Editor’s Note: This week’s guest contributor, Myra Gossens, is a friend I met in neighborhood development work over forty years ago. Our paths have crossed several times, and our journeys to love ourselves have many familiar turns. In her post, Myra shares her ongoing journey to self-love and accepting God’s love.
Love as powerful as a river’s current flows through my life. I love. I am loved. I am in love. But a simple paean to love falls short of my very real experience of love as I age, especially as two love-related challenges seem to be sprouting like weeds in my garden of well-being.
At 75, I love. I am loved. I am in love. My husband –we married October 1, 2022 – is a loving, generous, gracious, true partner. My gratitude is as vast as the universe, and after being married three times before, very real.
There’s more: recently becoming a grandmother. Having loving, caring children and siblings and a loving community around me. All is well, right? Yes. And yet, not quite.
Passing time gradually takes things away: our supports, abilities, clarity, traditions. My 38’sailboat, my downhill skis. And a new “rule” that I may no longer stand up paddleboard alone.
A slightly older friend told me “Aging is the relentless pursuit of giving up control.” I try, relentlessly, and I make progress, occasionally. Knowing I am loved and knowing I am in God’s hands makes giving up control easier. (Remembering that I never really had control helps too.)
But regardless of how I tend to my garden’s beauty, these weeds persist. The first is a resurgence of self-doubt and eroded self-confidence. The second is a return to a slippery place I left decades ago: debilitating negative self-judgment.
In other words, I am struggling to love myself.
I told my children as they were growing up if you don’t love yourself, it’s hard to love others and or let others love you. Now I have to wonder: is this a common shift as people age? Does one’s relationship to and experience of self-love change?
In Measure of My Days, Florida Scott-Maxwell writes:
The only way to become whole is to put our arms lovingly around everything we’ve shown ourselves to be: self-serving and generous, spiteful and compassionate, cowardly and courageous, treacherous and trustworthy.
I have tried to live meaningfully, serving a greater purpose. Why am I questioning whether I have done so? Why am I searching for any whisp of evidence to prove the world is a better place because of something – anything – I did?
I know erosion of self-love – at any point in life – leads to despair. So why am I questioning my self-worth now? As I wrestle with these questions several possibilities emerge.
There was a straight bright line from the Baptist pulpit of my youth to Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. “Wrath be upon you if you sin. God judges and has no mercy.”
I was brought up in a judgmental society and era: the South in the ’60s. “That’s not the way we do things. Wear this, act this way, don’t rock the boat.” I publicly took on racism, embraced feminism, protested the war, crossed the boundaries of propriety and was told “You’re embarrassing our family.”
The reign of judgment intensified when I married an alcoholic. I caved and eventually believed that the problems in my alcoholic marriage were my fault. Alcoholics are expert deflectors, and the one I loved for a quarter of a century was so trapped in his addiction and anger that for me not to believe in the error of my ways evoked terrifying threats. It took two years in Alanon before I was able to internalize a different truth and many more years in those rooms before I could love myself again.
Back then, few could tell I doubted myself – extroverted personality, great children, impressive resilience, business successes, awards, honors – but the judgment accreted like heavy layers of concrete.
With help from God, Alanon, therapy, friends and family, I freed myself from the chains of judgment. My children – ever the core joys in my life – began to live and blossom as did I.
When Nelson Mandala left prison, he told the world that he knew if he held onto his anger, he would remain imprisoned. Letting go of years of judgment helped me love myself and learn to live again in love.
As I age, my task is to still the bubbling inner voices again and age with grace and faith to give me the joy and peace necessary to embrace aging’s challenges.
As my mother aged, she showed great depths of grace, peace and love, letting go of resistance, signaling she would be alright. Our family angel – a minister and caregiver from our small Georgia hometown – explained Mother’s peace as ultimate faith: “Your Mother knows God’s got her.”
In The Inward Journey, Howard Thurman writes “Behold the miracle…love has no awareness of merit or demerit…no scale upon which to measure…”
I would like to have a sacred relationship with myself, my whole self. Forgiving ills and pains and shames I caused. Letting go of mistakes, wrong turns and, finally, offloading the two real regrets I still carry.
I want to rest in the wholeness of who I am, letting go of who I think I should have been or should become. Not in resignation – “Well, that’s all I have…I’ve done my best” – and certainly not in the hubris of self-aggrandizement.
God loves me for all that I am and all that I am not. But can I love myself so freely? I am the object of God’s love, mercy, grace. This should be satisfying enough to pull these annoying weeds up by their deep roots.
As I make my daily morning coffee, I read my mother’s cross-stitched words: “If your day is hemmed with prayer, it is less likely to unravel.”
Dear God. Help me accept myself as a flawed creature. Help me live with the simplicity of confidence, banish fear, be sweet to myself as I am sweet to others. Teach me to embrace the possibility and satisfaction of joy and incline always toward greater love and self-love.
I agree with Richard Rohr and the sentiments of the author about letting go of control, especially over the age of 50. I also like the cross-stitch picture because it reminds us of the antidote of prayer: keeps us put together!
Happy Mother’s Day to Myra!
Thanks Sally for reminding us of the challenges and blessings of aging and continuing to learn about love. Thanks Myra for advancing our discussion so beautifully. Tom