Girl Talk: The detestable self
We are all familiar with the recommendation of wearing clean underpants just in case we get hit by a bus. But what if our very beings are soiled?
Have you ever said something out loud so utterly revolting that you have cringed at your own words? Or indulged in an interior monologue you are grateful no one else heard because it would have spoiled your reputation well and good. Or have you found yourself in a mood so abhorrent that it might be best to lock yourself in a room so as not to infect those around you?
I have experienced all of the above within a single week.
Last week, merry in the thought that I would soon be seeing my husband after a period of being apart, I sent a deplorable text message to a friend who had just lost her job. It was something along the lines of, "That's way harsh, but don't worry, God's got your back." Big thumbs down. As if, in the aftermath of losing your employment, you want to hear something as flip as that. Sensing my faux pas, a total lack of empathy, I immediately texted her back.
"I am so sorry - I didn't even think to ask how you are doing!". And then we had a dialogue.
Oftentimes, we react or act without checking in with our Better Selves, leaving our lesser selves – The Detestable Self – to run ruin over our relationships or daily social interactions. For those who try to abide in their conscience, according to whatever moral parameters you have chosen, this giving into The Detestable Self can lead to unnecessary feelings of guilt and shame, or, worse, strained friendships, frazzled family or strangers who hope not to see you again.
I imagine that as you mature as an individual, whether on a spiritual journey or in pursuit of some other wholeness or happiness, adopting those attributes that are more commensurate with good living and good-being become, as they say, second nature. But it's very easy, when you are some way along the track and feel you've earned your stars and stripes, to let arrogance or thoughtlessness creep in at the expense of compassion for your fellow human travellers.
Genuine righteousness, or goodness, is hard-won and takes a daily commitment to shrugging off The Detestable Self in favour of Christ-like status. I have often lamented in my Christian journey that I liked myself better when I was at an all-time low, because it meant that I believed no one to be better than myself and was more inclined to lean on God for direction. The continuation of this walk of humility, of attributing anything good that happens in my life to God and the out-working of Christ's teachings, is a practised exercise.
My Detestable Self is quite a piece of work – critical, impatient, jealous, busy-busy, fussy-fussy, hoity-toity, know-it-all, yet self-doubting and insecure and needy – and I am quite happy to kill her right off, despite knowing that parts of her may linger on and acknowledging that she will pop up now and again to trip me up given the chance. The God-inspired self, I don't mind saying, is a much more pleasant being – she wants to be everyone's friend.
God requires an acknowledgement of The Detestable Self as a stepping stone into the Christian faith, which identifies all men and women as falling short of the glory of God. Hence, the need for salvation through Jesus. While some of us will endure prolonged periods of clinging to the cross out of sheer desperation – please, Jesus, save me from this pit I'm in! – others find walking in the light easier because those Godly attributes – humility, mercy, kindness, compassion, self-control – seem to be sewn into their personalities. Good for them!
While this human excellence can be cultivated through making the right choices, which leads to learned behavioural patterns commensurate with our consciences, we cannot blame ourselves, nor finger-point at each other, if something goes askew in our lives which leads us to adopt certain behaviours as coping mechanisms – there are plenty available for us to seek out and try, and God knows Adam and Eve found the Tree of Knowledge overwhelmingly tempting. In fact, the world sells us a myriad ways to cover over The Detestable Self without dealing with the root of the problem: we are all prone to sin.
I used to get quite titchy about Christian women who smelt like roses and acted as if life were a symphony of exquisite music when I was feeling terrible, depressed and self-pitying, as if things are going to go right in your life if you are sabotaging or using unwisely the very good things God has given you (loved ones, work, your body, money etc). I do believe we need wholesome, God-fearing or otherwise well-rounded and grounded role models in our communities, but if you are enduring a tough time, the last thing you want to be measured against is someone who's doing life better than you.
The three women who come to mind when I think of strong Christian role models have all endured hardships. Breast cancer, marital issues, a disabled son. These women have chosen to believe that God's will for their lives is right, and have made wise choices that have led to peace and prosperity by living according to the teachings of the Gospel. It's not brain science, but does require a certain amount of re-wiring and dedication, particularly if you are inclined to believe that Your Way is the best way, not God's (like meeeeeee!).
This daily walking in Jesus' shoes is littered with clues provided for by the dictations of the Gospel, the linchpin being love, which leads us down the right path. What is love? "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7)
It's easy for love to walk out the door when The Detestable Self threatens to take over the show in all its selfish showiness. In this instance, it's best to nip whatever emotions or thoughts are giving rise to The Detestable Self in the bud by acknowledging your feelings, admitting defeat and repenting. This is not about lumbering yourself with unreasonable expectations or striving to be perfect. God requires honesty as much as we are inclined to find people who are honest agreeable. A natural out-working of your love for God should be wanting to please Him, and therefore act in love.
A sound bellweather for operating in The Better Self is an overall lightness and sense of rightness of being. After settling your accounts with God, and your neighbours too, choosing your Better Self daily will become as natural as popping on a fresh pair of undies each morning. And it's good insurance if a bus (metaphorically speaking) chances to cross your path.
Girl With a Satchel