It is newly 2024 as I write these words. Like many others, I’m hoping this new year will be better than the last one, and especially, that I will be a new-and-improved version of myself. Maybe (just maybe), if I am a little more perfect this year, I will finally do, or say, or be, or whatever it takes, to be good enough to be truly lovable.
But I’m also immersed right now in reading about this month’s congregational theme, The Gift of LIBERATING LOVE, which is presenting me with interesting new perspectives and possibilities. My friends at the Soul Matters Sharing Circle have just introduced me to journalist and author Elizabeth Gilbert. (You may know Gilbert best from Eat, Pray, Love, her memoir of spiritual seeking, subsequently made into a movie starring Julia Roberts as Gilbert.)
I attempted to get a more in-depth understanding of this interesting writer by googling her. Instead of great depth, she presented me with this simple greeting:
New year, same us.
We just get to be here, even if we’re not new and improved versions of ourselves.
We just get to be here.
Come to think of it, that's definitely an in-depth understanding. Gilbert, you see, is on a self-love mission. But that mission is not just for herself; it’s also for you, for me, for all of us. She is struggling not only to free herself from feelings of perfectionism and inadequacy but also to help all of us free ourselves from those same, self-punishing traps.
“To condemn yourself as unlovable is to swallow a terrible lie,” writes Gilbert. “And to believe that you must earn love through perfectionism, or that you must seek love from others in order to become whole, turns all of us into hungry beggars.”
According to Gilbert, the cycle of self-loathing is rampant in our culture. To escape, she has created a learning space and spiritual practice called Letters from Love, a place where “people come together to discover their inherent value and exquisite preciousness, and to learn how to write and speak to themselves from a place of love and friendliness.”
For over a quarter century, Gilbert has engaged in a personal spiritual practice of writing daily letters to herself from love, and she is on a mission to share that practice with the world.
It’s a simple practice, really. Before doing anything else, she asks, “Dear Love, what would you have me know today?” Then when she puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), she lets love write a letter to her.
“I believe there is an ocean of warm, affectionate, and outrageously unconditional love available to us all…conveniently accessible from within,” says Gilbert. “I don’t believe anyone is excluded from this ocean of love; it is only a question of learning how to hear it, how to feel it, how to trust it.”
Since I am a lifelong perfectionist, who never feels quite good enough to be deserving of love, that spiritual practice sounds like a great idea. I think I’ll ask that question tomorrow morning, and see what love has to tell me.
In my exploration of liberating love this month, there are a couple of other tasks on my agenda. Just like learning about Gilbert’s “Dear Love” practice, these ideas come directly from the Spiritual Exercises included in this month’s Soul Matters Ministry Guide.
One of my tasks is to create a list of all the special people who have demonstrated love toward me throughout my life, giving me gifts of liberation, healing, and transformation. Like so many of us, I sometimes feel I have not received much love in my life. The truth is, all of us have been loved greatly by friends and family, and sometimes just by brief acquaintances. Creating a list of those special people enables us to awaken to a life of having been loved, allowing us to be grateful, not only for the many gifts of love we have already received, but also for the many unknown blessings already on their way.
While creating the list of people who have loved me will certainly offer an experience of liberating love, there’s another list that will do the same, but in a somewhat different way. My second list will include all those things I love about life. “To create a list of what you love is to remind yourself that life is friend not foe,” not “a game to be won or a set of threats to avoid,” the folks at Soul Matters Sharing Circle suggest. The "things I love" list reminds us that “this life of ours is precious and generous at its core.”
What will you learn about liberating love this month? Perhaps you will discover you are truly lovable, just the way you are. After all, who is more worthy of receiving your love than you?
You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere.
– Author unknown
Like so many of us, I still have a lot to learn about loving myself. As I finish writing this Reflection, the perfectionist in me wonders whether it is good enough. Will anyone appreciate what I have shared? And if they do, will I be willing to let their love in?
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