“I Am Enough” with Rev. Christine Kell
How can we let go of our imperfections and embrace what’s left? Join us as Rev. Chris takes a look at how self-acceptance and a willingness to embrace our vulnerabilities can lead to a deeper, truer love of self.
A revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the Deaf and hard of hearing, including prayers, readings and songs.
Community Circles Discussion Guide – View and Download
In a Sacred Manner
Creator of all that exists, hear my prayer. As the new day dawns let all people begin anew to walk the good road of life. May we forget our differences, may we remember our likenesses. Let us hear what we have not heard; let us see what we have not seen. You are the Spark of the universe, the Oneness of all life. In such a way may we be blessed, blessed in a sacred manner.Native American tradition
As we have been blessed, so we bless one another to be a blessing. Breathe in, breathe out, this breath we share with all that breathes. Feel the love of the universe flowing through this community, into you, and out into the universe again. Let the love of all the universe flow outward, to its height, its depth, its broad extent. You are more than you know, and more beloved than you know. Take up what power is yours to create safe haven, to make of earth a heaven. Give hope to those you encounter, that they may know safety from inner and outer harm, be happy and at peace, healthy and strong, caring and joyful. Be the blessing you already are. That is enough. Blessed Be; Amen.Adapted from the Karaniya Metta Sutta (Sunna Nipata 1.8) by Reverends John and Sara Gibb Millspaugh of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
“I Am Enough” with Rev. Christine Kell
My talk today is titled I AM Enough, and, in honor of this month traditionally dedicated to love, it focuses on Self-Love.
Way back in December I mentioned to Rev. Melanie I’d like to do a talk about self-love, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since then . . . and thinking, and thinking, but in trying to prepare a talk about self-love, I discovered I didn’t know what to say.
I know what you’re thinking: me, Chris Kell –– the one who always seems to have something to say, not being able to find anything to talk about? Who knew, right? And this is not exaggeration; as of five nights ago I literally did not have a clue about what should go into this talk. With over two months to prepare, I got nothing.
Until this past Tuesday night. That’s when I came to the conclusion that maybe I was having a hard time because I’m not really qualified to talk about self-love. And I didn’t know what to do with that.
Then, Wednesday evening during the community gathering, conversation turned to the topic of struggling through tough times and the suffering that triggered. I was thinking that night that I’ve faced relatively few struggles in my life; I’ve been fortunately blessed to have been cared for all my life. Granted, there have been set-backs, and some very painful disappointments along the way, but until now I never thought of that as suffering.
But, Wednesday night I figured it out: I have suffered. I’m suffering now, and I’ve been making excuses and trying to cover it up for years so no one would know. I couldn’t find the words to talk about self-love because I haven’t experienced it on more than a superficial level for most of my entire life.
Self-love. I couldn’t even really define it.
For a long time it’s been one of those terms that people toss around and use freely in conversation, like Rev. Melanie discussed last week about the phrase “God is Love.”
So, it seems this talk has turned into a self-discovery exercise, and I present it today on the off chance that I am not the only one who feels this way; and maybe what I have learned this week can help others, can help you, as well.
To get going, I asked myself the question: “What does self-love really mean?”
Of course, me being me, I wanted to start by looking up a definition. And immediately experienced an “Aha” moment. “There’s the problem,” I thought: my first reaction came from my head, when really love is all about the heart and soul as much as, or maybe even more than, the head.
Even so, maybe I didn’t know how to define self-love in more than an academic way, but nevertheless, that was the only way I knew how to start. So I Googled it, and I checked out the self-help bookshelves, and I found variations of the same obvious answer: self-love is –– wait for it –– “love of self.”
Of course, this simple definition can be amplified to include practical terms like taking care of one’s own physical needs, working towards our own security and comfort; being creative; and living and following best practices while not sacrificing our own welfare to please others. Self-love in this sense is mani-pedi’s, spa treatments, working out, nights with the boys – or girls – proper nutrition, and otherwise taking care of our bodies and minds.
On a level more in tune with a culture that tells us to put ourselves last, love of self can be seen as a moral flaw, much like vanity, conceit, selfishness, and a disinclination to forego bad habits and secret pleasures; all of which to those folks are indications of self-centeredness, pride, and arrogance.
In short, self-love can mean something different for each person because we all have many different ways of taking care of ourselves.
But today I want to focus on a deeper aspect of self-love: what it means and how we do it.
How do we love ourselves?
The first thing that struck me when I started giving this some serious thought, is that it is necessary to accept and believe the fact that no matter where I am in life, what I am doing, how I am feeling –– “I Am Enough.” I am a child of the Divine, a Divine Being of Light, and I am perfect within my human imperfections.
Once we really know, and by know I don’t mean just up here in our heads –– but once we truly accept in our minds and our hearts that we are enough just the way we are, everything else falls into place. We can, as Ram Dass teaches, love ourselves more and connect to our inner divine essence when we appreciate our humanness with all its imperfections; by finding value in who we are in each moment and not denying the truth of what we find.
In order to believe in the truth that we are enough, we must also understand that “who I am” is not an afterthought, some unfinished project left behind to make do as best we can, but rather that we come from Divine creative activity; we have to understand and appreciate that we are participants in the very process of our Creator’s inspired design. Thomas Merton had something of this idea in mind when he said,
“Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny.”
Merton realized that many people who are weighed down by deep hurts, anger, resentment, lost loves or broken relationships, are desperately seeking to fill their lives with happiness and peace. He tells us: “The secret of our identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God”. To know the truth of our identity, of who we are, we must “pray for our own discovery.”
The search for true identity requires an honest self-love. This is not selfishness but a humble recognition of our lives as true, good and beautiful. Without real love of self, all other loves are distorted. Lack of self-knowledge, St. Bonaventure once wrote, makes for faulty knowledge in all other matters.
One of the first things Ram Dass said when asked how to love ourselves more was to rephrase the question into “how can I accept myself more?” He taught that generally speaking, because of the way our parents taught us how to be accepted and successful in a conditioned society, early on we began learning that at our core some parts of us are just wrong. Through this, we learned to judge ourselves and to form a resistance to certain parts of ourselves. And then we started judging other people in order to find value in ourselves and to “fit in” with the right groups. This even goes down to specific things we still judge ourselves for compared to others. Maybe we hate that our teeth are not straight, or that we have to wear glasses. Our hair is not as long, or as short, as someone else’s. Perhaps we don’t have as much “stuff” as our friends, or our bodies are not as sculpted as they should be; we’re too fat, too short, too anything, or not enough of something to be considered visually and personally appealing.
We all need to feel accepted, and if we’re not finding it within ourselves we inevitably go somewhere else to find it. At its worst, if we cannot come to grips with the reality of who we are, we are at risk of falling into self-destructive behaviors such as over-indulging in food, sex, and intimate relationships, addictions and self-harm, and mental and emotional illness.
I read somewhere that most of us are brave and afraid in the exact same moment all day long. Self-love means showing up for ourselves even when we feel unlovable or shameful. It means accepting the truth of ourselves, both the light and the dark.
Brené Brown tells us that:
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy — the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
Getting from self-denial to self-acceptance is a process. It can be a long, difficult road, personal and often painful, with lots of bumps, detours, and rest stops along the way. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown calls it the journey of a lifetime, and she writes about how to navigate the terrain while cultivating what she has named the Wholehearted life. But the journey, says Brown,
. . . is not like trying to reach a destination. It’s like walking toward a star in the sky. We never really arrive, but we certainly know that we’re heading in the right direction. How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves.
To get started on the journey, she asks some important questions:
What does it take to cultivate a Wholehearted life? What gets in the way? What does it take to live and love from a place of worthiness? How do we embrace imperfection? How do we cultivate what we need and let go of the things that are holding us back?
The answers to all of these questions, she says, are courage, compassion, and connection –– daily practices that, when exercised enough, become incredible gifts, the gifts of our imperfection. Knowledge is important, but only if we’re being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to discover who we are. Wholeheartedness is as much about embracing our tenderness and vulnerability as it is about developing knowledge and claiming power.
Brown added –– and her words confirmed for me what I came to realize this past week –– the journey is both heart work and head work. It is life work; it is soul work.
Adopting these qualities, courage, compassion, and connection, in our daily lives is how we cultivate worthiness. The courage to reach out is to own our story and risk sharing it with someone we can count on to respond with compassion. According to Brown, courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Courage is being willing to risk feeling vulnerable, embarrassed, hurt, or disappointed. The most dangerous thing we can do when confronting uncomfortable feelings is to hide or bury our story, letting the shame or fear fester and grow. Shame, fear, and vulnerability love secrecy; but they cannot survive when we have the courage to reach out and share our story with a trusted companion.
It is when we have a real need for compassion that we are at our most vulnerable, but compassion may not be our first response to suffering; our first reaction is often some form of self-protection: someone or something to blame, some way to fix the problem, or some way to hide it. Pema Chodron writes that when we seek compassion, “. . . we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us.”
When reaching out, we need someone who is deeply rooted in their own compassion, able to embrace us for both our strengths and our struggles. Not the person who will try to fix it, ignore it, hide it, excuse it, or blame it on someone else. We need to honor our struggles and the suffering we experience by sharing them with the person who can say: “I’ve been there, I’ve done that, you are not alone.” This is the person who loves and accepts us when we are most exposed and vulnerable, when we are most likely to hate ourselves. This is the one who can show us how to love ourselves.
The origin of the word “compassion” is from the Latin “to suffer with.” Chodron teaches us that compassion is a relationship between equals. It’s only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others; only when we recognize our shared humanity does compassion become real.
Brown tells us that: “The heart of compassion is really acceptance.” She goes on to define connection as: “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Moreover, according to neuroscience research, humans are hardwired for connection; our relationships shape our biology as well as our experiences, and our innate need for connection makes the consequences of disconnection more real and dangerous. For example, we may think we are connected through our technology, especially social media, but as Brown says, just because we are “plugged in” doesn’t mean we feel seen and heard. Likewise, the cultural norm that honors values like strong independence and “going it alone” equates not needing anyone with success, and self-sufficiency over connection and compassion.
The truth is, while giving help is easy, we often see accepting help as weak, shameful, and a sign of imperfection. But, “Until we can receive with an open heart, says Brown, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.”
Vulnerability and shame and fear cannot withstand a powerful connection with another person. Such connectedness fuels our worthiness, and lets us know that even in our imperfection we are accepted and worthy of love from others and from ourselves. In her words, “It’s as simple and complicated as this: If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.”
Brown has stated that: “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” True love is love defined by compassion, caring, and kindness towards ourselves and all other beings.
However, I believe that the truest self-love goes even deeper, and without learning how to love ourselves with self-acceptance and a belief in the goodness of all creation, love is incomplete.
Indeed. social psychologist Erich Fromm wrote that all-inclusive love must begin with self-love. In his words:
Self-love . . . is the opposite of selfishness. The latter is actually a greedy concern with oneself which springs from and compensates for the lack of genuine love for oneself. Paradoxically, love makes me more independent because it makes me stronger and happier . . ..
Brené Brown echoes this sentiment when she states that:
“Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves. This is a tall order given how hard most of us are on ourselves.”
She could have been talking directly to me. Critical self-talk is my second language. My story to date often includes the denial of my body and health issues, harsh self-judgement, lack of self-compassion, and hesitancy to surrender myself completely to loving relationships and a deeper connection with the Divine.
I think of myself as, mostly, a caring, accepting, person. But loving and accepting imperfections in others is much easier than embracing myself with that same loving-kindness. I have resisted discovering and getting to know and love my deepest self. I’ve been too afraid to make the heart commitment, reluctant to take the hard road, satisfied with easy answers and platitudes, and only showing off what I call “the good parts” of my story.
I struggle, and I suffer for it. I want to ignore the pain, avoid it. I don’t want to have to struggle, and although I know it’s unreasonable, sometimes I am angry at the Universe for making life so unfair. But I don’t want to struggle anymore; it’s tiring, depressing, and wastes a lot of valuable time. And in the long run I believe it takes more energy to doubt myself than to accept. I want to find the courage to just let go of all the pain.
Last week Rev. Melanie taught us that God expresses to us through creation, reconciliation, and revelation. Today, I talked about courage, compassion, and connection. Concepts that are similar, and in thinking about the similarities it reminds me that I am made in the image of God, the Creator. And because God Is Love, so then it has to be true that I Am Love.
Brené Brown has said that our struggles make us who we are. Mine have led me here, to you, today; my One World family, my beloveds, hoping that telling my story, revealing my own shortcomings, shame, and vulnerability will encourage others to do the same, and help us all on the journey to embracing Self-Love. In the meantime, I will keep on reaching for the courage to know and love myself, letting a new relationship with myself lead to a renewal and strengthening of my relationship with Spirit. To let myself see that we are surrounded by the holy, and that the holy includes both you and me.
I AM ENOUGH. I. AM. ENOUGH. I am Loved, Loving, and Lovable. And so are we all.
And so it is.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.
Hazelden Publishing, 2010
About Rev. Christine Kell
Rev. Chris Kell is an Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister, an ordained graduate of One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, a graduate of the Priestess Emergence, and a Certified Life Success Consultant. She has a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, with concentrations in Women’s Studies and Small Group Communication, and post-graduate studies in Feminist Spirituality.
In addition to her work with One World, Chris enjoys composing and officiating weddings, blessings, and other personalized ceremonies, facilitating small group workshops and book studies, and walking the path of discovery with other spiritual seekers. Her goal is to be a catalyst for others in envisioning and discovering for themselves a spiritually enriched life.
Chris is retired from many years of small business ownership and corporate administrative work, and is now living with her husband in the Twin Cities.
Rev. Chris is pleased and honored to be a member of the One World community.
Give yourself time to make a prayer that will become the prayer of your soul. Listen to the voices of longing in your soul. Listen to your hungers. Give attention to the unexpected that lives around the rim of your life. Listen to your memory and to the inrush of your future, to the voices of those near you and those you have lost. Out of all of that attention to your soul, make a prayer that is big enough for your wild soul, yet tender enough for your shy and awkward vulnerability; that has enough healing to gain the ointment of divine forgiveness for your wounds; enough truth and vigour to challenge your blindness and complacency; enough graciousness and vision to mirror your immortal beauty. Write a prayer that is worthy of the destiny to which you have been called.John O’Donohue
“Blessing to the World” written by Karen Drucker
“I Am Enough” written by Leanne Allen
This service originally aired on February 21, 2021.