Lent is a time for spiritual renewal. Reflection and prayer can also be pathways to self-acceptance and, perhaps, personal growth.
Servite Father Ignatius Kissel, spiritual director at the Grotto, and Sister Barbara Kennedy, director of the Northwest Catholic Counseling Center, offer thoughts on working toward personal acceptance and development through spiritual practice and reflection during the Lenten season.
A desire to deal with personal problems comes from a yearning to be more authentic, compassionate and loving, said Sister Barbara. That compassion and love should be directed at yourself, too.
First, Sister Barbara advises, let go of the idea of “perfection.” It doesn’t exist.
“Self-acceptance and growth start to happen when I can believe that I am imperfect and vulnerable and fearful, and at the very same time I can also believe I am courageous and worthy of love,” said Sister Barbara “We have to learn how to appreciate the beauty of our cracks and imperfections so we can be kindler and gentler to ourselves.”
One of the prayers that Sister Barbara recommends to anyone, regardless of religious orientation, is the Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
Mindfulness and reflection can help people let go of defensiveness and take an honest look inward at their own actions and reactions.
“It’s about awareness of the present moment and acceptance, being in touch with yourself, and at times the presence of God,” Sister Barbara said.
On the wall of her office, Sister Barbara has a poster that says, “Courage doesn’t roar; it’s a quiet voice at the end of the day that says ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” She uses that as her personal motto.
Know God loves you
First, God loves you, imperfections, faults, flaws and all. That’s the most important message to take in before you begin to work toward self-acceptance, advises Father Kissel.
“Some people don’t recognize their own gifts,” he said. Others have difficulty acknowledging their faults.
Father Kissel recommends that people begin their exploration by praying over Psalm 139, which starts:
“Lord, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.”
Another starting point is to develop the right language for the process. Spiritual reading is great for finding the words, especially in the classics. Reading about others’ spiritual experience gets people thinking about their own lives and paths, Father Kissel said.
Silence and solitude are also important for prayer and reflection.
“God speaks to us through our feelings, as well as our thoughts,” the priest said. “Very often it’s an intuition or a sense of God’s presence.”
However, a person must be in a setting and state of mind where they can hear and feel that presence.
At the Grotto, people can walk quietly among the lofty trees and sit on a bench at each of the Stations of the Cross. Other people just find a quiet place to sit during the day-to-day hubbub.
Some people have complex problems to take on, abandonment issues or addictions, and may require therapy in conjunction with spiritual practice. Another person may aspire to quit swearing. Either way, small changes can add up over time.
Father Kissel also advises people to pick an “advisory council” – naming up to 10 people, living or dead, who sit at your table and influence your behavior. Who do you look up to? Whose advice do you trust?
Those are the people who will give you honest feedback about ways you can improve your relationship with God, yourself and the people around you, he said.
Focus on one problem at a time, Father Kissel said.
“We have this retreat of Lent every year,” he said. “If we pick just one thing each year, we could become saints in no time.”
Sister Barbara Kennedy -
“The Mindful Path of Self Acceptance” by Christopher Grammer
“The Gift of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Brené Brown
Father Ignatius Kissel –
Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux
Writings by Teresa of Ávila
Francis de Sales’ “Introduction to the Devout Life”
“The Way of Humility: Corruption and Sin; On Self-Accusation,” a series written by Pope Francis while he was cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, published by St. Ignatius Press