The more "ourselves" we become, the happier we are and the more clear it becomes that God didn’t make a mistake when he created us as unique individuals.
These days, it seems as though we’re all trying to become someone else. It doesn’t matter who, really, just so long as the new person is completely different than who we are right now. Maybe it’s always been this way, this restless dissatisfaction, the desire to change our identity, the far-fetched dreams of becoming a different, better person with no remaining trace of who we currently are.
Whether it’s a newly emerging phenomenon or not, I do notice it a lot more recently in overt and subtle ways.
On television we see actors and reality stars getting plastic surgery at younger and younger ages, a trend that’s filtering its way out to society at large. On social media, visual filters are carefully manipulated to the point we don’t even look like ourselves in the photos we post. We hashtag and frame our posts in such a way as to exaggerate our lifestyle to the extent that it becomes indistinguishable from a lie. In society at large there are, of course, the increasingly constant questions of gender identity as people try out new personas, experimenting with all sorts of physical transformations and physical inventions at a basic biological level.
Even in the circles I run in, which are Catholic homeschooling circles …
Even in the circles I run in, which are Catholic homeschooling circles, we all pretend that our individual homeschools are amazing, perfectly run, orderly schools of classical curriculum. I can testify that the temptation to do so is real, to pretend that my kitchen sink isn’t currently stacked full of dirty dishes, and the toddler isn’t wearing her pants backwards for the third day in a row, and that the boys have actually showered sometime this week, and the teenager isn’t a full chapter behind on her chemistry lessons. I have to admit that, sometimes, when I come home from work for lunch and see how wild and chaotic our household is, I harbor a secret desire that our family would experience some transformative event. What if we were all different?
I feel it inside myself, too, that sinking weight in my soul that tells me what I am isn’t good enough. I’m not what I need to be to successfully accomplish my job, father my children, and provide for our household.
It feels as though, if my life and family is less than perfect, and I experience any dissatisfaction, it’s only because I’m directly responsible. I’ve made my life this way, almost against my own will, because something fundamental is missing. Maybe I simply don’t possess the right tools and personality and moral character.
These are passing moments, these crippling self-doubts, and later when I’m thinking more clearly I understand that the negativity causes a distorted self-image that isn’t true, but when I’m in the midst of experiencing negative emotions, they are powerful. They make me wish I was someone else. Someone better. At the very least, someone different.
Perhaps the main goal each of us should resolve to achieve each day …
Perhaps the main goal each of us should resolve to achieve each day is to live as ourselves, not somebody else.
The feast day of St. Anthony of Padua is coming up, and I’m reminded of his encouragement on how to live a happy life. He says, “Be just as God made you to be. Do not go seeking another ‘you.’ Do not make yourself otherwise than he made you.” I love the calmness in that quote. He has a sense of peace about his personal identity, knowing that, if God made him, then there’s goodness and value in living out precisely his identity and not trying to change it.
Each striving hope, each self-improvement project, each step towards a better life isn’t an escape from who we are. Rather, it’s a step into the fullness of potential that each of has lingering within ourselves. The more ourselves we become, the happier we are and the more clear it becomes that God didn’t make a mistake when he created us as unique individuals.
No matter who I’m with at any given moment – super-homeschoolers, people I admire greatly, people who have achieved success in exactly the way I desire to achieve success – I want to remain myself. The worst possible reaction would be to start imitating those other people. I’m not them. I never will be. The best possible reaction would be to allow them to inspire me to be amazing, in my own way and with my own gifts. Sure, my “success,” very well might be superficially smaller and less impressive. It will, by definition, not match the success of those who inspire me, but it seems to me that the best tribute we can give to those we admire is to use their example as the spark that lights the fire of reclaiming our personal identity.
St. Anthony of Padua was not a saint like other saints. He was himself. By simply being himself, he became an astonishing light of grace and love. You and I, if we commit to being the best possible version of ourselves, can also kindle the inner fire that lies in each human heart.