Journey toward Worthiness

Every month, our Executive Director writes a column for Catholic Charities for the Idaho Catholic Register (a monthly state-wide Catholic newspaper).  Recently, he’s begun asking different staff members to contribute and I was asked to write the column for May.  I was given latitude regarding the theme/topic, but needed to tie in how CCI seeks to serve the community.  Here’s what I wrote:

As mental health counselors at Catholic Charities of Idaho, we see people every day who struggle with depression and anxiety. So often, when the layers are gently peeled away, we find that at the core of those feelings is a painful belief that they are “not enough.”

“Enough,” to most of us, means, “I am a human being with flaws, but still worthy of love.” But to others it can mean that they must be something more than what they are in order to be worthy of love, especially God’s love.

People respond in different ways to not feeling like they are enough. Some pour themselves out for others, like water from a tap, in an effort to earn worthiness. But any resulting good feelings are short-lived. Others stay as small and as invisible as possible, so as to avoid drawing attention to their perceived defectiveness. Many seek to dull the excruciating shame of feeling “not enough” with substances or other problematic behaviors.

All this leads to the question: How does one develop a sense of worthiness? While there is no simple answer, an important first step is to explore what that sense of unworthiness looks like in one’s life.

By way of example, and with a sincere wish to shine a light on the healing process, I offer a glimpse into what that journey has looked like in my life.

Seven years ago, I made the pilgrimage to Camino de Santiago de Compostela (Way of St. James in Spain). I was an inexperienced, out-of-shape, 40-year-old hiker hefting a too-heavy backpack.

One day, I found myself struggling on a mountain path. I was trying to keep moving – while gasping for breath and choking back tears – when my friend and walking companion insisted on swapping packs with me. I felt ashamed and guilty and had a hard time accepting her generosity. But my friend was being Christ for me so beautifully in that moment that something shifted within my heart and I agreed to trade packs.

As I strapped on her much-smaller pack, I noticed that I also carried a heavy burden of unworthiness, of “not enough-ness.” I began to wonder, perhaps for the first time, why this was so.

After our return, I sought counseling and began to explore what my life might be like if, maybe just maybe, I could learn to accept and trust that kind of love instead of pushing it away. Counseling helped me see that my internal fun-house-mirror perception of myself was a distorted image of who I am and what I am worth. Time spent in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament helped me see how sad it made Him when I pushed away His love because, in a perverse form of pride, I deemed myself unworthy of it. I also began to see how the enemy benefitted from keeping me small and discouraged.

Thanks be to God (and the counselor he sent me), I began to allow myself to not only accept His love for me, but to really feel it flow through me. An unexpected side effect : Once I could conceive of myself as worthy of love, I could begin to finally fully allow the love that others offered me to sink in. The water that used to run down the drain was now being captured and it eventually formed a deep well of gratitude and peace. Subsequently, my actions toward others flowed from this place of gratitude for His abundant love rather than from a desperate attempt to earn it.

It is perhaps safe to say that the journey toward worthiness is, at heart, a spiritual endeavor. Counseling can be an important part of this process by cultivating a safe place to uncover and question those basic assumptions we make about ourselves.

The counselors at Catholic Charities of Idaho seek to meet people where they are on their respective mountains, to recognize and respond to suffering with empathy and compassion, and to help people begin to reflect on the obstacles that stand between them and the vital recognition that they are “enough.”

If you have questions about the counseling process or would like to make an appointment with a Catholic Charities counselor, please call us at 208-350-7487.

{tagline ITAL] Cathleen Booth is one of two full-time staff counselors at Catholic Charities of Idaho.

 

 

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