In the past couple of years there have been many of these moments – through the normal trying for jobs and memberships but most of all through the process of discernment. Trying for the religious life. Every time I come to a door and knock, I meet new people and answer their questions, and I feel on display and I know I am judged, and I worry. Who among you hasn’t felt this? I sit up sometimes, afterwards, and in my mind go over what I’ve done, what I’ve said, how I’ve said it, and I second-guess myself. Did I say something I shouldn’t, didn’t what I should? Did I sound more certain about things than I really was? Or maybe less? Am I irreparably flawed? Not good enough? If they could only know, if they would only give me a chance – really – to show them, to tell them, to explain… And I find ways to express myself so much more eloquent and precise than those my interlocutors got to hear… Who among you hasn’t done this?
These are the moments when I feel like there is pressure upon me to be perfect. But here’s the thing: I am not perfect. And here’s a more important thing: I am not intended to be perfect. Only to be the best of what I am. Who among you doesn’t know this?
When I worry about what others think of me, it is because I understand the reality of perception: others see me, and they think me better than I am, and they think me worse than I am. This happens because others don’t know the breadth of me, don’t know the context of my actions, and often observe me out of sequence, out of pattern, even out of character. We do this to each other: watching an act of kindness, we judge the person kind; watching the same person in a tactless moment, we judge him insensitive or rude, and the patterns we create of each other are limited to actions. We generalize. These others who watch me even with most benevolent hearts, even for long periods of time, don’t know my private little moments. My hidden secrets. My ups and downs. Others don’t know me. And so they think me better than I am, and they think me worse than I am.
And then, I see myself – and I think myself better than I am, and I think myself worse than I am. Because I do know the breadth of me, the patterns, the reasons and justifications for everything I do. Every time I miss the mark I understand why I have, and it is easy to excuse because I have a reason. But every time I miss the mark I know that I’ve missed it, and it’s impossible to excuse this many. I am privy to the heights of love and the abyss of penance that I travel, to the beauty of my creations and nobility of my aspirations. And I am privy to my every failed intention for lack of effort, my every lie and every cruel word.
Still. Do I really know myself? I am plunged into this or that extreme of self-judgment, and I am often oblivious to my own impact on the world around me. I don’t really know the depth of me. I don’t know my subconscious thought. I don’t even remember all that I have done, my memory both full of gaps and colored by later perceptions. I don’t know me. And so I think me better than I am, and I think me worse than I am.
God alone knows me for who I really am. What I am. How and why I am. It is a thought, always present at some back nook of my mind, that tends to surface when I am worried – at those times when I feel nervous, exposed, and judged, threading every word of the preceding day through dry and twitching lips. This thought floats to the surface and calms it like a hush, like a plush embrace, and I rest in Him. Whatever outcome will be, it says, will be all right. Because it’s not about being good, it’s about being true. If you’re true to yourself, you’re true to Him in Whom you rest, and true to Him is good. You can lose every battle, it says, and every place you call home, and even people you love, and it will be all right, because you will never lose Him. You are never alone.
He alone knows the whole and the part, the context and the reasons, my private little moments and their infinite ripples through the universe. And it is only alone with Him that all the waves on the surface of my being calm and settle, and the beautiful silence descends. It is when I close my eyes and raise my face to Him and loose my hands and whisper that all these things, whatever I am, the good and the bad and the confused, the best, the unique, all that I am is for Him, here, His only and forever in the fullness of my being—“Take me as I am,” I whisper—only then am I truly at peace with myself. Then, when my heart is all open and my Love is smiling and I never can know what He can see inside me but I know He accepts what I give—then I don’t worry. I have no need to be perfect. Only to be what I am. The best of what I am.