Once upon a time, while reading a book on journal-keeping that featured sample entries from volunteers’ diaries, I came upon one entry penned by someone working on self-esteem issues who devoted a page in her journal to a cataloguing of “Ways That I’m Mean To Myself.” And she was mean to herself, mostly through small but nonetheless life-diminishing acts of self-neglect.
I think that we can all be mean to ourselves at times, especially if we’re in a state of profound dissatisfaction with our lives, when we feel that we don’t measure up to a particular standard.
One of the ways that I can be mean to myself is by living in chaos – clutter; an unordered daily schedule; chronic procrastination. In my case I think part of it is simply due to some sort of low-level ADHD that keeps me constantly in search of intellectual and creative stimulation, so much so that I actually do forget what I was doing just minutes ago, and that I also sometimes just don’t see the wreckage of my previous distractions lying around me – the books on the floor; the mail on the table, the half-completed paperwork, the kitchen utensils on the counter. But part of it, I think, if I’m truly honest with myself, is some sense, deep down, that I am not worth being taken care of, including by myself.
Now, on a theological level I know where this feeling comes from, and it’s not from the team that’s on my side: It’s the Adversary, the Accuser. In the Accuser’s scheme of things, “THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS NO!” The Accuser lays down the Law, right on top of my head, with extreme prejudice, then gut-checks me for good measure, and laughs as I’m sprawled out on the ground: Loser!
But the Accuser, according to the Christian paradigm, doesn’t get the last word. As Paul puts it, for us God always has a YES! And the One in whom and through him and for whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together is working constantly to wrest order out of chaos, to mend the broken places – including the ones in our psyches.
So – I find myself developing tricks to manage my own chaos. At work, my day planner is my friend. I don’t try to micromanage every half-hour block of my day like some of my Franklin-Planner-cultist friends do, because that doesn’t work for me; but I do have my to-do list, and it’s important for me to make the little checks next to the items every day. At home it’s been trickier, without the external reality check of my mother (whom I suspect, ironically, had something of the same malady), to keep myself grounded in some type of schedule and daily system of neatening things up. Sometimes it comes down to, “If you’re in this room, pick one thing up and put it away. Just one thing.” But I’m trying. I feel the compulsion. I feel the slow, steady pull into order even as I sometimes still jerk away. And as I find myself living into myself, living into the person I believe God wants me to be and listening to the people around me who respect me and are rooting for me, I feel more of an incentive to respect myself by respecting my space and my time.