Today's advent devotional from Henri Nouwen:
"Quite often out of an intimate encounter with God encounters with other human beings become possible...If you are the beloved of God, if you start thinking about other people's lives, you start realizing that they are as beloved as you are. One of the profound experiences of the spiritual life is that when you discover yourself as being the beloved son or daughter of God, you suddenly have new eyes to see the belovedness of other people.
It is very interesting because it is the opposite of what happens in the world when they say you are very special, that means you are not the same as the rest. If you win an award and they say you are different than others, then that award is valuable because not everyone gets that award. The world is saying that you are only the best when not everybody else is the best."
This little passage really struck me today because it so perfectly encapsulates my own struggle with self worth and need for achievement when I was younger (and even now, although to a lesser extent). I had the viewpoint of the world. I lived in the mentality that I was not special, not beloved, and that I had to earn the love and respect of others through my own hard work. I could not see that my belovedness came from being created by God.
One of the interesting results of my own developing self-acceptance is an increased ability to accept and love those around me. I've always been a very critical person, perhaps more on myself than others. While I will likely never be known as the most empathetic, soft-hearted person on the planet, I have a much greater capacity for tolerance, forgiveness, and forbearance than I ever had in my youth. I am more likely to be willing to get to know a person, instead of meeting them with a set of expectations or qualifications. This openness leads to a lot less disappointment, and a lot more joy.
As a response to the reading, Nouwen's advent action for today is to list our blessings, so I share the following list:
Family: Despite losing my mother at a young age, I now have a wonderful mom, the most loving dad in the world, and four fantastic brothers, plus grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who love me.
Home: Because of this wonderful family, I get to live at home with parents who have successfully made the transition to parent of adult child, which means lots of fun, home-cooked meals, no rent payment, and being woken up early in the morning by a 9 year old singing "Mele Kalikimaka."
Church: I knew when God called me to leave my childhood church, it wouldn't be easy but it would be better in the end. Quest has accepted me, loved me, and given me a place to serve and develop my spiritual gifts.
Friends: Not only do I have fantastic lifelong friends (Tenae and I just hit 18 years!) but coming to Quest has multiplied my circle of friends like the loaves and fishies of Gospel times. Every week I look forward to church and dinner following (mmm...honeydew beef...) and between C groups and Life Together I have the busiest social schedule I have ever had in my life.
Work: Despite having given up my misguided college dream of being a teacher, I have somehow found a place in the world of banking. The entire career at Large Unnamed Banking Institution has been one surprise after the other, the most recent being my new position at the brokerage. Who knew I could read the financial section of a newspaper and understand it?
There are so many other great blessings in my life: my perfect blue car, my long list of guy friends who insist on telling me how they have crushes on my girl friends, living in Seattle, the library system that supports my reading/viewing habit, lots of music to listen to and plays to go see, and now friends who like the theatre too! Oh, I could go on, but I will challenge you to make your own list. And remind you that you are beloved of God.