[The following came to mind because of several recent personal events, a long rumination over this column, and this Ace of Spades column about the mental soundness of the millennial generation. It was written by the petite powerhouse of Southern California, my beloved friend Duyen, shortly before she met and was courted by her husband-to-be Matt. It first appeared at Eternity Road on 9/21/2008. -- FWP]
Hello, everyone. It's Duyen again. Please bear with me. I haven't been writing much lately, for a simple reason: I've felt that I have nothing to say that anyone would want to hear.
Which is pretty much what this Rumination is about.
You've probably heard the phrase "impostor syndrome." It's applied to people who can't accept that they deserve the attention they're getting, or the esteem in which others hold them. (I just had a little shot of it this very instant, finishing that last sentence: "What sort of self-important moron worries about whether it's okay to end a sentence with a preposition?" I just told myself that Fran would frown at me if I didn't make the effort.)
I think the phrase was coined to avoid the use of an older term: unworthiness. A lot of people feel unworthy: of their jobs, their salaries, their homes, their safety and security, their pleasures, and the love of their spouses. The ironic part is that those folks go back and forth between chafing under the sense of unworthiness and arrogantly judging the worth of others, but we'll get to that later.
Unworthiness has religious connotations, too. Remember the centurion at Capernaum? "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed." Catholics make use of that phrase at Mass: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed." It's a token of submission to the will of God, and a gesture of gratitude for the gift of the Miracle of Transubstantiation embodied in the Eucharist.
What a lot of Christians forget, at least from time to time, is that the separation between God and Man is completely unlike any other separation we know. It might be appropriate for us to feel unworthy of His gifts, but we can be certain that He doesn't think that meanly of us. He created us, one and all, with the potential to rise to His side on the Last Day.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I went on a date the night before last, a fix-up arranged by a lady I work with. It wasn't successful. I dressed nicely, I tried to be agreeable and charming, he was on time, well groomed, and perfectly courteous. There was nothing really wrong with either of us, but our conversation just didn't work. Neither of us wanted to talk about our work, and we had a lot of trouble probing for one another's backgrounds and interests. Believe it or not, for most of dinner we would up talking about his medical history.
That's not a basis for romantic attachment.
It's a common enough complaint that people on blind dates don't know where to start with one another. It's partly from the "not the Girl Next Door" effect, but I think there's more involved. I think a decent person who finds himself dependent on blind encounters for a chance at love all too easily feels that he must be somehow deficient. Inadequate. Unworthy.
If you feel that way about yourself, you're going to have a lot of trouble making the personal disclosures that might persuade someone else to pledge himself to you. You'll hide yourself inside yourself. You might tell yourself that it's just self-protection -- "he could be a stalker or a rapist" -- but way more often than not, what you're doing is shielding your imagined shortcomings from someone else's inspection.
And that is so not a basis for romantic attachment.
There's a strong correlation between the modern plague of unworthiness and modern judgmentalism: the readiness to pronounce a verdict of unworthiness on someone else. We've been told to think that "I'm OK, you're OK," but a lot of us seem to prefer "I might not be OK, but you're at least as bad." I don't have figures; I just have the same personal, anecdotal experience of humanity that you have. Please, review your own memories and think about whether you get the same sense of the thing.
We all have flaws. No, I won't tell you about mine, at least not for anything less than a nice dinner out. But I have them, and you have yours. But really, what are they? Do you sometimes raise your voice when you get frustrated with your spouse, your kids, or other people? Do you sometimes kick an inanimate object because you injured yourself on it? Do you sometimes hang back from a chore you know you should do, by invoking the Southern California Excuse ("I'm just not into it right now")?
BIG BLEEPING DEAL!
Want to know something? You're worthy. Worthy of respect for being self-supporting. Worthy of respect for meeting your obligations, even if reluctantly. Worthy of respect for at least trying to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And so is just about everyone you pass on the street.
If you don't think so, consider this: God created this entire universe specifically to give rise to you. More than that, He sent His Son to take human form and suffer death by torture for your sake. (For mine too, so no more wisecracks about Asian drivers!) How much more worthy could anyone be?
There are a lot of people who have a stake in making you feel unworthy. You can almost feel them groping for your pocketbook. Want to give them a little zing! at low cost? When one of them makes his pitch that you should submit to his notions and sacrifice your own freedom to them, smile and say, "God created this universe so I could romp around in it, so buzz off." You'll enjoy his reaction, I promise!
You can do that even if you're an atheist, by the way.
As much help as I've had overcoming the sense of unworthiness, I still get blindsided by it now and then. It will always be that way, maybe for all of us. It's just as important to be able to doubt yourself as it is to remember that God loves you and wants you to be eternally happy. The important thing is to stay strong. To keep faith. If you have faith that God considers us worthy of his love, you can convert it into another kind of faith: faith in yourself.
May God bless and keep you all.