When I was younger I could really indulge in self loathing. I could get on a terrible kick, thinking myself the worst of the worst — which is really a treacherous arrogance.
I remember one time when I was feeling particularly bad I took myself out to the ocean. I was in graduate school in Berkeley. Something had happened, I don’t even remember what, and it had left me writhing in shame. I just knew I was the worst idiot alive, not even worth the air I was breathing.
The ocean usually would at least calm me. I remember watching the rhythmic crash of the waves against the shore, how the foamy edges of the surf would froth as the water receded. There were gulls, and a bit later, pelicans.
In those days I was in the midst of a long moratorium from Christian practice. I wasn’t going to church or reading scripture or praying much, so it was unusual for my thoughts to turn to Jesus. And it’s not that they actually did. It was more like an image bubbled up out of my heart and laid itself before me for my contemplation.
It was of a youngish man — full of wisdom and sorrow. As I considered him, I began to understand that it was Christ. He was whole and confident, very different from how I was feeling. He stood on the air, just above me, looking out. He was feeling deep love for all the peoples of the earth and didn’t spare me much attention, though I was certainly among those he loved.
Because he wasn’t looking at me, I sat there feeling neglected and rotten while the breeze pelted me with tiny bits of sand and the gulls called to one another. It’s amazing what self-pity will come up with, for I said, remembering the poor hemorrhaging woman, “Just let me touch the hem of your robe. I won’t ask anything else. Just give me a little fragment.”
And then I came to understand that I could always touch his clothes, for what he wears is love. Caring for the people of the world that he cares for, I would be touching the hem of his robe all the time. As loathsome as I imagined myself to be, I was still more than all right, and I was meant for love.
These days I don’t loathe myself. Time has sanded the sharp edges off, and besides, who am I to judge? We have such tiny, one-sided understandings of the miraculous beings each of us is. Caught up in what culture says, what our families say, we don’t see how precious and beautiful we are — and how rare.
No matter how awful you think you are, remember this. You are fascinating and exquisite. Christ loves you and wouldn’t change a thing about you. And when you gift that understanding to others, you are touching the hem of his robe.