A while back, a college classmate posted on his Facebook wall a reflection from the Roman Catholic writer Henri Nouwen. I think these are good words to reflect upon during our Lenten self-examination.
'Sometimes we have to “step over” our anger, our jealousy, or our feelings of rejection and move on. The temptation is to get stuck in our negative emotions, poking around in them as if we belong there. Then we become the “offended one,” “the forgotten one,” or the “discarded one.” Yes, we can get attached to these negative identities and even take morbid pleasure in them. It might be good to have a look at these dark feelings and explore where they come from, but there comes a moment to step over them, leave them behind and travel on.'
The post, quoted from http://wp.henrinouwen.org/daily_meditation_blog/?p=1811, elicited over 50 “likes” and several comments from people about how badly they needed those words that day, and how Nouwen’s thoughts resonated. It’s wonderful when we’re able to share common struggles and support one another.
To my friend’s Facebook wall, I added a comment that life is unfair for all of us but in different ways, and so one way we develop these bad feelings is to compare ourselves with someone else whose life has been more fair than ours, but in one or two particular ways. I do that kind of thing a lot---and yet other friends tell me they envy certain aspects of my life. So I realize for the billionth time that I need to prevent my emotions from making me lose the big picture.
That phrase “negative identity” is powerful. It’s one thing to feel disappointed and offended, neglected and even discarded. We’ve all been there. But it’s another thing to let those events and hurts fill our thoughts----like an undertow beneath the calmer surface of the water. This, too, I’ve done a lot over the years.
One way to tell if you’re feeling the basic sad emotions, vs. creating a negative identity, is to think whether you could relinquish those things if you could----for instance, could you share them with someone with the aim of feeling better about yourself? You might realize that those feelings have become so intertwined with your sense of self that you can’t NOT ruminate them over and over. It's as if you need to have a kind of power over another person, or over an event, by feeling negatively (resentful, jealous, etc.) forever. That's obviously a warped and counterproductive way to think and feel---but it's definitely a trap into which we could fall. If so, we’ve allowed our sense of self to be defined by that letdown, unfair event, mean words from someone, failure compared to someone else's success, and other kinds of things. But God loves us specially and uses us, fully aware of our humanness and struggles.
I don’t mean to try to improve on Henri Nouwen’s words. He was a genius at spiritually encouraging people amid our exasperating humanness. Check out that website or purchase some of his books.
(A post from 2013)