It has been ten years since I came up with what I call A Road Map for Spiritual Growth. Looking back, I cannot quite believe it has ONLY been ten years. I’ve grown SO MUCH.
I was raised Catholic and have always taken my faith very seriously. I remember my earliest religion classes, preparation for First Penance and First Communion. I even remember coloring pictures in the church nursery and getting advice from my older siblings on the way to my first Mass. (No gum chewing stands out. I think my sister told me that one.)
In Junior High, when many of the other Catholic kids in my class had whined or wiggled their way out of going to release time religious education classes with Sister Battle-axe, I still went. It cost me being in the choir, because they were the same period. That hurt. In Senior High, I was always one of the kids who signed up for youth group activities, retreats and days of prayer.
In college, I shocked the local priest by showing up during Freshman Orientation week to introduce myself and get the Mass schedule. By sophomore year, I was president of the Newman Parish Council. Dearest and I had our first date at a social function sponsored by the Catholic Charismatic prayer group.
Right after finding the house we wanted, we went to the local parish and joined up. I taught RCIA. Dearest chaired the Building Committee during the expansion. Sacraments were major family events. Sunday school and Youth Group were givens. The girls served on the altar until they were old enough for adult ministries, then they became Lectors and Sunday school teaching assistants.
Dearest and I went to every Bible study and, over the years, I had three spiritual directors. I’m not saying any of this to brag, but to explain how long and how hard I worked at my faith …. without making much progress. I really worked at becoming holy, because I wanted the peace and joy God promised. But until God gave me the wisdom to understand Self-Contempt and to create this Map for Spiritual Growth, I stayed mired in an ugly morass of anxiety-driven Scrupulosity.
It’s been ten years since I wrote the first version of A Road Map for Spiritual Growth. Since then, I have finally experienced the peace that passes all understanding. I am sitting here with tears, so GRATEFUL to God for giving me the wisdom that led to this growth. Scripture says, “By their fruits you shall know them.” I am about to turn 60. If my life is any measure, there is good fruit in A Map for Spiritual Growth.
A Map for Spiritual Growth
Scripture says that the virtuous heart produces good fruit, while the sinful heart produces bad fruit.
My religion teacher says that the sinful heart is characterized by the Seven Deadly Sins – Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Anger, Gluttony and Sloth – and that these vices are like two-sided coins, with each one having an opposite virtue.
Supposedly, if I could identify the vices (aka, root sins) that fuel my sinful heart, then I could identify the opposite virtues. Vices can be repented; virtues can be practiced. It isn’t that different from dieting, really. Stop eating the bad foods; start eating the good foods.
There is only one problem. I am 100% convinced my root sin is Self-Contempt. But Self-Contempt isn’t on any list of vices or sins that I have ever seen. And I have no idea what its opposite virtue might be. On top of that, the Church teaches that the chief of all vices is Pride and its opposite is the virtue of Humility, but that makes no sense to me. The last thing I suffer from is thinking too much of myself.
Plus, everything we are taught about Humility sounds exactly like me. But that can’t be right, either. We are supposed to love others as we love ourselves and I am very sure that I don’t love me.
These traditional formulations just aren’t helping me grow. Maybe I could make more sense of my spiritual situation if I traded in the two-sided coin metaphor for a number line.
I’ll put Pride (in its traditional sense) on the right side to represent the spiritual status of those who believe, “I am more special than anyone else.” And I’ll put Self-Contempt on the left side to represent the spiritual status of those who believe, “I am less special than anyone else.” It is suddenly so clear that true Humility must be right in the middle, where the virtuous soul knows, deep down, “I am unique and special, just like everyone else.”
The Bible is quite clear that Pride is the chief of all sins, so it is easy to be confused by the use of the word “pride” for only the right side. But in its scriptural context, pride is an improper emphasis on one’s place in His Creation.
The right-siders value themselves more than God values them; the left-siders value themselves less than God values them. In essence, SELF-CONTEMPT is pride turned upside down.
Only God has the right to judge the value of a human being and there are only two ways for a human being to be in relationship with Him. I can put Him first or I can put me first.
SELF-CONTEMPT is a form of pride, because it is an improper relationship. Unfortunately, “pride upside down” isn’t very edifying, so I’ll stick with SELF-CONTEMPT.
For those on the right side of the line, spiritual growth is about learning to love God and others more.
For those of us on the left side of the line, spiritual growth is more complicated because what we truly worship is not God or ourselves, but safety. Somehow, somewhere, somewhen, we were taught that we didn’t matter. Whether it was from abuse, neglect, or trauma, at some time in our lives we internalized this evil, toxic lie:
“I am unlovable and have no right to be safe.”
The pain of SELF-CONTEMPT is intense. Our natural need for intimacy forces us to continually seek out the respect and approval of others, while our fear-driven self-hatred forces us to continually reject any respect or approval we are given, while simultaneously magnifying and brooding on any criticism, however small, undeserved or well-intended.
But more than ANYTHING, we fear God. And not in the good way the Bible talks about. We are terrified that He might get a glimpse of our true worthlessness and so we approach Him only in our party clothes with our party faces on.
Yeah, I know. It’s silly to think you can hide from God. But trust me. That’s where I lived for years.
But He is such a gentleman! All the time I kept my real self locked inside a dark closet, He sat outside the door, speaking softly or singing or just saying my name. He never opened the door, though He could have. And He never ridiculed me for thinking I could hide from Him. He just waited until I was ready to crack the door just the tiniest bit.
Maybe that’s when the idea for the Map came to me … when I finally let that closet door off the latch.
There is a lot more to the Map, but for today, I just want to share one example of how I used it to begin growing in peace and true Humility. (If you want the whole thing, send an email to Chrissy@ChrissyOriginals.com and I’ll send back the file.)
All of the traditional spiritual practices I’ve ever been taught were based on the two-sided coin model; they were designed to move people to the left on my number line. That works very well for people who value themselves too highly, because it moves them toward God. But it moves people like me AWAY from God and INTO greater Self-Contempt.
In the graphic below, the traditional Act of Contrition prayer is on the right. I was taught this prayer when I was seven years old. Saying it always aggravated my unholy sense of shame, moving me farther away from God and the peace I craved. Once I had the Map to guide me, I was able to write the Act of Contrition that’s on the left. Saying this prayer moved me to the right … toward God. Saying it made me feel some of the first spiritual peace I’d ever experienced.