accumulating “small acts of self-respect”

My friend Amanda made a video today about the process of learning self-love. I encourage you to watch it, and hear her thoughts before I ramble into mine. I’ve always found Amanda to be a generous companion when it comes to learning things that can seem nebulous at first. Whether that’s her willingness to take time to explain how a particular kind of bond works over texts one morning (nothing is more enormous and abstract to me than finance), or her meditations at length on the very tangible ways farmers and homesteaders and the conscientious urbanite are creating community (I’ve always struggled to really know what that word means)…she’s helped me make things concrete. This is one of those things.

Self-love as an idea can feel foreign for a Christian in particular. As a phrase it can conjure up so many guilt reflexes, about pride being the worst of all sins and the commandment to “die to self.” Those reflexes are rooted in something good, which is the foundation of our faith: to center your life around loving others the way God loves us. But that’s not the body of Christian thought I associate the phrase “self-love” with. When I hear “self-love,” I think of Saint Paul: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” There are two things Paul says in there that floor me every time. One, that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit; two, that the body like the Spirit is gift, and divine gift at that.

If you spend some time to really internalize those things, it cannot help but change how you live. It has been really important for me, as a Christian woman, to spend some time with those ideas: your body, to include your mind, is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and it is worth taking care of, because this is where you house your soul and your God. All of these things, body, mind, and soul, are what we talk about when we say self-love, and Christians should know better–as a community and communion of believers, all part of one body of Christ–than to try to separate the “self” as unworthy of love while learning how to love “others.”

In any case, I’ve found the big-picture somewhat intuitive, but the concrete application of it that Amanda talks about in her video is harder for me. She uses a few examples that I love when listing her “small acts of self-respect”: unfollowing liberally on Twitter, making sure to follow blogs that feature bodies that look like hers, that kind of “Internet hygiene” that keeps us grounded. That’s been a big lesson for me. I let myself be overwhelmed by voices that have no real place in my life, to include people I hateread, people I wanted to like me, people I found tiring but convinced myself were just challenging. Ultimately, this hasn’t been good for me. I’ve let this loudness minimize the time I spend in far more important parts of my life, and it has had a particular impact on my prayer life. Now that I’m retreating a little and rediscovering the importance of that part of my life, I’m realizing how much I’d missed it.

Sr. Marie Paul Curley articulated this in a way I have found incredibly helpful (and frankly damning):

Are we deceiving ourselves with the illusion that being super-busy or overworked gives us more importance, control, or power?

Allowing ourselves to be deceived by the illusion of importance, power, and control is not spiritually healthy. It can distract us from what is truly important in our lives, and deceive us about our true, deepest call. The world is in God’s hands and will not fall apart if we take a break, make time for a half hour of daily prayer, or schedule in the necessary time to take care of ourselves. Always being “too busy,” or always saying “yes” to additional responsibilities can become a way of avoiding ourselves. This can be a deception of the ego or of the devil; either way, I am sure that the devil uses this self-deception to prevent us from listening to God and to prevent our growth in humility.

When we choose or allow ourselves to become frantically busy all the time, we can start to think we are more important than we are. Our priorities become mixed up. There is a difference between feeling needed and feeling indispensable. The first may be true much of the time; the second is rarely true, and if it is, a back up plan is needed! Being overly busy isn’t just difficult for us; it also affects the quality of our relationships and can prevent us from taking time with the loved ones who really need us. When we fall into a cycle of being over-busy all the time, we may even be using being busy as an escape from prayer, spending quiet time, or difficult aspects of our relationships.

There are a lot of lessons I could share about this process of self-love that Amanda is talking about. I’ve been more fierce about keeping “hours,” in the sense of keeping work from 8-5, not exhausting myself for the sake of what I think is an expected social life, and carving out parts of my day for reading, praying, and practicing Portuguese or working on another project. I’ve been more deliberate about my health, eating when my body asks me to, drinking only what I want to, brushing vigorously, learning how makeup and nail polish can be deterrents against hurtful anxious behaviors. These things are all important, but nothing has been as important for me as what Sr. Marie Paul describes above: the constant reinforcement of perspective, and the absolute need for silence and reflection.

It is so easy to get caught up in Christianity and forget Christ. It is so easy to forget the sheer scale of what we are talking about when we try to center our lives around God. It is so easy to use stress as a way to avoid the things that really matter.

Reminding myself of my actual place in life, as a child of God and a temple of the Holy Spirit, is a big act of self-respect composed of smaller practices. And lest we forget where God dwells, it’s a big act of God-respect, too.

I’d love to hear more thoughts on this. For now, Sts. Francis de Sales, Lucia of Syracuse, and Catherine of Alexandria, my patrons and my friends…pray for us!

Published by Catherine Addington

I am a translator from Spanish to English and a writer on saints, myths, and icons in both religious and secular contexts.

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