On Doing the Work

One of my sons started this thing almost as soon as he learned to talk. When we put him to bed, just before we closed the door, he’d yell out to us, “I love you more than you love me.” What he wanted from us was an argument. He was asking for us to reaffirm our love for him. I don’t know where he picked this up; it’s not something we’ve ever done with any of our other kids, but somehow it spilled out of his psyche.

And I totally get it.

I was talking to some friends a couple of weeks ago, telling them how in my worst moments, I am looking for approval from other people – signposts to know that I’m loved/accepted/desired. And one of my friends said to me, “Where is God in your self doubt? Isn’t being loved/accepted/desired by God enough for you? You’re a pastor for goodness sake! Get yourself together, man!” (Okay, I made up the last two sentences. That wasn’t actually what was said, just what I thought to myself.) Ouch.

I choked it down, but in a word, no. Not really. In those darker moments, it’s not enough for me to be loved by an immaterial, Spirit being. I need real-life words, touches, affirmations. At least I need those things unless I actively work at it. I know, based on my personality type, I need a good support structure, but when I do the work, I need it a little less; I find myself a little less needy, a little more self-assured.

Don’t feel sorry for me. We all have our internal struggles. The more I study the Enneagram and the more I talk to people, the more I’ve come to understand that even the people who project “I’ve got it all together,” really don’t. (And in fact, the more they project that image, the more unhealthy they probably are.)

Your struggle might be like mine – believing that you’re loved. But your struggle might be believing in yourself, or lack of self-confidence, or apathy, or self-loathing, or not caring. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is what you’re doing about it.

For me, I literally have to sit on the floor in silence and concentrate on love. I have to keep coming back to the place in my mind where I am wrapped in God’s love for me. I think I’ve said before, either here or in a teaching, that my perception of God has always been “perpetually disappointed with me.” And no matter how much I fill my head with knowledge about God’s love, I have to practice the experience of being loved by God to change anything inside of me.

And often, I get away from my practice. I get away from my silence and solitude, contemplative prayer, meditation, whatever you want to call it. But, one of the most helpful things I’ve learned in the past year or so is that it’s not about accomplishing something but returning to the practice that matters.  I won’t ever be able to quit doing the work; I will always have to return to my practice, and maybe that is the accomplishment.

So, here’s the question: What is the work you need to do? What’s your practice? What is going to help you overcome whatever your struggle is? Do you know? Maybe you need help finding your practice, maybe you need to talk with a spiritual friend, maybe talking with a spiritual friend IS the practice.

Whatever it is, do the work.

(He says, mostly to himself.)

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