We dismantle ourselves for Satan when we choose to believe his lies. And then we decimate any remaining shred of confidence, dignity and optimism to have miraculously survived our own emotional, mental and spiritual disarmament. How can we combat this common affliction of mankind?
When Pope Benedict XVI became the Vicar of Christ, how overwhelming – how daunting! – it must have been to succeed the people’s beloved Pope John Paul II! Who could hope to fill the shadow, much less the shoes, of so mighty a spiritual leviathan? We all too often tend to measure ourselves against the seemingly unattainable benchmark of our predecessors – but rather than try to measure up, why not, as the self-effacing, stoic bulwark of faith, Pope Benedict XVI did, carve out a new path and make our own unique mark on the world through faith and grace?
We are, after all, utterly inimitable of one another. Every soul is unique unto itself. The world does not need carbon copies of great leaders, great men, but fresh interpretations of tried, tested and proven graces – every person’s individual interpretation and translation of the workings, love and magnificence of Christ in their witness to others throws ever wider the net that draws new souls to the greatest fisher of men to have ever entered into our uniquely human history.
That which appeals to one teetering believer may be the crucial turning point towards making an earnest and sincere commitment to Christ in the heart of another believer. Diversity is the gift of a loving Father to His seeking children, which is why His gifts of evangelism, charism, and witness are as varied as the delicate crystalline structures of snowflakes – that for every unique soul searching for meaning and purpose in life they might find in the bandwidth of just one Christian witness that perfect harmonic of frequency that resonates truth within their heart of hearts with the conquering persuasiveness of St Paul.
It is important to pause here to consider the origin of inadequacy. Simply, in a word: comparison. We dwell in a world that pits us against one another. There is always someone else more successful, more beautiful, more influential, more charismatic, more popular, more intelligent, more propitious. This is the glass-half-empty approach and we can never hope to measure up because there will always be someone seemingly so much more than ourselves on every level. But it is an illusion. We see in others only that which we perceive to be lacking in ourselves, but it we look a little closer they are all traits and properties of material and external quality – either material gain or outward appearance. Who among us ever says ‘I am lacking because I am not as kind as him, or as generous as her, or as forgiving as him, or as pious as her’? Why do we not crave the qualities in which we are truly wanting?
Because they are not visible and do not invite the accolades and the praise that their more overt but less substantial competitors draw. Everyone wants to be admired, envied, respected, emulated. It is the highest form of praise. But it is illusory. Shallow qualities only attract superficial glory from insincere individuals who similarly value artifice and deception. When you are no longer the shiny new bauble because someone or something else glitters more brilliantly in the distance, the exodus of your formerly adoring following is so rapid it creates as tangible a vacuum without as within.
Michelangelo was severely censured for many of his paintings by the early Church because nudity featured so confrontingly and prevalently. His rejoinder to this was essentially: is the shoe more beautiful than the foot created by God which it encloses? Is the skin in which He clothed us less glorious than the raiment draped across it? He was attempting to address the fundamental and indisputable beauty and perfection of that which is made by the hand of God, not that which swathes it, however beautifully crafted. There is a fine but incontestable demarcation discerning creation from craftsmanship, with one delineating true beauty from visible beauty. God creates. Man crafts. Craftsmanship can neither eclipse nor compete with creation. No complexity or intricacy of weave in silken garment, neither purity of gold nor flawlessness of diamond, no enormity or magnificence of dwelling – nothing devised of human hands - can augment or diminish the splendor and the majesty of that which is created by God, of which there are two distinct yet indivisible elements. The body (our ‘temple’) and the spirit.
And yet we chose to glorify that which is without instead of that which lies within. We value beauty above kindness, popularity over morality, wealth over charity and power over humility. And we do this because we want to be valued – but for all the wrong reasons and for all the wrong traits. We wish not only for people to long to be like us and near us but for them to go to extreme lengths to model us, cast themselves in our image, imitate us. Because this is visible proof of approval, admiration, acceptance. Visible, yes. Overwhelming, certainly. Lasting – sadly no. Outward appeal has an expiration date. It remains ever unstated. It simply perishes when the next, more appealing, more engaging, more fascinating attraction captivate the collective imagination of the masses.
And what are we left with? Only ourselves. Our hollow, barren, empty selves. We compare our outer selves with others’ outer selves, disregarding the inner self entirely. We spend so much time garnishing and decorating our bodies, our lives, our image, in order to measure up to the bodies, lives and images of others that we neglect the things of the spirit – those things that truly nourish, fortify and sustain us. And yet it is this very state of emptiness when we arrive at the enth degree of spiritual infertility and desolation, when we are but a brittle shell of inhospitable bleakness and sterility, that we are ready to be filled with the magisterium of the Holy Spirit.
If we think of ourselves as a desert – stark, lifeless and cruel – and the Holy Spirit as the oasis to which we can retreat, rehydrate and find repose for the parched, scorched wasteland of our soul, we begin to under the eternal reliability of God’s live-giving waters. Rain, however, is like the accolades and acclaim of people – uncontrollable, unpredictable and often given to great gulfs of drought. The spectacular flowers, succulents, and thriving palms that burgeon in the wake of such downpours can be likened to the clothes, jewels and persona in which we attire ourselves; beautiful to the eye to behold but merely the raiment of that which cannot be seen - the life within. And when the rains recede, the brief flash of fleeting life it produces withers and perishes. The desert is our body. The soul-hydrating oasis is the Holy Spirit. We may dress ourselves in the beguilingly beautiful trappings of success, popularity, power and material wealth when the rains are plentiful – but they are neither perpetual nor dependable. They are as shifting as desert sands. But oases endure long after the rains have passed and the foliage that draws moisture from the waters edge endures.
This foliage embodies true character, for faith, love, charity, compassion, mercy, generosity, kindness and humanity are lasting because they draw sustenance from living waters and remain close to the source of their true nourishment. These are the rooted plants – the robust tubers stout rhizomes of true character anchored deep in the earth of the Word, unseen, unobtrusive, inconspicuous. Our clothes and jewels, wealth and influence, popularity and image are the flowers that spring forth from the temporary rains – radiating glamour, dripping appeal, but highly unstable and ultimately perishable. Our character is like root deeply plunged into the bank of the oasis – durable, substantial, vital. It is unseen but its nourishment benefits the entire plant.
And yet does one plant in the desert compare itself to another? Does a Sturt’s Desert Pea compare itself to a Kangaroo Paw? Does the majestic date palm compare itself to the cactus? Does the whispy Spinifex compare itself to a meaty succulent? Each plant, even amongst its own species is unique and unrepeatable, incomparable, exceptional. Because God makes no two things alike; therefore, how can we possibly compare ourselves to one another, measure ourselves against a benchmark disproportionate and dissimilar to ourselves in every way? It’s like comparing oranges and apples, as the saying goes.
If we are to secure true and lasting happiness, we must first desist in comparing ourselves to others’ achievements, situations and successes, disrobe of the superficialities of external trappings – they will only attract those for whom superficiality is of appeal – and embrace, nurture and nourish that which truly bestows beauty to the perfection of the body fashioned by the hand of God. This beauty is found only in those inner qualities of empathy, understanding, tenderness and benevolence that radiate outward from within, giving body and substance to the shell of our lives. A gold, bejeweled but empty chalice is less than useless to the man dying of thirst. It would be better for him to be handed a plain wooden cup filled with life sustaining water, so that he might life to glorify and praise the wooden vessel while he casts the golden chalice into the fire where it collapses and melts in the heat of the furnace.
When we value and nurture the qualities that comprised the very character of Christ – mercy, love, compassion, kindness, charity, forgiveness, hope – we draw to us not only those who possess similar Christ-like qualities and those dissatisfied and discontent with the deception and seduction of a spurious, fraudulent existence, but we stop comparing ourselves to others. We are then better able to purposely model our inner selves and our outer lives on Jesus’ perfect example and begin to make our true mark upon the world. Not the duplication of a predecessor’s triumphs, not the empty mimicry of another’s pioneering innovation, not the impersonation of another’s charisma and magnetism. These things merely make us imposters and, worse, grossly wasteful of our own golden, unrealized potential.
The enormity of the liberty we seize when we refrain from and otherwise refuse to suffer the stings and barbs of inadequacy and no longer compare ourselves to other is like experiencing sunlight for the first time, tasting water for the first time, breathing air for the first time. We transcend the insecurities and self doubt that result from our ever critical eye of self-appraisal always being turned inward and ascend to a new spiritual confidence when that gaze is cast out ahead and around us to take in the wonder of everything created and perfected by our Father in Heaven. Self-directed denigration, preoccupation with all the things we are not, and obsession with what others think of us and how we measure up to them by comparison are precious moments lost that can never be regained, moments that could better have been spent nurturing – even exceeding! - the self our Father in Heaven intended for us to be.
Start each day with the following affirmations: I am here for a reason. I am beloved of Jesus – I was worth dying for. There is no one in existence, in all of history, nor any future to come, who was, is or ever will be like me. I am made in God’s image, the Holy Spirit lives in my temple. I am blessed. The mysteries and the miracles of Jesus are alive in me. The glory of the Lord is made known through me.
Embrace each day with a single testimony: Lord, I offer up all that I do, every word that I speak, my every thought, through your Son, Jesus. May You be glorified through me and praised in every corner of the earth. Guide me in my journey this day, that I might faithfully live out your wondrous plan for me. May the Holy Spirit, who has begun a good work in me, see it faithfully to its conclusion. Amen.
You will feel the shackles of inadequacy corrode and fall away.
You will feel the surge of the Holy Spirit stirring deep within, like an underground spring brimming with living waters.
The barren desert of inadequacy will give ground to the oasis of abundant life in Jesus our King!
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