I am Worthless, Lord
by Fr. Jack McArdle
Lord, when I say that I am worthless, I know I don't have to explain to you what exactly I mean by that. I feel, however, in pouring out my heart to you, and in trying to put words on how I feel, that, that in itself, might be a help. I'm not honestly sure where all this started, but, from a very early age, I felt that I wasn't worth much, that I wasn't as good as others, that I just didn't have what many of the others seemed to have. This was confirmed from a very early age through many experiences, many of which were quite painful. This ranged from comparing my family to other families that seemed much better off than we were; from children who had things that my parents couldn't afford; from comparing myself to others in school, to those who were brighter than me, much better in school, at games, school activities, or in general popularity. I always felt that I had to work much harder to get others' attention, or to get their approval. I longer for affirmation, and for assurance that I wasn't exactly an ugly duckling. I would freeze within at the slightest criticism, and I was often deeply hurt by sarcasm, or remarks that confirmed my suspicions that I was, in fact, worthless, and that there was nothing in me that drew admiration or praise from others. I spent much of my time wishing I were someone else. I wished I could sing like that person, play sport like someone else, or had the good looks and charm of another.
I know, as I say this, that there is a great deal of pride inset in all of this. I can see that with hindsight, but my feelings were no less real. I always considered myself as being shy, and I never thought of that as being fear. I was unhappy with how I was or what I had, and I never saw that as ingratitude. I coveted what others had, and I never saw that as jealousy. That's just the way it was, and that was how I felt. I lacked self-confidence, and I was afraid to venture an opinion in case I might sound stupid, or someone might laugh at my ideas. I often fawned, and sought approval, and would do anything to gain that approval. I became a people-pleaser, and I was afraid to say 'no', in case the other person mightn't like me. I carried a great deal of that into life with me. In fact, there is quite a deal of that still within me. Sharing with you openly how I feel gives me hope, because it may well be a step in the right direction. I don't ever want to be aggressive, but I would like to be assertive, to speak my mind, to express my opinion, and not to go on apologising for my existence. I see this as a very real form of bondage, that greatly limits the quality of my life.
I know it sounds selfish and ungrateful, Lord, but I thought that you had not given me a fair shake when you created me! In a world of hungry people today, I know that this was pure selfishness, and self-centredness. I often wondered why some people seem to be born with a silver spoon in their mouths, while others seem to have nothing going for them. Some people are just naturally gifted in so many ways, while others are just so dull, and ordinary. 'Ordinary' might be a good word to describe how I have seen myself for most of my life. In fact I had settled for the ordinary, and just wanted to be good at the ordinary! Oh, of course, I did discover some talent, and I knew I wasn't totally stupid, but the range of my abilities were so limited that I was fearful of stepping outside those perceived limits. I kept myself to myself a great deal, because I was afraid to tell people how I really felt about anything. I tended to agree with others, even when I had opinions that were different. I was conscious of some sort of moral cowardice, but I was too inhibited to take a stand on issues. I felt safer to hide in the crowd, to go with the flow, and to keep my opinions to myself. There were times when all this seemed to gather like a leaden weight within me, and I found it difficult to have any initiative, or to take risks. I now see this as some form of depression, even though I didn't recognise this for what it was at the time.
I always had a great fear of being honest. I hid behind a facade of confidence, even when I was totally unsure of myself within. I was afraid that others might get to really know me, and that they would laugh. I knew that their laugh would kill me, so I played games of pretence, I feigned indifference, and I was willing to be whatever I thought someone perceived me to be. Because of my own discomfit with myself, I was often very uncomfortable in the company of others. My life became a charade, and I could see no escape from my predicament. I harboured resentments, was easily hurt, and, I must confess, that I sometimes had a good feeling when someone else was seen to fail. I had a serious problem with authority, and I would do anything to achieve or retain their approval. I would complain to others about those in authority, but I would never question or challenge the directions I was given. I was always on my guard in the presence of an authority figure, and I always aimed to please at all costs.
As I recall my experience of growing up, I was very prone to guilt, because, Lord, you, too, were someone in authority, to be served and to be feared. I never actually had any conviction that you loved me. In fact, I felt that you couldn't possibly love me. I suppose I was trying to self-compensate for what others didn't give me, so I tended to be sneaky, underhanded, and dishonest. If others wouldn't give it to me, then, if the opportunity arose, I took it myself. I wanted to be able to have pocket money like everyone else, or to have something to show others that would get their attention. (I actually remember stealing a cigarette case, and giving it to someone, so that that person would like me). I never understood that love and respect were not items that could be bought. I never understood that, because of my low self-esteem, and lack of appreciation of myself, that I blocked off the possibility of being able to accept the love and respect of others. This low self-esteem meant that I was always giving other people power over me. It was as if I marched to the beat of someone else's drum. I became, on the outside, a total conformist, while, within and well disguised, there was a rebel anxious to break out. My anger was often expressed by becoming silent, and I often did not recognise this as anger. I was intimidated by violence, and I would go to any lengths to keep the peace. I was a pacificist through cowardice, and not by any great conviction about the merit of non-violence.
Forgiveness has always been a problem in my life, Lord. I was never good at forgiving myself, and, therefore, very slow to forgive others. Oh, I would pretend that all was well, but, underneath, I was planning some way to get even, or to ensure that the other person saw the wrong-doing, and would apologise, and thus give me the satisfaction of being proven right. It was very important for me to vindicate myself, and, even if I was unable to confront, I looked for other ways to set the record straight. I have never been good at confrontation, because of my lack of confidence, and my low self-image. I know of people who became alcoholics, because alcohol gave them the buzz, the confidence, and the honesty that they lacked in reality. I can fully understand how this could happen, and, providing the alcohol itself didn't take over, I could see great merit in finding new courage in a bottle.
Lord, I am sharing all this with you, because I want to begin to reclaim my life. I want to rid my heart of all the pettiness, the guilt, the self-condemnation, and the feeling of unworthiness. I want to open my heart to your message, and to the hope of the Gospel. I ask you, please, to heal every scar of mind and of memory. I ask for a whole new outpouring of your Spirit by way of a Confirmation, that will confirm, empower, and anoint me. My past can explain how I am, but I cannot go on using it as an excuse for how I am. I didn't have control over the past, but I want you to have control over my life from now on. I have no reason whatsoever to trust myself, and I don't want, nor do I ask that I myself might control anything. I know that it is never too late for you. I also know that I have to magnify you, in the sense that my concept of you has been far too small. If you were seen and accepted as all-powerful in my life, then, surely, a miracle begins right there. It is not a question of self-confidence, but it is about having confidence in you. If you are for me, then who can be against me? If the Father gave you to me, then, surely, I can trust that he will give me everything else. Lord, I feel it is time to roll back the stone from the tomb of my heart. I have been asleep, or in some sort of non-life for long enough. I know that you are now offering me a whole new chance to begin again, to be born again. Thank you, thank you, Lord, for the grace of salvation, for the grace to start again. I am willing to accept that gift right now, with a grateful and open heart. In my heart I feel that if I change, then my whole life will change. All I can do now is offer you every longing within my heart, every hunger within my soul, every hurt within my memory, and every hope for a whole new future.
My dear, dear child, thank you, thank you for pouring your heart out to me. Thank you for the trust and the goodwill. I know you through and through, and I understand you much much better than you could ever understand yourself. You have no idea how much I have longed for this day. I stand at the door, and knock, but I cannot enter until you open the door. You are very precious in my sight, and I would like to share with you just exactly what I mean by that. If you can get this one central point, then, I know, you will become important in your own eyes as well.
In the Gospels I told the apostles "You did not choose me; no, I have chosen you". You, my friend, did not choose to be born. You had no say whatever in becoming a member of the human race, and in living out your life as a human being. This may be difficult to understand, but let me use several examples to help you see things from my perspective. If you were a teacher, going in to teach a class, it could be expected that you know what you were going to teach today, and what the pupils may know at the end of the class that they may not know now. If you were a builder, building a house, it could be expected that you would have an architect's drawing of the building, right down to the last measurement. In other words, before you begin something, you have some definite idea of what the finished product will be like. When you were created it wasn't just that the Father had nothing better to do! And, by the way, "God don't make no junk", as one writer put it. At the moment of your creation, you had infinite possibilities, and a life without end. Each person is very very unique. I'm sure you yourself wouldn't like it if people were clones of each other. Each person is uniquely gifted, and no two people are the same. That is evident if you compare the finger prints of each, or do a D.N.A. blood-test of each. It is as if my Father broke up the mould and threw it away, the moment he created you. Because of hereditary factors, the body of each is obviously different, either in colour, size, or appearance. Personality is like a bag that contains all of one's habits, good and bad. This is the result of both nature and nurture. Part of being human is that you are powerless, of yourself, and, on your own, your life is unmanageable. It often takes years for people to discover this simple basic truth. Oh, I said this in the Gospels in many ways, on many different occasions, but who heard, and who believes me? I said that apart from me you can do nothing, and that I had come in person to lead you on the journey of life into the Promised Land. If it were possible for you to do that on your own, then I need not have taken on your humanity, and travelled the road with you. I'm sure you've often heard the quote "For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, so that those who believe in him may have eternal life". That word comes alive for you only when you can re-phrase it with conviction "For God loved me so much...."
I'm not condemning or blaming you, but a great deal of your poor self-image, lack of confidence, or self-loathing resulted from the solitary confinement of choosing to be alone in your world. You yourself were the focus of attention, and you narrowed your world down to yourself and what concerned you. In simple words, communication is at least two-way, or no way. You receive back what you yourself give away. If you don't give, you don't receive. Oh, yes, you gave, but it was seldom given freely. There was always a price-tag on everything. You gave to gain attention, you performed to merit approval, you existed to meet your own needs through the crumbs that fell from the tables of others. That was never my Father's intention for you, when he created you. He has no favourites, nor has he any grandchildren. You are a child of God, on this earth with as much right as any other human being that ever existed. That is central to my teaching on Kingdom living. In the kingdom of the world, people are categorised all the time, either through ethnic groups, rich, poor, powerful or disposable. In my Kingdom the most handicapped child on this earth has as much right to be here than has the greatest genius that ever lived.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is said; but, for me, beauty is found within the human heart. All the bodies, the beautiful, the athletic, the disabled, and the plain, will return to the dust from which they came. When I look within your heart I see the hurts, the struggles, and the origins of your present prayer. I want to take you in my arms, to hug you, to confirm you as someone who is most precious in my eyes. If you were the only person on this earth, I would still have come to be with you, because, on your own, you could never make it back to the Garden. At the time of creation there is frequent use of the phrase "And God saw that it was good..." O.K., you have failed, you have sinned, but not because you are evil, but because you are weak. I love you exactly as you are, right here, right now. And I love you so much more than that, and so I don't want you to remain as you are. I want to redeem you from the slavery of self-hatred, of self-condemnation, of self-depreciation. I want to lift you up, to fill your heart with hope, to roll away the stone, to throw open the doors of the upper room, and, like Lazarus, to call you to come forth into new life.
You can never find security outside of yourself. The pearl of great price, that for which you search, is hidden within your own heart. No matter what the limits of the body may be, all of God's creatures have within them the capacity to lead a full and worthwhile life. Life is not measured by achievements or accomplishments. There are no Brownie points, nor it is marked out of ten. Life is about goodwill, and there is peace on earth to those of goodwill. The only limits of my power working in you and through you are the ones you set. I have endless dreams for you, unbounded possibilities, and nothing less than a call to share in Divinity. I don't waste anything, so I am hoping that you will use all of your sense of worthlessness, all of your moral cowardice, and all of your lack of self-confidence as an incentive to get out of the way, and let me take over the running of your life. Because I am totally present to you now, and you have my full and total attention now, all I ask is that you slow life down to just one day at a time. Just for today, I will lead you every step of the way. Just for today I will not lead you when I won't be there to see you through. Just for today nothing will happen that you and I together will not be able to handle. O.K.? You might wish to pause here for a few moments to reflect on the simplicity and the seriousness of what it is I am asking from you.............................
Life is a journey, that is made up of many different journeys. In the course of a life-time several different selves emerge. In other words, you are not the same person you were twenty or thirty years ago. Today is a totally different day from yesterday, and you cannot live today on a Yes of yesterday. There are significant conversion points in the course of a life-time, when someone opts to turn around, to travel down another road, to decide to take a whole new direction in life. Life is a whole process of being born, of becoming, of gestation. You are now at a whole new and very significant point in your own journey. Thank you for turning to me at this juncture. Thank you for recognising my presence, and my part in the process. Let us move on together from here. In the Gospels I identified very strongly with the outcast, the marginalised, and those whom the world ignores. There is some of all of that within you, and that is why I am so pleased that you respond to my invitation, and that you are willing to accept me in a personal way, for specific reasons, and not in some sort of general and superficial acceptance.
There are many many others out there who are now experiencing what you have come through over the years. They desperately need someone to confirm and affirm them. Who better to do that than someone who has been down that same road? Compassion is not something you learn from a book. It is something you can learn and garner from your own hurts, pains, and struggles. Just as I entered into your life, to share the burden, the journey, and the struggle with you, so, you too, can enter into their lives, and become a life-giving person for them. This world is greatly in need of people with hearts full of compassion. They can be my touch-persons in the lives of others. You can turn what was a problem into a wonderful opportunity, what was failure into success, what you saw as worthlessness into eternal riches. Many are called, but few choose to follow. Thank you laying out your life before me, and for listening to my words of assurance and re-creation. Your life begins right now. Today is the beginning of the rest of your life..................
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It's Me Again, Lord... copyright © 2004 Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.