From Jeremiah 46: 13-26: we hear a prophecy about the failing of the Egyptian army when faced against the Babylonians the line, “Give Pharoh, king of Egypt, the name ‘Braggart who missed his chance.’ “ (Jer 46:17) is especially interesting and what I will reflect on today.
I began to ponder ego, the meaning of the word and it’s purpose in our lives. To start with, I went to the dictionary, and found that ‘ego’ is a word which in modern usage means ‘one’s self-conciousness, self-worth, or self-importance.’ Typically we hear the word within other words, like ‘egotistic’ ‘egomaniac’ or ‘egocentric.’ These are words that describe a person who is self-absorbed and motivated by the pursuit of bloating their own self-importance by convincing others of how amazing they are by any means necessary. There are many extreme cases, but I think that this results from one’s search for the meaning of life, and for some people, this is the conclusion that they reach “I want to be loved, and having people fawn over me is the love that I seek.” We all want to be loved, so we are effected by how other people see us, react to our talents, and can fall into a sort of act, putting on a mask in order to appear better, holier or stronger than we actually are, in an attempt (subconcious or not) to convince people that we are lovable, we can even look past the fact that a relationship with anyone is superficial or shallow despite our desire for more than admiration of our skills. There is another side to this coin as well, we can undervalue our talents and gifts if we are afraid of people making fun, or we can be paralyzed by a fear of not being good enough to be loved, especially if there is no one who approaches us, or goes out of their way to show us our value as a human being. It is possible to look at ourselves as a victim in this case, an unapproachable social outcast, giving into a lie wispered in the shadow of our heart, “If someone really cared about me they’d go out of their way to be with me, like they do with (So and so).”
These are tough mentalities to break out of, because they are born of a broken self-esteem, -a misunderstanding of one’s lovability- and we develop coping mechanisms to deal with our brokenness. In a sort of fight or flight response, you fight your perceived unlovability by becoming the Lone Wolf, able to conquer anything the world throws your way, you can’t trust anyone but yourself, because everyone else has abandoned you, you’ve had to learn to look after yourself and your needs. Or by running away, putting on a mask of a better version of yourself, convincing people that this mask is the real you, and trying to convince yourself as well. There is a third response to fear as well, outside of the fight-or-flight response, it is freezing, you choke on your fears and are unable to do anything, these people shut down and isolate themselves, perhaps finding an addiction of some sort to numb the pain of their perceived unlovability: video games, pornography, Netflix or Youtube or other streaming services, (many other examples exist) there are many tools for this type of person to use to distract attention away from their fear, but it always lingers, taunting in a way.
I tell you that we need to break out of these self-destructive habits, because: 1. It is my firm belief that no one really enjoys being the Lone Wolf, because of our desire to be loved by someone else; 2. Wearing masks and living a lie is an awful way to live, and if you’ve found it to be satisfactory, then you’ve only succeeded in deceiving yourself of being alright, when you know deep down that you aren’t happy; and 3. shutting down only serves to cut you off from feeling anything, the good or the bad, and that isn’t going to help you to be loved by other people.
“What can we do?” “What hope do we have of breaking these habits?” “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” These are questions and statements that you might say to yourself in response to reading this post. “There is always hope for the future,” “you just have to believe in yourself,” are answers you might hear from people around you.
All of this is caused by a fear of being unloved and the only way to shatter that fear is to prove that it is false, to denounce that Fictional Experience Accepted as Reality as a lie. I will suggest finding a group of friends, real friends, ones that you can open up to, because part of the way to dispel this fear is to trust, and one of the most honest and effective acts of trust is through the virtue of vulnerability. Vulnerability is ‘the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally’ and this is precisely what the virtue entails, to open yourself up, place your heart on the table, not to everyone, but to your friends and family, and to trust that they will support, welcome and love you through your brokenness, not despite or because of it, but that they will journey with you. It is a ‘Leap of Faith’ to put yourself out there, exposed to potential emotional harm, but without risk in life there can be no reward. Are we going to get hurt by people? Yes, but that cannot stop us from fulfilling our desire to be loved, truly loved by another. But start with one or two people, it seems to be a more realistic goal to learn how to be vulnerable again if we take smaller steps, as if we are entering a cold lake, we get accostomed to the water if we take one step at a time, and the coldness of the lake isn’t as bad. And if this seems all to difficult, remember that Christ is our strength, and that he will be with us every step of the way.
There is a phrase I find myself repeating often, which is tangentially related, I aquired it from a book about a young girl -a wise young girl- called With Empty Hands, by Conrad de Meester, and is the name of the second chapter in the book. This girl is honoured as a saint and a doctor in the Catholic Church, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The phrase is one of the keys to understanding her teaching, at face value it is a cry of despair, “I cannot do it on my own…” but it is actually a exclamation of relief and hope, because she realizes what is to be done in response to her inability to acheive holiness. Her response is to run to God, and boldy tell her loving and doting Father, the King of the Universe, that he must make the difference between her incredible littleness, and his expansive infiniteness. “Jesus I can’t, You must!” This is one of the key components of the Little Way, and it can be found within the heart of the Bible as well, in Proverbs 26:16 “The just man falls seven times and rises again.” Hope and Trust in the saving and healing power of Jesus Christ, is what allows us to live in this manner, to never give up, never surrender to fear. Because if we believe that the Lord will always pick us up when we fall and will always come to our aid, even when it seems like he has abandoned us, then we will never stop our pursuit of that thing we all desire: Love, who is the person of Jesus and not just a fleeting feeling floating frivolously through our minds and hearts. It is with him that we can find someone who we can absolutly be vulnerable with and trust to never hurt us, so we should seek him out whenever we are feeling unloved, or unappreciated.