I don’t trust myself.
Have you said, “I don’t trust myself” to yourself? If you haven’t, it’s a pretty good bet that you know someone who has. Depending on our impulses, temptations and circumstances, we might not trust ourselves in our speech, our drinking behaviors, our humor, our eating patterns, our internet use, or in the grocery store. That can be a whole range of situations in which we don’t trust ourselves.
But have you ever thought that you might not trust yourself in relationship with God? That you might not let yourself approach God, be near God out of fear, anger, disappointment or for some other deeply held reason or assumption? Have you found that you are distracting yourself when you intended to pray or attend Mass, that you shy away from prayer time, that you never seem to quite get to opening the Scriptures?
Most of us have modes of operating that distance us from God – remember St. Paul’s lament in Romans 7:15? Paul wrote: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Something is going on inside him that he doesn’t understand, that he doesn’t want in the core of his being, and that may well be leading him away from God. Why?
We are many parts in one self.
I argue that we all have zones or regions inside of us where we are alienated from God in some way. In fact, I think we have multiple aspects to our identity, different parts. What are these parts?
Consistent with Internal Family Systems (IFS), I define these parts as separate, independently operating personalities within us, each with own unique prominent needs, roles in our lives, emotions, body sensations, guiding beliefs and assumptions, typical thoughts, intentions, desires, attitudes, impulses, interpersonal style, and world view.
And each of those parts has a different way of seeing God.
And here’s the kicker: Each part also has an image of God. Each part has a different understanding of God, derived from its relational experiences and how it made sense of those experiences. When a part is not in right relationship with our core self, its image of God is always distorted in some way, that part’s God image is always heretical in some way. I’m not saying we are formal heretics – that would require us giving willful assent to the heresy. But we are material heretics in that at least some parts of us default to those erroneous beliefs and assumptions about God. The bottom line is that these parts of us don’t know God as He really is.
Do you think you’re immune from these heretical God images? Ok, I want you to remember when you were in a really dark place in your life. See if you can get in touch with that experience, go back in time. How did you feel God to be in your bones at that moment? Loving, caring, the Good Shepherd, merciful, gentle, and kind? Really? Intellectually you may have held on to the Catechism’s description of God, but were all your parts on board with that understanding – or did that Catechism definition of God seem a little …abstract?
I’ll get right to it. I believe that most Catholics have parts (who at least at some moments) feel crushed and disappointed by God, or who are raging at God for perceived injustices. Some may see God as extremely demanding, hard, or exacting – scrupulosity, anyone? And some parts within us, in our secularized culture may just see God as distant or even irrelevant, perhaps even non-existent. And I believe so many of us Catholics have parts that live in fear or even in terror of God -- these frightened protector parts try to suppress the parts of us that are angry or disappointed in God, or who see Him as distant or disengaged, into an internal exile. Why? Because our protector parts for that that these parts’ anger, disappointment, or disinterest will offend God, and provoke him to hurt us.
Evangelization starts within.
So the first evangelization we need to do in inside us. With our own parts. And in recent years, those with experience in bringing the Gospel to people have realized the importance of pre-evangelization. The preparatory work. The preliminaries we need before we begin talking about Jesus or salvation or any religious themes that will turn the other person off because there’s no frame of reference for understanding.
In his blog post, Marc Cardaronella explains that when we want to bring the joy and peace and love of the Gospel to those who have little or no experience of God, we have to do the work of pre-evangelization. He writes: This stage seeks to show that our basic human desires for security, love, and acceptance find their fulfillment in God. It answers the fundamental questions of life such as: Why do I exist? Where does everything come from? Why is the world the way it is? What is my purpose in this world?
Similarly, in her book Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell describes first threshold of conversion as “initial trust.” She says in Chapter 5, that on the threshold of initial trust, “A person is able to trust or has a positive association with Jesus Christ, the church, a Christian believer, or something identifiably Christian. Trust is not the same as an active personal faith. Without some kind of bridge of trust in place, people will not move closer to God.”
Bringing it all together
In addition to our parts and our body, we also have a core self. In Internal Family System (IFS) Therapy (which is my favorite therapeutic modality), this self is the core of the person, the center of the person. This is who we sense ourselves to be in our best moments, and when our self is free, and unblended with any of our parts, when our self governs our whole being as an active, compassionate leader. The self is like the conductor of the orchestra, where the parts are the musicians. The orchestra is one (a unity) but also many (a multiplicity).
The problem often is that our parts don’t trust our core self. Because of traumas, attachment injuries, relational wounds, and other adverse life events, parts take on extreme roles in our lives. They have limited vision, and are often stuck in the past, at some earlier developmental age, so they can experience themselves as very young. They may not even be aware that there is a core self, because other parts are in the driver’s seat of our life.
The main point – on trusting our core self to be our parts’ bridge to God.
God respects our freedom and our dignity to the utmost – He does not intrude upon us, invade us or violate us. He will not force Himself upon us, even if some of our parts want that. I believe the our core self is the ideal mediator between God and our parts. I think we need to do real inner pre-evangelization with our parts – that parts need to come to trust that the self can reliably help us toward God. Richard Schwartz, the founder of IFS describes IFS as “attachment taken inside,” so that the parts can form secure bonds with the self. Then our self can help meet our parts’ needs for security, acceptance and love that are essential before the process of evangelization can continue.
When your core self can do that, it can bring the light of grace to all of your parts. Remember, our Lord commanded us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are supposed to love ourselves in an ordered way. And no one else can replace the love we are supposed to have for ourselves.
Loving myself in my parts, the ones that are lost, rejected, banished in exile or otherwise shunned reminds me of the Christmas Midnight Mass reading from Isaiah 9: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone. Think about that in terms of a great light coming through your core self to the parts of you that have lived in darkness and gloom. And with that light comes peace, joy, love and a deep sense of well-being that comes from true interior integration grounded in authentic human formation. I wish that for all of you this Christmas.
If you are interested in IFS and parts work, check out my podcast Interior Integration for Catholics, where I use an IFS lens to help us understand and love ourselves and others, all grounded a Catholic worldview (especially episode 71 and episode 73). For those who want to work on their own human formation from an IFS perspective with other like-minded Catholics, check out my Resilient Catholics Community (RCC). In the RCC, we make a one-year pilgrimage together toward better human formation, shoring up our natural foundations for our deep intimacy with God and Mary in our spiritual lives. Registration for the RCC is only open in December and June of each year.