To See Ourselves
01 August 1999

The last year has been characterized for me by two apparently opposite emotions. On the one hand the pain and grief surrounding the decline and death from cancer of my brother-in-law.

The last year has been characterized for me by two apparently opposite emotions. On the one hand the pain and grief surrounding the decline and death from cancer of my brother-in-law. On the other hand inner joy from experiencing the leading of God in my work.

At times this seeming dichotomy has been hard to bear: how can I feel joy in the face of such suffering, and how can I feel grief when God feels so close and so clearly at work? I have started to understand that pain and joy go hand in hand&emdash;and that I cannot have the latter without also having the former.

My slowness to understand this may be one reason why my life has sometimes been shallow. In my desire to stay free of pain, I have too readily sought the easy path. In my wish to avoid mistakes, I have often not taken risks. Though I may have avoided some pain and certain mistakes I have all too often missed out on an experience of joy in my life.

I suppose this is part of the mystery that it is our weakness God wants to use, not our strength. When I go the way of love, with the pain that attends it, and choose the path of risk-taking, I am vulnerable and weak&emdash;which I hate. Yet that vulnerability is my greatest asset.

One of the most uncomfortable things I have discovered has been the difference between the picture I project to others and the one I have of myself. I often come across as certain when I feel unsure, as opinionated when I don't quite know what I think, as hard or harsh when I feel quite fragile. I have also discovered how easily I hurt other people&emdash;usually without meaning to.

I can trace my fear of pain back to my teenage school days when my academic contemporaries were boys one or two years older than me, emotionally more mature than I was. Insecure and often teased, I developed a strong feeling of inferiority. As I grew older I found that I had difficulty in getting close to other people. There seemed to be something inside me which kept others at a distance. It was not until years later that I understood how the hurt I had experienced as an adolescent had caused me to close myself up&emdash;quite unconsciously. I had in effect built a wall of protection around myself, hoping to prevent anyone from coming close enough to be able to hurt me again. This had affected all my relationships.

A turning point came when I felt a voice inside saying: 'I love you. It doesn't matter whether you feel worth loving or not. I love you just as you are.' I began to glimpse the wonder of God's love, given freely and equally to each of us&emdash;whether we think we deserve it or not.

Two years ago I took part with others in some 'facilitation training'. At the end of two days together our trainer drew out of each of us what we had learned. When it came to my turn she said, 'Edward, I see you as a strong oak tree.'

I spluttered, 'But I'm not like that, I feel very tender and fragile inside, not at all like an oak tree.'

She looked me straight in the eye and said: 'You will have to learn to take responsibility for how you come across to others.'

It was a painful, but freeing, discovery that I needed to stop excusing my actions by saying to myself that I am not really like that.

I constantly struggle over this. Just a few weeks ago, for example, I felt criticized by someone at a meeting. I retorted in a manner which this other person later said she found rude and hurtful. My temptation was to excuse myself on the grounds that I was misquoted and misunderstood. But I decided to take responsibility for how I had come across, and sincerely apologize for it.

This kind of slate-cleaning is a horribly frequent experience for me and constantly reminds me of how much I need forgiveness from God and from my friends.
Edward Peters

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