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I once had a conversation with a young Catholic woman from Uruguay about becoming close to God. There was a bit of a language barrier between the two of us, but I was determined that we should understand each other on a topic of such importance. At one point in our discussion I made mention that if one seeks to know God one must examine oneself, one’s failings, vices, and whatever else that might prevent humankind from bridging the gap between us and God. This, I told my friend, was one of the most frightening things to do. No one likes to look at ugly things, especially when those things are components of oneself. At this conclusion, the young woman looked at me with a confused, aggressive expression and retorted “Why are you afraid of Jesus?” Though she had a very valid point–in the end, why should we fear examining who we are if it means bringing ourselves closer to God?—she failed to understand what I was trying to say, which is merely that self-discovery, while being one of the most favorable pursuits we as humans can attempt, is a hard and difficult expedition. In an effort to truly understand ourselves and others we have to cast aside the images we’ve created and search for our real identity.
I find a great deal of truth in what Fr. Lawton says about the peril that lies in the journey of becoming who we are meant to be, because essentially becoming a complete individual means stripping away everything false, everything useless and being relentless in trying to understand what’s real. Honestly, I have only started this process and it is already scary—disregarding the mask of my appearance, the roles I’ve chosen for myself (negative and otherwise), and how I believe others view me is not an easy chore, because, frankly, most of the time I don’t want to know what that leaves me with. For example, an overweight person may like to lose weight, but if he or she has been heavy for a long time he or she may secretly, even subconsciously, prefer to stay that way out of comfort. Shedding that image could also mean not having to acknowledge what other failings that person may possess—he/she could be content in thinking that he/she is “disliked” or “unattractive” because of his/her few extra pounds rather than his/her insecurity, lack of joy, or whatever personal issue he/she happens to be plagued with. I have read that therapists, in attempts to persuade clients to take antidepressants, encounter patients who fear mood adjustment therapy or medication because they have no idea what they would really be like without the affliction of depression. Extra pounds and mood or mental disorders are not pretty, but what if what lies beneath is even uglier?
As for risks that might be encountered in my college career, I see many. I see discouragement as a major question mark, as well as the fear of discouragement. I fret about taking myself too seriously and not learning from my failures — and, while I will try at every turn to succeed, I know failures will come. There is also the obvious risk of bending, of conforming to other people’s lifestyles and expectations. This is the easiest way of falling short of who you should be striving to be. Though positive influences are always heartening, when one attempts to take after another’s behavior to a fault one is not being true to oneself. I see many young people fall into this trap, especially the insecure.
I myself was once too pliable. I would often return home from a slumber party or play session with a friend and my mother would say she could tell exactly who I had been hanging out with, because I would be speaking in tones specific to that friend–sometimes more high-pitched, sometimes lower and more concentrated. Even now, when I speak to her on the phone, Mom will ask me if I’ve been hanging out with my male friends because my voice will seem deeper than usual. However, despite this odd tendency of mine, I’ve been steadfast in my dedication to being my own person — almost too steadfast, wherein lies another danger. It is possible to be too resistant to others, to refuse change entirely. I understand this problem: I often enter a friendship or conversation with the intent to influence in some way, be it relating to music taste or morality, and at times I’ve been known to avoid activities and indulgences simply because they are preferred by the majority. While I don’t consider myself one of those “straight-edge-homeschool-Christian” folks, like so many I grew up with, I am not as pliable as I once was. I have never even tried a cigarette: the appeal of trying something “bad” does not appeal to me. I have never pierced my ears because I don’t see the point. I have also, regrettably, lost a few friendships due to the fact that I cannot relate to anyone who disregards the importance of good character in favor of instant gratification. That said, I do believe that avoiding rejection of anyone else’s perspective is close-minded and incorrect. In the end, I do wish I weren’t as stalwart in this area because as young people, we should be open to new experiences that help us grow.
Another factor that seems risky at times is merely being faced with life on one’s own. Over the past year I’ve learned all about that fear and the negative ways in which it can manifest itself. I used to fear independence, but now that I’ve tasted it I embrace it. Still, I view college life as a foreign experience: it is not something that I know how to prepare for, even though I’ve been attending a community college for several years. I view the future like an emergency situation: one never knows how one will react until that emergency arrives, and that is exactly how self-knowledge is attained. That is when the heroes and the cowards emerge, that is how we separate those who keep their heads from those who run in terror or give into the threat. I hope I am one of the former — but, as aforementioned, striking out alone is a great risk and a challenge.
Seeking truth is always a risk; a risk to what we believe to be our security. We put too much stock in the mere perception of ourselves, and we get caught up in the idea of what the world teaches us to be important. Being open to understanding who we really are, being honest with ourselves and others, as well as embracing ourselves as God’s beautiful creations when we’re confronted by our own failings — all of these are part of the journey, and each confrontation is frightening. The glorious thing about these confrontations is that, despite the initial discomfort, once we recognize our strengths and weaknesses we can make strides to improve. The sooner we understand ourselves the sooner we can progress. If we pursue truth, we will become who we are meant to be.
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