Q: Dear Father John, I thought I once heard you mention that quite often a hatred of oneself runs parallel with a hatred of God. My problem is similar, but while I hate myself quite a bit I do not in any way hate God. God is, in fact, my longest and most faithful friend, always at the back of my mind. And I know it probably hurts Him to see me revile myself the way I do, but I feel unable to improve the situation. I compare it sometimes to my relationship with my husband. He understands that I earnestly believe myself selfish, evil and ugly, but his patience runs thin the more times I mention it. I find myself asking for God’s patience more than any other thing, and I do want to please Him, but I’m not sure if I’m able. My question is how to best be pleasing to God when I foster a deep-seeded belief that I am unworthy of any sort of salvation or comfort?
A: First, make sure you cement into the very foundation of your understanding of the universe one extremely important truth that God has revealed to us so frequently and so forcibly that he has removed any room for doubt: “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). I would highly recommend that you memorize that verse of inspired Scripture, and that you repeat it to yourself, using it as a prayer, throughout the day. God’s love for his – his personal, all-knowing, passionate, tender, and determined love for each one of us – does not depend on our being worthy of it, being perfect, being selfless, being a model Christian… On the contrary, it is only as we continue discovering God’s love for us that we open our hearts to be touched by his transforming grace so that we can actually love him in return and begin to experience life as he calls us to live it – selflessly, generously, joyfully, humbly. Our journey through this Valley of Tears that we call earth is not primarily about what we can do for God, but about what God has done (and still wants to do for us): “This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10). So, keep reminding yourself of this, over and over again. Make it the theme of your daily prayer. Ask God to convince you of this more and more every day.
From that perspective, I think you can answer your own question. How best to please God, even though you know that you are unworthy? Throw yourself into his arms. Dive into his mercy. Trust him when he tells you that he loves you just as you are, and maybe even MORE because you are so much in need of his grace. Remember the parable of the Good Shepherd, who left the 99 sheep who were in good shape in order to go after the one sheep that was lost and in need. And he rejoiced when he found it. Your mere desire to follow God, to know him and love him better, gives him immense pleasure. Every time you turn back to him after a fall or a failure, you fill his heart with joy. He longs not for our self-perfection, but for our presence, our friendship, our desire to walk with him. This is what pleases him.
You may be confusing God’s being “pleased” with his being “satisfied.” God loves us so much that he is never satisfied. He knows we can grow, and so, like a good coach how really cares about his players, he never gets tired of demanding more from us and inviting us to give more. He loves us too much to let us vegetate in our personal comfort zone, spiritually speaking. But even though he is hard to satisfy, he is extremely easy to please. The slightest effort delights him! He knows better than we do how hard it is for us to live a truly spiritual, truly Christ-like life. So, he is like the dad witnessing his little baby take her first steps. The steps are clumsy, jerky, and unsteady. But how the dad rejoices over them!
Okay, now for a hard truth. Whenever you get drawn into a personal pity party and find yourself discouraged or tense or preoccupied about your own weakness and spiritual neediness (selfishness), you are actually falling into dangerous territory. Discouragement is not something that comes from the Holy Spirit – not ever. Discouragement is a subtle, very subtle, form of spiritual pride, which is one of the seven capital sins. Discouragement, when we give into it and revel in it instead of turning it immediately into a prayer and throwing ourselves into God’s loving arms, says to God: “O Lord, look at how evil I am; I am so selfish that not even you can love me or help me…” Oh what a nasty trick of the Devil that thought is! Oh how it hurts our Lord when we say that to him! His mercy, his love, his goodness, his power – they are IMMENSELY greater than our misery! Our Lord revealed to St Margaret Mary that even if all the sins of the world were on her soul, compared to his burning love for her, they would be like a drop of water thrown into a blazing furnace. So, whenever you feel like turning in on yourself and being drawn into the pit of self-deprecation, simply make an act of humility and then turn your attention back to whatever it is God wants you to be doing at that moment, even if it’s something as simple as washing the dishes, “Lord, you know what a mess I am, but you love me. Give me the strength to forget about myself and do what you want me to do. I am in your hands, and they are Very Good Hands…”
I suggest that you take for a personal motto what St Paul said about this very struggle, and follow his example of rejoicing in your weaknesses because they force you to depend more and more on God, which is what it’s all about: “I am well content with these humiliations of mine, with the insults, the hardships, the persecutions, the times of difficulty I undergo for Christ; when I am weakest, then I am strongest of all” (2 Corinthians 12:10).