In the first book of Samuel, Peninnah ridicules Hannah for being barren. Hannah responds by allowing herself to feel diminished, worthless, and abandoned by God. I grant that in those days, barrenness was considered a curse from God and having children (especially sons) was a great blessing. Yet Hannah’s husband didn’t believe that, showed obvious devotion, and said his great love was worth more than 10 sons. It was only Peninnah whose scorn was so damaging. Could Hannah have responded differently?
I’m continuously learning something God wants us to know in the depth of our being – that our worth and lovability is not dependent on the words or actions of another. No one can cause you to feel worthless and small unless you give them that power.
The truth is: You and I are inherently lovable. In fact, God loves us passionately, wildly, and with abandon, and so deeply that this great love overflowed into the incarnation we just celebrated. It blows me away that the God who placed the stars, created the oceans, made mountains rise up, and fashioned a dizzying array of creatures and plants – this creative, wonderful God loves me. Me?? Really? I will never fully understand, but I hope to increasingly let that truth into my heart and help others to do so as well.
When that truth fills me, I know there is a part of me deep inside that can never be diminished or destroyed – the radiant core of who I truly am and from whom I come. I draw strength from that center, and I can choose to live out of God’s truth instead of someone else’s (or even my own, as I can be terribly harsh with myself!) I also find that when I’m living that truth, I more readily see it in others. Despite their flaws, they, too, are beloved of God, and it generates compassion.
This doesn’t mean I don’t listen to critique; to the contrary, honest and caring feedback is quite helpful. I take it seriously, assessing the degree of truth, and bringing it into prayer, knowing that God and I together can work on my many(!) imperfections so I can grow and improve, becoming an ever more transparent instrument of Christ.
Yet, any twisting of helpful critique into an attempt to ridicule or demean, or outright scorn like Penninah, is borne out of that person’s own hurt and insecurities, and their need to position themselves as better and worthwhile. In other words, it says more about them than it does about me. I don’t have to let myself feel lowly and worthless because someone else tries to make me feel that way. My worth is not dependent on them; it is dependent on my identity in God and the great love God has for me.
As we move into Ordinary Time, I pray to stay centered in who and whose I am, and to keep bringing to birth what God has begun in me. Christmas season is over, but we can still proclaim Emmanuel, God with us.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.