Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On Starting Over... Self-Image

Modern media is very good at making normal people, especially women, feel inferior.  Magazines picture society's most beautiful women, modified because even they are not as perfect naturally as the ridiculous standard says they should be.  Movies feature the most attractive actors and actresses doing everything unbelievably well in the most unrealistic situations.  The popular music hits are very manipulative, glamorizing immoral lifestyles and objectifying people, neglecting to uphold the dignity of each person and only focusing on the pleasure one's body can provide.  A woman cannot go throughout an average day without being told in multiple ways that she should drop twenty pounds, increase her muscle tone, decrease her personal value, and make herself available to every man who wants her, because her purpose is to please men with her body by selling herself as an object in the way that she dresses and behaves.  Men, though not under the same, constant, visual pressure, are sold a false, dumbed-down definition of manhood.  They are told to act on their basest desires, not to think, but to listen to impulse, to view women as objects for their enjoyment, to chase them like animals rather than pursue them like gentlemen, seeking physical satisfaction alone and lowering their standards to match society's lowered expectations.

This sad picture of secular society explains why so many teenagers and young adults today struggle with self-image.  After all, it's hard enough to believe you're beautiful and valued when the hormones and challenges of transitioning from childhood to adulthood begin without all of the outside pressure.  And in this digital age, growing adults are faced with so many more visual reminders of what society claims they should look like and what their lives should be.  Too many teenagers struggle through high school without ever having anyone tell them that the cultural "norm" isn't normal, they aren't supposed to look like that, and that they are truly beautiful when they are striving to be the best versions of themselves, not the closest copies of other people. 

This post is for those who haven't been told yet that they are valuable, worthy, and beautiful, because they are children of God.  God has formed and fashioned each one of you, and He does NOT make mistakes.  Maybe you aren't as attractive as you think you should be, maybe you've had people say unkind things to you about your appearance, but please let me remind you of something: you are worth so much more than your visual appearance.  Every single person has been created by God in a certain way, and every one of you is special in God's eyes.  He made you look the way you do for a reason, and- once again- He does NOT make mistakes.  By hating your appearance, you are hating a work of God's hands, and that is not only detrimental to yourself, but also offensive to Him!  He is your Father, you are an embodiment of His love, and you are amazing!  Just stop, look at yourself, and realize that every single inch of you was specifically designed by God, and He finds it "very good" (Genesis 1:31). 

And so I challenge you today to stop trying to measure up to society's demands of you, because let me tell you a secret: you never will be able to, no one ever can, because you will never be perfect enough.  Society takes all you give it, eats it up, uses it, and then looks for more.  It is never satisfied, and will never give you the affirmation you are looking for.  So stop caring about what Cosmopolitan  says you should look like, what the movies tell you your life should be, and start working to please the one Being whose opinion really matters.  Today, I challenge you, to stop asking "Am I pretty enough for guys/girls/my friends?".  Tell yourself instead, "God loves me, and when I live my life for Him, my love shines through, and I can find my beauty in my identity in Him".  "I am beautiful because God made me, and He does NOT make mistakes".

When you live for God, and make His opinion the most important, and stop worrying so darn much about what "other people" think, then you are set free to grow and become the person God intended, and you'll discover that you've been stifling all along, but that God enables you to breathe deeply, live fully, and laugh joyfully again.

You are an incredible, living soul, you are beautiful, God loves you, He delights in you, and if you seek to be a joy to Him, suddenly you'll realize that you are worth so much more than society would lead you to believe...

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."

-1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Thursday, January 2, 2014

On Starting Over... Goals

Two days in to 2014 the question on everyone's lips is "do you have any New Year's resolutions?".  It's the question everyone dreads, but feels obligated to answer, because it reminds him of all the resolutions he's failed to keep, all the things he should be doing better, and all the expectations everyone has of him.  He knows he won't be able to keep the resolutions, but he feels he must make them so he can at least show people he is a motivated individual, and try to convince himself that he can and will do better this year.  It's the same interior struggle he puts himself through every year, and though he never changes the way he forms his goals, he always expects himself to reach them, and always ends up disappointed.

This endless cycle is familiar to many, and this year it needs to change.  Every person has something that Sean Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, likes to call the Personal Bank Account.  Each goal reached and promise fulfilled is a deposit into that bank account, and each failure is a withdrawal.  Because people are so hard on themselves, the deposits are much smaller than the withdrawals, and it takes a lot of them to restore any semblance of self-esteem and interior peace once they are lost.  This is the root of why people need to change the way they make their goals. 

Listen carefully: you cannot do everything and you cannot change the past.  You cannot turn back time and change the way you spent it, so stop worrying, guilt-tripping, and fretting over the poor decisions or mistakes made.  Do what you can to amend the hurts you may have caused, but accept the fact that some things cannot be fixed, sometimes all you can do is ask for forgiveness, whether from God, a friend, or from yourself, and then let go.  The only way you can look ahead with hope is if you are at peace with what is behind.  You may be hurting, but you cannot heal until you've removed the dagger.  Do no let anger, guilt, hate, or a lack of forgiveness impair your ability to grow. 

Once you've learned to stop allowing the guilt of past failures overshadow your confidence in your ability to do better, you are ready to look at the future with new eyes, consider the coming months realistically, and make goals you can actually reach.  Instead of making big, impressive resolutions that can only be achieved if every day goes EXACTLY as planned and neither you nor those around you make any mistakes, set a couple of long term goals, and then establish "baby steps" in order to complete them.  Setting small, reachable goals will motivate you more, because you won't feel overwhelmed every time you think of them, will actually try to reach them since you believe you can, and as you achieve each one you will be that much more likely to work harder for the next one, because you will have the confidence in knowing you have already achieved something.  If you realize that the goals you have set are unreachable, do not give up on them, adjust them to fit your life.  They should be challenging but not impossible, because ultimately the point of making a goal is not to discourage yourself by never accomplishing it, but to help form you into a better, stronger person by helping you to focus your efforts towards the realization of something worth while, something that either helps you or those around you become better.

As Catholics, we also have the beautiful luxury of being able to offer up our daily struggle to God: be sure you do this!  Ask God every day to guide you, pray over your goals, ask for His blessing over them, and pray daily for the strength to achieve them, or adjust them, as necessary.

And may St. Paul, who transformed his life for Christ, lead your journey to transform yourselves for the better this year!