I recently began reading Henri Nouwen’s “Being the Beloved,” which I know I have read parts of before, but I’m finding it new again. And though I’m only in the early part of the book, it has really moved me.
And in case you haven’t read it, I love what it does. It reminds us of just what its title tells us: That we are the beloved of God.
When you really think about that, it is earth-shattering. The creator of all life finds in each one of us, the beloved. I was talking with someone about this recently, and that person said, and I’m paraphrasing: When I think about it, it’s hard to believe. I mean, I know who I am; yet he sees me as beloved.
I think we all feel that way, at least sometimes. How could God love me that much? I know who I am and what I’ve done and haven’t done. I’m not sure even I love me that much.
Nouwen of course recognizes this, and so he starts with a premise that I find myself fighting against initially, and you may, too.
He says, about hearing God tell us that we are his beloved, “It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: ‘You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless ... etc.’”
And I’ve thought, well, I don’t hear those voices. That’s a little strong, a little absolute. But there are also voices that say: You are not enough. Or you are not ___ enough (insert your choice of word: smart, handsome, pretty, talented, worldly, dedicated, young, old, etc.)
Ah, now we’re getting closer.
Either way, Nouwen calls it the trap of self-rejection.
He says, “When we have come to believe in [those voices] … then success, popularity and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions.”
But in the end, those all shatter like the delicate and elusive baubles they are.
“The real trap, however,” Nouwen says, “is self-rejection.”
In other words, self-rejection is when we think those voices, whichever ones speak to us most persistently, must be right.
He further says, “Maybe you think that you are more tempted by arrogance than by self-rejection. But isn’t arrogance, in fact, the other side of self-rejection? Isn’t arrogance putting yourself on a pedestal to avoid being seen as you see yourself?”
Regardless of where we think we might fall on this spectrum between awareness of self-rejection and the outward appearance of arrogance, we are struggling against the fundamental truth of being the beloved of God. We want it, but it’s hard to accept. And if we have it, do we then have to be better people to avoid the conflict between what we think is our “real” self and the self God knows and loves?
Nouwen talks about the voices of people in our lives who have called us the beloved in so many ways over years. And he says, we sometimes wonder: “If all those who shower me with so much attention could see me and know me in my innermost self, would they still love me?”
Yes. And they probably know you better than you think.
And maybe that’s why it’s sometimes hard to accept being God’s truly, dearly beloved, no matter who we are. Because he really knows us … better than we know ourselves. And yet, He loves. And even though he encourages us to be better people and to love more, we are enough. We are the beloved.
The Rev. Mary Norton is pastor of Emmanuel Episcopal Church.