When I was in first grade, my aunt would to pick me up from school each day and drive me home. Before I had even settled in my seat and closed the car door, I had already launched into a steady stream of stories about my day that continued all the way home. She hardly got a word in!
A couple of years ago, my aunt reminded me of this season and told me how much she enjoyed those daily drives with me, hearing all about my day through my unfiltered seven-year-old experience of the world. She told me how much she admired my carefree speech, unburdened by the self-consciousness she knew I would grow into as I got older.
And she was right.
I became self-conscious earlier than most kids do–partly due to my personality and partly due to my family situation. I began to adopt more adult attitudes, shunning childhood and adolescence as “juvenile” and holding myself to a higher standard.
The Drive for Perfection
This conversation with my aunt came back to me in a recent prayer time, and I realized how many negative attitudes and feelings arise when I think about my childhood self. I noticed how much pride I felt growing up for always being more responsible and more correct than my peers. I noticed how hard I always pushed myself to behave perfectly, to have perfect grades, to be perfect.
And I noticed how much resentment I feel toward myself when I am faced with imperfections in myself, with these areas now being uncovered that still need healing, with the same lessons I thought I had mastered coming back around again. I thought about how I can so easily sit compassionately with others as they walk difficult paths toward healing and wholeness and wondered why I seem to feel so undeserving of that same compassion.
I discovered Christine Valters Paintner’s Abbey of the Arts several years ago and was inspired by her writings to become a Monk in the World and join the Holy Order of Dancing Monks (you can, too!). I have been able to begin to live into all the commitments of her Monk Manifesto except the second one:
I commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the stranger both without and within. I recognize that when I make space inside my heart for the unclaimed parts of myself, I cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.
I am terrible at making space for the unclaimed parts of myself and showing myself compassion. It is so much easier to be compassionate toward others than to myself. When confronted with the child in myself, I would rather force her to grow up than to accept and value her as she is and be willing to integrate her into myself. But without her, I cannot move toward wholeness. Without her, I cannot become my true self.
Faith Like a Child
My invitation in this season is to adopt a child-like posture toward myself as I walk this path toward healing. I am being invited to begin to approach my healing journey with all the curiosity, lightheartedness, and playfulness of the unselfconscious seven-year-old who still exists within me–patiently waiting to be acknowledged and invited along on the journey.
That little childhood piece of myself is not the shameful burden I treat her as but a wise and willing companion. I have only to reach out to her, feel her little hand in mine, and continue together on our way.
Come on, little one. Let’s take just this next step together.