God takes a generous view towards us
You know that friend you have, the one who is constantly reinventing herself? Every six to eight months, she breathlessly announces that she’s found a new direction, a new purpose, a new passion, and everything is going to be different now.
If she’s religious, she’ll say she’s finally learned to listen to what God wants for her life, and from this day forward, she’s dedicating her life to this new thing that is absolutely where she is supposed to be and what she is supposed to be doing.
That friend is probably wrong. Whether or not she is selling something, she is probably going to fail. How do I know? Because of that word “new”.
“Self-loathing disguises itself as self-knowledge, but it never comes from God”
This isn’t just true for people who are prone to fads. I knew a woman who had an intensely rich interior life. She was very generous, but tended toward being withdrawn and insightful. But with the best intentions in mind, she would frequently announce a whole new approach to life, a radical reinvention of herself. I remember one time when she thought the Lord was calling her to be less negative and to say “yes” to literally everything. Even unreasonable requests from unreasonable people. I guess she thought that she was too closed-off and focused on self, and the way to remedy this was to be radically open.
That didn’t last long, nor should it have.
This is not to say that God never wants us to do something new. He wants this constantly, in fact. It’s terrible how much he wants it, and how radically. But it’s also true that what God wants from us is the development and perfection of what we already have. Or, more properly, he wants what we already are; and if we are looking to please him, that is where we should always start.
Here’s the crazy thing: God will even use the bad things that we already are to bring about good. I guess being without limit allows you to take the broad view, even of human beings.
Sometimes I get thank-you notes from people who enjoyed some heartfelt article I wrote about a topic that is important to me, and which I took great care to write about carefully, clearly, and forcefully. But just as often, I have the humiliating experience of receiving a thank-you note from someone who was helped by some dumbass thing I did or said back when I still used to be a dumbass, which is my whole life.
I get thanks from people who were saved from despair from a mean joke I made; from people who were guided away from temptation and heresy by a stupid essay I wrote making fun of someone. I get thanks from people who ignored the entire point of some important article I laboured over, and instead derived great blessings from some minor throw-away line.
You’ll notice that this isn’t a list of things I achieved because I was making the most out of being who God made me to be. It’s a list of things the Holy Spirit has achieved because I was being who I was, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad; but God is always good, and is always ready to do good.
I think maybe this is what John Paul II was thinking of when he said “stupidity is a gift, too, but one mustn’t misuse it”. Just because the Holy Spirit is willing and able to grow something good from the soil of your stupidity, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to do a little purification. It does mean that your particular brand of soil is what God has given you to work with, though. This is your plot of land to till.
But either way, whether you’re trying to develop the good parts of yourself, or trying to humbly accept that God uses the bad parts of yourself, you are what you have to work with. You are what God has to work with.
It’s a good thing to sort out what is truly you and what has barnacled itself onto you through habit, laziness, trauma, or confusion, and to try to trim that crap away; but it’s always a bad idea to decide that you are meant to be someone else entirely.
The urge to reinvent yourself entirely not only probably won’t work, but it probably doesn’t come from a healthy place. Self-loathing disguises itself as self-knowledge, but it never comes from God. If there is something about you that needs to change (and there is! There is for everybody), do it because you’re worth changing, not because you’re garbage as you are. You’re not garbage.
It’s a simple point, but worth remembering from time to time. Please don’t dismiss this idea because it sounds too much like inspirational lady talk. God made you deliberately, specifically. He not only loves you, but he likes you. The least you could do is to figure out why.