directed by the amazing Luc Besson. It’s a beautiful film that tells the story of an angel helping an inept scam artist called Andre sort out his life. In a particular scene the angel helps the totally broken Andre to love himself. They stare into a mirror together. She talks to his reflection as she reveals to him who she sees, not what he’s done. He can’t see all the beauty and love that’s inside him; he only sees his brokenness. Slowly the guise falls and he starts to see what’s really there. It’s incredibly powerful to watch. Eventually, the man sees what the angel sees. He sees the truth. He sees kindness. He sees beauty. He sees gentleness. Finally the Angel asks him if he sees love. I was in tears at this point.
Sometimes we need help in these rare and vulnerable moments. We need people around us who we trust. Before Andre says those three powerful words, the Angel says this...
Look at your body,
battered by the lack of love and trust.
Don’t you see it deserves a little care?
Don’t reject your wonderful body.
It’s suffered in silence all this time.
Tell your body how important it is,
that it has its place.
Give it what it deserves.
With tears rolling down his face, he ushers the words, “Je t’aime, Andre”. At this point, I paused the film and ran to the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror. Looking hard at myself in the eye. I stared in silence and waited. My ‘super-ego’ was fading a little. On some level I felt immensely close to God. His unconditional love blanketing me like a baby wrapped in swaddling. He was holding me in a deep and intimate moment. After a while, the tears came and I ushered those same three words - ‘I love you’.
It was for me a real landmark in my journey. I believe I embraced some of the pain in my brokenness and it didn’t destroy me. Yes, it was unbearable at the time but I knew I had to go to that dark place and open the windows. It needed airing and the light to flood that space. Following that encounter - I became a lot more aware of how hard I was on myself in everyday life. Now that it's more in my consciousness, it doesn’t have such a hold over me. But more to the point, I choose to not let it have that control and I can be more forgiving and gracious to myself as a result. Some days are harder than others but it makes the journey a little easier.
- What part of me am I particularly critical of and how can I be more graceful towards it?