“Who are you at the core?” my therapist asked me years ago. I shrugged and said, “I guess I’m a sinner in desperate need of God’s grace.” That’s what I had heard other people say. Smart people. Scholarly people. Religious people. Even the Apostle Paul said something along those lines. But for me, this was much more than trying to muster a spiritual answer; much more than an acknowledgment of my shortcomings and a posture of surrender. It was a toxic self-view. Each day, I woke up in a mental prison cell where there was always something more for me to do to improve my relationship with God or something that I wasn’t doing. It was an existence that was rooted in incompleteness, performance, and criticism. I’m not saying that this is what I was taught to believe, but there is no doubt about it: my perfectionistic tendencies and my insecurities led me to clinging to a type of treadmill theology, where I was always desperately trying to please God but going nowhere at all. Overall, it was a very unhealthy self-view where I was more in touch with my “fallenness” than the fact that I was deeply loved and accepted, even without doing anything, like a mother's love for her child in her womb. And this self-view affected how I viewed others, as is usually the case.
This was the saddest part of all. I viewed people on the outside of my personal experience and understanding of God as “lost” or “unsaved” (it was a nice ego boost to think that I had all the answers). I viewed people who didn’t believe what I believed or didn’t live the way I tried to live as “living in sin,” even if their way of life was rooted in love and selflessness yet didn’t align with my personal doctrine. Ironically, I felt the burden to convince others to experience the God of the Bible, even though my spiritual experience was miserable as hell.
There is nothing healthy about self-deprecation.
There is nothing healthy about looking down on others. My therapist eventually gave me a book titled Life of the Beloved by a Catholic priest named Henri Nouwen, which would end up sending me on a different path, deeper into my own unchangeable “belovedness” and union with the divine—which I believe are the two most important themes in the Scriptures, both culminating in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thanks to that journey, spirituality for me is no longer about performing; it’s about awakening more and more to what is most true. Spirituality is no longer about converting or conforming others; it’s about waking up with them to the mystery of our own belonging. Interestingly enough, the more I have plunged into the discovery of my inherent belovedness and union—the true self—the more I have been able to see my false self—my blindspots, my insecurities, and my flaws, which I might have called my “sinfulness” years ago. Perfect love always casts out fear. Love always leads to transformation. And just as my previous unhealthy self-view led to an unhealthy view of others, the more my self-view has transformed into something that is rooted in love, union, and wholeness, so has my view o