St Etheldreda's

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Homilies from St Etheldreda's

Low self-esteem?

Posted October 6, 2013

Sit or lie in a quiet place on your own (if possible).  Close your eyes, take five deep breaths. Take them in through your nose and then hold your breath for 4 seconds.  Let the first four out with a sigh.  The fifth breath you can let out slowly and very controlled and as you do so, say in your mind,  ‘Relax!’  (This should take a couple of minutes) and as you breathe out, feel the tension floating away with the breath.

Now you are relaxed, put on a smile (even if you don’t feel like it) and repeat to yourself quietly in your mind (until 4 minutes are up): ‘I have done something well. I am a good person. I love myself.’  Try to feel the sentiment as you think it.  –  For the last minute just relax: and before you get started again, take one last deep breath and sigh:  ‘This is a good reward.  I have deserved it.’  Feel free to vary it to suit yourself.  – I hope you have benefited from this short course on self-confidence. If you have benefited, perhaps you know others who could benefit from it as well.  E-mail them right now with a link to the first post in the series.

I found this via Google.  All week I’ve been lying on my back, breathing through my nose and saying:  ‘Relax, I have done something well. This is a good reward.  I am a good person:  I love myself.’  And in between times I’ve been furiously e-mailing the link to everyone I know.  You didn’t get an e-mail from me?  No?  Well, that must be because I didn’t get round to you until I looked up today’s Gospel passage (Luke 17: 5ff.) and found Jesus saying: ‘So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”‘  That’s when I stopped e-mailing.

Jesus seems to be saying:  ‘Lie on your back, breathe through your nose, wipe the smile off your face and repeat to yourself: “I am an unworthy servant.  I don’t deserve a reward.”‘  And no doubt, also: ‘Try to feel the sentiment as you think it.’  ‘Feel free to vary it to suit yourself.’

Was Jesus encouraging a low self-esteem in his disciples?  He might seem to be doing so.  He would certainly want to discourage the narcissism that has come to pervade virtually every aspect of our culture.  On the other hand, Jesus elsewhere leaves us in no doubt that we are to think of ourselves as uniquely precious and loveable, like the lost sheep that God is thrilled to find at last, or that wayward son whose return the father is looking out for every moment of the day.  While it is true that the New Testament urges us to be aware of our sinfulness, its overwhelming message to us is that God has imparted to us the beauty and dignity of Jesus his beloved Son, so that he ‘sees and loves in us what he sees and loves in him’: or, as Pope St Gregory the Great put it: ‘O Christian, recognize your dignity, you who have become a partaker in the divine nature.’

So Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel (‘Say: “We are unworthy servants … we deserve no rewards”‘) are not meant to encourage in us a low self-esteem.  I think they are meant rather to challenge certain wrong attitudes that religious people can sometimes have, which ultimately stem from a wrong understanding of what God is like and how we should relate to him.

I suppose we are all inclined to see God as the one who rewards us: and then to imagine that we have some credit with God, that he owes us something.  As if religion were some kind of transaction.  But God is not like that, even if the Bible does contain elements of that way of thinking.  In fact, we relate to God as children relate to their parents, as spouses relate to each other.  There is nothing transactional about it.  A husband does not think that his wife owes him anything because he is a loving husband, except of course the love that they vowed to each other in the beginning.

In this parable Jesus is trying to get us to look away from ourselves – not to be preoccupied with our own achievements or even our own shortcomings, but to fix our gaze on him, our life at his disposal, not looking for a reward other than his very self.

There is another passage in St Luke’s Gospel which reminds me of today’s Gospel – reminds me of it, not because it is similar to it but because it seems to be saying the opposite.  It is where Jesus says that when the Lord returns and finds his servants on the lookout for his return, he will put on his pinny, sit them at table and come and wait on them.  That is what God is like.  I don’t know why he does that; only that he does it: and nothing else matters.

So the message is: ‘Relax: breathe out slowly.  Tell yourself: “Jesus has done something well.  He is a good person.  I love him.”  (Though feel free to vary it to suit yourself.)’

And as soon as I find a link to that, I’ll be back on the e-mails to you straight away.  Oh, but come to think of it, what better link is there to this surprising goodness of our Lord than the Eucharist that we are about to celebrate?  Here we forget ourselves, and think only of Jesus and his overflowing love, and find in him all our confidence and self-esteem.

Fr Tom Deidun

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