The Stories that Make Us

Day 2: Stories of Shame

At the beginning of the day:

            Offer a short prayer of thanksgiving for the day.  Then I suggest you listen to the attached talk first and then familiarize yourself with the suggested reflection questions and practice. 

Throughout the day: 

As you are able, take some time today to reflect on a few questions. When someone criticizes you for something you’ve done, what tends to be your reaction?  Is it easy for you to say, “I’m sorry”? Or do you become immediately angry or defensive? If so, could there be an unacknowledged story of shame lurking in the background?  Or does criticism immediately put you back into a feeling of shame that you felt in the past, perhaps as a child? Pay particular attention to “triggers”: exaggerated emotional reactions to something we hear on the news, how we see another person being treated, feelings towards those in authority, and so forth. These can be signposts to deeper issues at work.

Don’t conjure it up, but if you are experiencing a sense of shame or have bought into some of the lies a story of shame tells you about yourself, perform an exorcism! Satan is the prince of lies, and shame is full of them, so say “Get thee behind me shame! I choose the reality of God’s love over your lies!” Sometimes saying out loud what we know is true (even if we don’t feel it) helps us to own it; to make it real and effective in our life. (If you do it out loud in the back yard your neighbors will love it!)

At the end of the day:

If you have a spiritual practice with which you end the day, and it’s working for you, don’t change it. If not, I’d suggest taking just a few minutes before bed to review the day. Give thanks for the day. Ask forgiveness for whatever you may you need it for. Don’t judge yourself too harshly: God doesn’t. Ask to be freed of anything you may be carrying as a burden from the day. Give it to God for the night. If you are struggling with feelings of shame, or just need a pick-me-up, or simply in this age of disinformation want to listen to something true, hear this prayer of St. Paul for you:

            For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

The Stories that Make Us

Day 3: From self-image to self-knowledge

At the beginning of the day:

            Offer a short prayer of thanksgiving for the day.  Then I suggest you listen to the attached talk first and then familiarize yourself with the suggested reflection questions and practice. 

Throughout the day: 

Recall a time when your self-image was shattered, or at least challenged by something you did, experienced, or something someone said to you. How did you respond? If you responded poorly, it’s never too late to go back and “purify that memory”; that is, to use it as a springboard into deeper self-knowledge. First, try not to judge yourself too harshly. If we do, a sense of shame can overwhelm us and prevent us from moving forward. Imagine the compassionate gaze of Christ focused on you. Trusting in that loving compassion, ask to have whatever is false in your self-image to melt away in that gaze, so that your true self may emerge. Give thanks for the experience of shattering, believing (even if not feeling!) that it is a gateway to a more real life, a life with greater capacity for joy and compassion.  

It’s very difficult at times to determine self-knowledge from self-image, especially after the age of 50, when our self-image becomes more concretized. We’ll always find a priest, spiritual director, counselor, or psychologist who will agree with our own self assessment—they don’t know us, and only hear our side of the story. So ask those who know you best, who’ve lived with you, who love you but can be honest with you. They may be the ones who bring Christ’s transforming words to you.

At the end of the day:

If you have a spiritual practice with which you end the day, and it’s working for you, don’t change it. If not, I’d suggest taking just a few minutes before bed to review the day. Give thanks for the day. Ask forgiveness for whatever you may you need it for. Again, don’t judge yourself too harshly: God doesn’t. Ask to be freed of anything you may be carrying as a burden from the day. Give it to God for the night. 

As we reflect back upon our own journeys, our ongoing transformation from self-image to self-knowledge, it’s helpful to remember that many others have travelled this road, and that we are never alone. As Saint Augustine said:

            Nothing is so moving as the fact that God became human in order to accompany each one of us with discretion, tenderness, and power along the strenuous path in search of our own human face.

And so we close the day with St. Augustine’s prayer,

O Jesus let me know myself, and know you.

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