What are the stories we tell ourselves? Stories like, ‘i’m so fat,’ or, ‘i’m too skinny,’ or, ‘the best years of my life are already gone,’ or ‘being a mother is the most important part of my life,’ or ‘i never have enough money,’ or, ‘i can’t do things around the house,’ or, ‘i’m such a bad/stupid/lazy/evil/angry/hurtful person.” The list goes on. Can you add some? Maybe they are stories about the possessions you have. You car? Do you think it says something about you, who you are and do you agree with it, or are you fighting against it? The place you live? As a renter, or a home owner, or a guest… do you tell yourselves stories about that, is it part of the image of Who You Are? Your wealth or poverty? What are the secret stories that repeat over and over and over again in your head like so many broken records from years ago, or recent events? What are the public stories about who you are, or who you purport to be – a deviant and proud of it? Are you attempting to send a giant fuck-you to the world you think will reject who you really are?
But we get ahead of ourselves.
What do you hold dear? What are the stories that you tell yourself? What are the threads that weave into the tapestry that is The Image You Project To The World? Maybe this is a way of thinking you’ve never tried on before. Maybe your saying to yourself, ‘what stories? what image? what do you mean, ‘hold dear’?’ Maybe you’ve never twisted your mind to think this way, but I say to you now: Try.
In the gospel of Mark we see a rich guy running up to Jesus and treating him with all due respect. And the guy asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what do I have to do to get eternal life?”
And Jesus, being Jesus, takes issue immediately. Jesus “I Split Hairs” of Nazareth answers, “Dude, why are you calling me good? No one’s got it together, only God. But you know what you’re supposed to do.” And Jesus proceeds to quote the ten commandments – but he skips the first two, the most important two: Love God, and Love your neighbor and yourself.
And the guy, the totally respectful guy who got his greeting thrown back in his face is like, “I’m so on top of that shit. Even when I was a child I had it together. I’ve got the list and I’ve got it all checked off.”
So then Jesus looks him square in the eye and he does what we so rarely do to ourselves or others – he refuses to judge the guy, which you’d think maybe he was doing. But no. He looks at him and he loves him. This is powerful stuff, already. And he says to the guy, who happens to be a rich guy, and you know in that day and age if you were rich, everyone knew it was because God loved you a lot, so you were in like Flynn, but Jesus being Jesus, he says to the guy, “There’s only one thing left: Follow me. But first, sell everything you own and give it to the poor.”
The guy was stunned. This was not what he was expecting. He was holding on tight to a lot of things. He walked away, totally bummed out.
Guess what? We are that guy. We are that guy, only it’s not just about money. The first two commandments: Love God With Absolutely Everything You’ve Got, and Love Your Neighbor As Your Self, Jesus says that everything hangs on these two things. It was his opinion that it all boils down to that, that everything else is commentary that may be helpful or it may make you trip. So when push comes to shove, each one of us can boil it back down ourselves: Love God, Love Neighbor, Love Self.
There are other rules, and it’s good to keep them. I’m not saying it isn’t. But if we keep all those other rules, just like the rich guy, and we somehow forget about the first two, the most important two: Love God, Love Neighbor, Love Self, then once again we’re missing the point.
And Jesus looks at us, and somehow loves us anyway, and directs us back to the point.
So what do you hold dear? What stories do you tell yourself about yourself? What is on the broken record, what’s on eternal loop, repeat one, that has nothing to do with Love God, Love Neighbor, Love Self? Because whatever it is, it’s not actually necessary. We can let it go.
And this is easier, sometimes, to see in others first. My mother, for instance, at forty had already decided that her best years were gone. Clearly Mom wasn’t the ‘life begins at fifty’ sort of gal. And she’s an outlier, perhaps, because her major depression went undiagnosed until the final year of her life, and even so was never treated with any success. But that was an image of herself that she wove tightly and clung to tenaciously. It was a story she told herself. It was an image, however painful, that she held dear. “The best years have already gone. There’s nothing I can do to change my situation. There’s nothing I can say that really matters. Nothing I do counts for anything.” This was what she clung to, held dear, told herself about herself, and it’s easy to see how in this particular situation, the thing she clung to was the very thing that was keeping her back. She had the keys to her own dungeon, as it were.
As it went for Mom, so it goes for us. Maybe we’re not quite as dramatic in our mental thinking as she was, but then again, maybe we are. Regardless, when we go to God and say, ‘why can’t I be happy? Haven’t I done everything I was supposed to do? I haven’t I been a good wife, a good mother, a good father, a good daughter? Haven’t I worked hard in my company only to be laid off? Haven’t I voted every time the polls opened? Haven’t I kept informed and abreast of the place of the world? Haven’t I recycled? Haven’t I achieved the American Dream – with a spouse, and a dog, and a couple of kids and a house of my own? Why aren’t I happy?”
And Jesus looks us dead in the eye, and loves us, even though we persist in not getting it. And he says to us, ‘that image of yourself? The one you hold dear? The one about being rich or poor, thin or fat, beautiful or ugly, savvy or stupid, this way or that? Let it go. Let it go and don’t pick it back up again. Let it go and follow me, because I’ve got something better for you.”