If people knew the real you, would they like what they see? Too many of us—maybe most of us—would answer “No.” Perhaps because we don’t really know who we are.
In my blog post last week, I poked fun at pop psychology for making self-love the answer to all life’s problems. So simple a solution doesn’t seem to make sense when so many people drag behind them their little red wagon full of painful hurts, constant anger, deep resentment, lost loves, broken relationships—searching for nothing more than happiness.
As he himself was seeking truth and identity, it took Trappist monk Thomas Merton until his final years to realize that each person already has what they are looking for. In New Seeds of Contemplation, written a few years before his death in 1968, he recognized that "within myself is a metaphorical apex of existence at which I am held in being by my Creator."
It’s true self-knowledge that yields healthy self-love.
“Know thyself” is a maxim traced as far back as the ancient Egyptians and chiseled in stone on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The ancient wisdom was not “Love thyself.”
Lack of self-knowledge, medieval scholar St. Bonaventure once wrote, makes for faulty knowledge in all other matters.
Ilia Delio of Villanova University elaborates: “Love of self is not selfishness but a humble recognition of our lives as true, good and beautiful. Without real love of self, all other loves are distorted.”
It’s my belief that the idea of humans being “made in the image of God” has nothing to do with our bodies. If God is love, as apostle John defines Him in his Gospel, then the image in which you and I are made is—love.
The late Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar held that an infant experiences the love of its mother before it develops its own sense of self. After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, he wrote in Love Alone Is Credible, she finally receives her child's smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child, and as the child awakens to love it also awakens to knowledge.
In A Résumé of My Thought, his description of this metamorphosis borders on the poetic:
The infant is brought to consciousness of himself only by love, by the smile of his mother. In that encounter the horizon of all unlimited being opens itself for him, revealing four things to him: (1) that he is one in love with the mother, even in being other than his mother, therefore all being is one; (2) that that love is good, therefore all being is good; (3) that that love is true, therefore all being is true; and (4) that that love evokes joy, therefore all being is beautiful.
That's the real you.