At UST Law School, we begin each fall and spring semester with a weekend vocation retreat for interested students. As a follow-up to the retreat, a different participant “volunteers” (i..e, with their consent, I assign each person a week) to send the rest of us an e-mail of “Spiritual Nourishment.” The messages take various forms – sharing of a reading, a poem or a prayer, some incident in the life of the person that has brought them some insight, some issue someone is dealing with – and usually also include some thing or things for which the writer is grateful.
This week, the student who distributed our weekly Spiritual Nourishment, Sam, shared an internal struggle that had been causing him some difficulty but that he had finally worked through. Since the issue he raised is not one unique to him and his realization was one we all need to attain, I asked his permission to share his thoughts, a request he graciously granted.
Sam started by talking about his battle with pride over the years, which reared its head in many different capacities, causing him to always “try to appear intelligent, clever, attractive, funny, talented, fun, and so many other great things.” When he reflected on why he was driven to want to be better than other people, he concluded that what he really desired was to feel special. He wrote:
So I thought that my problem was this desire to feel special. I have tried to drive that desire out of me, but it doesn’t seem possible. There is something intrinsic in me, something I can’t get rid of that is at the root of that desire.
This seemed to be an impossible dilemma. My pride was caused by my desire to feel special. So to get rid of my pride, I needed to get rid of my desire. But it is impossible to get rid of that desire! This is the struggle I have lived in for the past weeks.
When it finally came to him, he realized how simple was the answer to his struggle. As with so many of us who are parents, an experience with his baby gave Sam insight into how God looks at us. As he watched his baby one evening he realized that no matter what she does, he believes “she is the most beautiful baby ever” and that his love for her “has nothing to do with what she can do, it has nothing to do with how she compares to other babies. I am her father, and my love for her is unconditional.” And that realization had a profound impact. He wrote:
Then I remembered that Christ instructed us to call God our Father, and told us that God loves us as a father loves his children. It doesn’t matter how good we are at sports, how smart, attractive, funny, or whatever, we are. God loves us because He made us. And that is the answer to my struggle.
I had been working to tear this desire out of myself, thinking it was the cause of my pride. But the cause of my pride is not the desire to feel special. The cause of my pride is that I attempt to fulfill my desire with something that is not able to fulfill it. …[T]he fulfillment of that desire has nothing to do with how I value myself, or how other people value me. The only thing that can fulfill that desire is an unconditional love… What I really desire is God’s love.
We all want to feel special, and that desire manifests in many ways – some healthy and some not so healthy. My hope for you is the same as the hope Sam expressed in sending his message to us – that his experience “reverberates with some of you and can help as a reminder that you are special, no matter what!”