“Make peace with yourself, and both heaven and earth will make peace with you.” Saint Isaac the Syrian
What does it mean to make peace with yourself and why is it so hard!? I meditate on this quote by St. Isaac the Syrian a lot – this is a man who knew that loving God, and loving others, has a lot to do with our ability to love ourselves. St. Augustine also wrote that we must know ourselves, if we desire to know God.
Jesus told us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
How can I love God with all of my heart, if I do not know what a heart is worth? How can I love God my all my soul, if I never consider its existence? How can I love God with all of my mind, if I am constantly busying myself with other things? How can I love my neighbour as myself, if I do not love myself at all?
The truth is that I simply cannot. If I am not at peace with myself, I cannot be at peace with God or anyone else. If I do not love, value, and appreciate my own existence as God has made me, I will not be able to do the same for others. I may be able to replicate peace, joy, and love but it will always be a facade of the real thing.
So then if making peace with ourselves is one of the greatest stages in our spiritual journey, why are we always trying to run away from this process? Here are a few reasons I can think of:
1. We are afraid of pride
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)
This fear of pride, however, comes from a misunderstanding of humility. If I think little of myself, what humility is there in serving others or patiently accepting poor treatment and harsh words? This kind of behaviour and thinking is rooted more in insecurity, rather than humility. True humility is acting like Christ, summarized so perfectly in Philippians 2:5-8. Jesus knew that he was equal with God and YET He made Himself of no reputation. This is real humility and real self-sacrifice – knowing that we have the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven, that we are unconditionally loved and accepted children of God, and CHOOSING to put others before ourselves out of sacrificial love, kindness, and joy like Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
2. We cannot sit still
Many people have a hard time being alone – some may find it hard to live by themselves, be single, or even spend just a few minutes in silence. Instead, we always busy ourselves with projects, work, service, books, or even bible studies! Why? We say that we don’t have time. Or, we argue that we are doing spiritually beneficial things with the time that we have – I mean come on what is more important than serving God’s people!? But I think the truth is that (1) we are afraid to sit with ourselves, (2) it doesn’t occur to us that being alone with God is important, or (3) we are afraid to hear God and be convicted about our actions.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.” Psalm 62:5
“For faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17
“The first stage of this tranquility consists in silencing the lips when the heart is excited. The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited. The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.” St. John Climacus
“The arrows of the enemy cannot touch one who loves quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will often be wounded.” Abba Nilus
There are numerous bible verses, quotes by church fathers, and books on the importance of practicing regular periods of silence. It is in sitting before God in solitude that we are able to watch our own thoughts, meditate on our behaviour, and most importantly hear God speak to us. Do not expect to hear from God or learn about yourself, if you never have any time to listen and observe. Quiet time in God’s presence is crucial to learning about, loving, and making peace with yourself. It is a necessary step in sanctification, purification, and spiritual growth.
3. We avoid (seriously dislike) repenting
We are creatures of pride. Our very fall was due to human pride that still resides in each one of us today. As such, it is extremely difficult to confess our faults, struggles, weaknesses, and mistakes. It is extremely hard to admit such things to another person, but it is arguably harder to admit them to ourselves. If we are really being honest, we can confess that sometimes we apologize to someone because we want their love, respect, attention, acceptance (or because it is less of a hassle) than because we truly believe that we are at fault. There is seemingly less to benefit from self-reflection.
But daily repentance and reflection is the source of love and joy – love for yourself, God, and others. Yes, it is hard to be vulnerable about our flaws, but we must remember that we are not pouring ourselves out before a great black void that cannot help us! As we bring our struggles to God, He frees us from them. He works within us to liberate us from our weaknesses, our demons, our flaws, bad habits, and learned behaviours. What brings more love of self than knowing that God of the universe actively desires and enjoys working in your life – that he cares for you? What brings more love to others than seeing that we are all equally imperfect? What can bring more joy than freedom from such bonds? Thus, daily repentance before our Lord is crucial to making peace with ourselves.
4. It hurts and 5. It takes time and effort
Making peace with yourself is a healing process and we all recognize that healing is painful. Healing requires digging up bad experiences, painful memories, and shedding light on wrong beliefs. Healing may mean changing the way we think or act – it may mean letting go of certain people. Often confronted with all of this potential pain, we decide that we do not want to take the time to make the effort. We simply do not want to associate ourselves with “self-help books” or “therapy” – that stuff is for crazy people.
The truth is that we all have baggage and we all need to learn to be reconciled with ourselves. No one is born into self-love – especially in a world where any sign of weakness is seen as a defect at best, nonsense, or complete failure at worst. If you think you don’t need to make any effort to reach such peace, you are kidding yourself. If you think you can avoid pain and suffering, I’m sad to inform you that you are wrong. There will always be pain; however, you can suffer on your way to healing and building a better relationship with God and others or you can suffer and grow more isolated from everything and everyone.
With of all that being said, I hope you can see the importance and necessity of this process of making peace with yourself. I pray that you have the strength to begin your journey and the courage to ask for help. I know God is working in you at this very instant.
Some helpful resources:
–Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud (deals with issues of bonding, boundaries, understanding good and bad, and growing emotionally and spiritually).
–Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (deals with issues of emotional and spiritual maturity)
–The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
–Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives by Elder Thaddeus
-A Christian Counsellor
-Spiritual father, mother, or mentor
Just remember the importance of sitting by yourself, in silence, before God!! This is perhaps the greatest tool when practised regularly and in combination with these others things!!