We look for inner nourishment from a lot of sources. Jesus of Nazareth offered some sage advice long ago: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
I love to eat, to nourish my body with healthful food. I also enjoy my comforts. There’s nothing like sitting in my recliner in front of my 42” plasma TV watching my favorite English drama. But I have to remind myself every once in a while that food and comfort do not form the core of human existence.
Yet I’ve also found that there’s much more to life than attending to my physical needs and comforts. This “more to life” has a direct bearing on fostering loving relationships. I’ve also found that the biggest obstacle to forming good relationships is my own self-perception. Do I believe myself to be perfect as I am, or am I allowing an army of inner critics to sabotage me?
My earliest recollection of self-perception was at the age of four. I remember how my sensitivity and empathy caused me to feel like a bit of an alien on a strange planet. Yet I felt as if my old soul had been sent to 1950’s East Cambridge for a purpose and that purpose was relational.
I am the younger son and the middle child in a second-generation Italian-American family. We were proud of our heritage and grew up enjoying typical Italian traditions and foods. My father was a machinist; my mother a brilliant seamstress. My parents often worried about tight finances. They had grown up amid a lot of insecurity, both having lost their mothers in early childhood and having to quit school at 14 to go to work.
They learned to live by more than physical needs alone, which were often scarce. Rather than focusing on the material, they depended on the spiritual and intangible. Family and friends were words they lived by.
I discovered that I didn’t make friends as easily as my parents. In their hunger for a decent family life they sometimes went overboard with expectations and outcomes. They often communicated inadvertently that their love for me was conditioned by my achievements in school and my good behavior at home. And like for many kids it seemed as if my parents were speaking for God.
I began to love myself conditionally too. If I screwed up in some way I took it very hard, always expecting too much of myself. It’s taken me a long time to break this habit of conditional love, to stop listening so closely to messages weighted with “shoulds” and dire predictions of nasty outcomes if I don’t measure up.
As I dug deeply to pay more attention to my heart than my head, I found tender words of love, trust, acceptance, and approval rather than words of regret and self-judgment. These are the true words that come from the mouth of God. They are the words I need to nourish my soul.
What words do you hear when you observe yourself? Do you mistake harsh self-judgment for modesty? How secure is your material world and can you find a realm within that will not melt away in time? It is that word from my heart that is the true voice of God’s love and approval, free of judgment, free of anxiety.
All artwork is copyrighted by the artist Michael Parise