Dear Friend of Saint Francis:
May the Lord give you Peace!
For many of us joy is as elusive as it is yearned for. We long for it as much as we do peace and love but we often can’t seem to find it, grasp it or hold on to it. Too often, it is like a mirage or sand that slips between our fingers. Why is that? The answer is either that we don’t know what joy is truly or that we normally look for it in the wrong places. In last month’s reflection, we examined the question of what is true joy. Now, let’s consider the matter of where it is to be found.
Saint Augustine famously wrote in his autobiographical confessions something that provides guidance for our search. He was writing about God but the passage could just as easily relate to joy. He reflected, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
“You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
In fact, not only do we normally look for joy in the wrong places, we run from the right places. Why is that? Against all logic, the place where true joy is to be found is also the place of our deepest woundedness. And all of our instincts, intelligence and strength mobilize to avoid the pain that we know lies dormant there. At least at a superficial level, it makes no sense to seek joy where pain is to be found. But if it is true that both lie side-by-side at the core of our being, there must be a relationship between woundedness and joy. Indeed, there is.
At the very centre of our being is an expression of divinity—a unique word made flesh: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gn.1:27) That word is the particular name by which we are known to God: “I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Is.43:1) That word/name is the essence of our being; it is our true spiritual identity. All life flows from it. It is also the fountainhead of our giftedness and the source of our purpose or mission, sometimes known as our call or vocation. Classic categories of mission relate to work done by the mind (intellectual), the body (active) or the heart (affective.) Our “name” is a very particular expression of one of these.
Significantly, from the moment of inception, we have been endowed with a unique combination of talents that are God-given. These are the tools with which we are called to live out our purpose. From the start, our orientation has been outward. Our life’s meaning concerns relationship and community. Our life’s journey is to first allow others to love us so that we can learn to love others. Our goal is to transcend the self and to actualize our potential in communion with others.
As you will have guessed, this loving self-transcendence is the source of our joy. Joy is the fruit of love, the actualization of our unique purpose in this magnificent project of building a kingdom of love that is authentic and pure. If that is so, why would we not “always be joyful?” (1Thes.5:16)
From the moment of our conception, we are developing physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. This development is gradual, cumulative and—theoretically at least—integrated. We are unaware of these stages and so are our parents. Each stage is vital. Each person grows from the womb to the world because of things happening within and around them. The problem is that it is never a smooth process. We never get all of our needs satisfied, no matter how attentive those who care for us might be. Moreover, to one degree or another, we all receive things that are harmful to our development. This is normal. Only in extreme cases, can this be called abuse.
The journey of development is very often problematical at one stage or another: during pregnancy or birth; during the first six months when physical needs are most acute; during the first two years when emotional needs are manifested; or during the first ten years when intellectual foundations are being established. (Timing is approximate and varies from person to person.) Disturbances in development in any stage results in “wounds” that impact the formation of personality and the life choices made later in life.
What could be more vulnerable than our spiritual identity, the unique “word” that gives meaning to our life? For this reason, the blow that cuts deepest, the wound that leave the longest scar and cause the greatest fear and flight is the inadvertent or deliberate one that attacks our God-given “name.” Our primary woundedness, the one that predisposes us to make bad choices that divert our attention from the source of our true joy, is directly related to our particular vulnerability. The wound that is the most frightening to face and hardest to heal is the one that reaches the core of our being.
What could be more devastating than an attack—wilful or unwitting—on the very gifts that God gave us to live out our mission in life? Tragically, in many cases, there is no conscious memory of such wounds, so these life-giving gifts lie deeply buried under layers of assumed identities or activities for which family and friends praised and rewarded us. Worse yet, there is an unconscious resistance to going anywhere near them because they have become associated with pain. With them, lies buried our true joy.
There is, therefore, a real need to reclaim our true identity. This is typically only possible in adulthood by deliberately separating our selves from the emotional “baggage” of childhood.
To respect father and mother does not mean that we must submit to the projects or desires that they have for us; nor compensate for their deficiencies, to fulfill them; nor shelter them from suffering; nor submit to emotional blackmail; nor remain dependant. To respect father and mother is to accept them as they are, with their history, their woundedness; to not oblige them to change and become what we wished they were; to let them follow their path and to give ourselves permission to follow our own; to allow them to love us in their own way. (Rough translation)
– Simone Pacot, L’évangélisation des profondeurs
+ + +
Let’s examine how early childhood woundedness distorts our identity. Fear and anxiety, along with their cousins anger and guilt, are perhaps the most urgent drivers of negative behaviour. They come directly from our woundedness. It is important to understand that at a spiritual level these are the Enemy’s tools to ensure that we live in darkness, as far from our identity, giftedness and purpose as possible. If we were rooted in our name, gifts and mission, we’d be aligned—in communion—with God. So the “prince of illusion”, as I like to call our spiritual enemy, dances on our wounds to keep them from healing. The trickster knows that the joy that is also to be found there would overcome fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, and ultimately despair. In turn despair destroys hope and any possibility of love, which is necessary to human life. So he will do everything possible to have us live elsewhere.
Elsewhere means the roles that we assume, the defence mechanisms that restrict our freedom, the sub-personalities that fragment our lives and the traits of character or personality that we subtly adopt to respond to external forces rather than deep-seated desires for authenticity and self-transcendence. Together, these represent the dynamic of our psycho-spiritual reality. The challenge is to find the movement of the Holy Spirit through the complexity of this assumed identity, through the maze of our constructed self. In fact, the Holy Spirit urges us to return to the energy from which we were created. God’s spirit offers us fullness of life (Cf. Jn.10:10) and joy. (Cf.Jn.15:11)
Fragmented lives can neither detect nor decode the life signs that emanate constantly from God. Addicted to distractions because truth scares us, we live by duty and need and settle for the illusion of freedom. True freedom—to love with maturity—requires alignment with the core of our being. To hear the bidding of God’s spirit that dwells there, we must silence the mind, still the heart, and stop the treadmill that veraciously consumes our energy. Meaningless noise, misguided passion and extreme activity are as ineffective to fill the painful emptiness that we feel when disconnected from our core as they are destructive to body, mind and soul. The din of daily life blocks God’s still small voice.
And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
– 1 Kings 19:11-12
+ + +
May God grant you courage and wisdom to seek the truth about your uniqueness, your giftedness and your mission. May you be granted grace to know that the truth will make you free (Jn.8:32). May you rejoice always.
crib and cross Franciscan Ministries