Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Grace of Self-Forgetfulness

And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.               Matthew 22:39                                                      

Likely you are familiar with this verse, for it appears in some form in Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is not original with Jesus, though, for it first appears in Leviticus 19:18. As easy as the verse is to remember, it is not easy to practice. We have as hard a time loving our neighbor as we do loving self.

I have been reading Abandonment to Divine Providence
 by Rev. Jean-Pierre de Caussade S.J., which is a treatise on the sacrament of the present moment and a collection of letters to different people encouraging them to self-abandonment. Over and over again, de Caussade encourages the recipients of his letters to be gentle with themselves. He says that just as they treat others with gentleness and patience, they should extend the same treatment to themselves. 

We may balk at such instruction, but I believe that is because we equate self-love with self-indulgence. On the contrary, while de Caussade encourages gentleness toward self, he also urges the recipients of his letters to not be self-absorbed but instead to be self-forgetful. If we are beating ourselves up over our failures and inadequacies, we are exhibiting self-absorption. Being gentle and patient with ourselves, letting our failures drop like a stone in water, is actually self-forgetfulness. Far from self-indulgence, such patience recognizes that we are going to fail. That acknowledgement and acceptance of our limitations increases our dependence on God, de Caussade observes.

Gentleness with ourselves translates into gentleness with others. And when we accept that others will also fail, we can love them for who they are, failures and all. Such acknowledgment allows us to forgive others as we are also forgiven. In this gentleness and patience with ourselves and others, we can find rest for our souls.

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