The Prison of My Own Ego

There have been many accounts detailing the dangers of pride and the ego. One of my favorite is the depiction that C.S. Lewis gives of it in The Great Divorce. When the characters go to Hell together, they start off in a group. Gradually, they splinter off into smaller and smaller groups, confined to isolation through their own ego’s.

I find this to be a challenge that I myself face all too often. Through this season of Lent, one of the things that I have tried to do has been to listen to God. I want to say listen to God more, but if truth be told, I am not sure if I have ever truly listened to Him. My ego becomes so loud, that it is like standing next to a waterfall, while trying to communicate in whispers to those standing on the other bank of the gorge. How can I listen to God if I go to such lengths to listen to nothing but myself?

Even in this recognition of my own ego is the danger of thinking that I am “better than” simply because I recognize my own faults – if I have the awareness to write about my faults, then surely that is good enough, right? Recognizing and verbalizing the dangers of my Pride and Ego is so much easier than actually doing anything to change them.

For me, this is the goal of Lent and the Lenten season. While I do believe that there is something to be gained from abstaining from meat, fasting and other ritualistic explorations, the real challenge and area for growth is listening to the messages of God. What is it that God wants me to do? What does He want me to change, so that I can become closer to Him? What areas of my life have I ignored and delayed, simply because they are too hard?

Even when I am aware of the things that God wants me to change, and of the things that I need to change in order to please Him in the correct ways, I often choose not to. Sometimes because I am lazy, sometimes because I believe change to be too difficult, but more often than not, because I believe that I have the answers – that I know what is best.

Letting go and letting God is a saying that I have heard often in life – from my parents, from priests, from AA meetings and a plethora of other sources. Letting go and letting God requires that abdication of ego that I find so difficult, that recognition that I truly need the wisdom of God, and that I cannot rely on my own insight.

As the Lenten season draws to a close, I will continue to struggle with the cascading cacophony of my ego, and I likely will for a long time to come. Perhaps the noise has lessened a bit, and perhaps I have become better at listening to God’s whispers. All I know is that it will be a lifelong area to grow and expand.

The Importance of Spiritual Mystery

Perhaps the biggest thing that I struggle with when it comes to my faith is just how small my faith is, and how it flickers at the slightest breeze, as compared to those around the world. My faith, grounded in Catholic theology, seems so small and weak when I look at it in comparison (which is already my first mistake). Whether it is the Uighurs facing a modern day Holocaust, or Jews battling for a homeland (and the Palestinians as well), Christians in countries openly hostile and violent to them or any variety of person, strong in faith even when faced with active persecution, my faith seems like a sham.

Not only is it difficult to watch those who hold the flame of faith in hurricane force winds when looking at my flickering matchstick, there is the added difficulty of which faith system is the right one. Even within American Christianity, there are more denominations and individual faith systems than I could possibly be aware of; and if I am not even aware of them, then how do I know if my faith system is the one that is best for me?

It is perhaps in this last sentence where I find myself getting into the most difficulty – what is “best for me.” It is a very selfish way to look at faith, spirituality and religion. This is where I find it is best for me to bring the importance of mystery into my faith system. My system of faith and belief is, I hope, one that will be continually challenged both from inside myself and from those outside. It is something that will grow, change and evolve into something that holds elements of what it once was, while also being something entirely new. For me, the only way to achieve this is imbuing my faith with mystery. If I am able to allow myself to appreciate the mystery that naturally springs from ignorance, then perhaps, over time, I will be able to fill my ignorance with insight.

This leads me, however, to the question as to the worthiness of both ignorance and insight, and whether one necessarily needs to replace the other. As I touched on earlier, there is simply no way for me to comprehend the depth and richness of spirituality that permeates American culture, let alone the world over. If this is accepted as true, then this means that my faith will always be colored by some level and form of ignorance. Is there utility within this ignorance? Again, it comes back to mystery. If I allow myself to become comfortable on the bed that ignorance can so easily make, then it’s utility turns into a hindrance. However, if I am able to remind myself that this ignorance is part of the mystery, and something that should continually be explored and challenged, then I hope and believe that ignorance can be something that can lead to a deeper faith life.

Within all of this, one of the most challenging aspects that I find myself faced with is where does Religion (with a capital R) fit into the mystery of faith? How can the ritualized, scrutinized and intricately studied world of the Catholic faith fall into the mystery of faith? For me, Catholicism has always been something approaching the antithesis of mystery. It is something that has literal thousands of theological treatises written on it, hierarchies established over millennia, educational institutions built on the foundations of this belief system and dozens of different orders, teaching the laws and statutes in their own, unique wording. Where does the mystery of faith fit into this institutional, oftentimes rigid system? I know that there are hundreds of answers to this question, yet it often seems as if this is something that I will need to stumble through myself before finding an “acceptable” answer.

Through all of these questions and meandering thoughts, I try to remind myself that these are things that have been asked by countless individuals and societies over thousands and thousands of years. It is certainly too prideful of me to expect that I can find the answer to this question that so many have gone searching for, but it is something that I will search for nonetheless. Even if I am unable to express the things that I learn in words, perhaps I can find an answer that leads to a flourishing of inner peace.

When Patients Don’t Deserve Care

As a therapist at a community mental health provider. this is a question that is very challenging on an ethical level. One of the biggest challenges that I face is with patients who either don’t want care, are violent/belligerent or are a combination of all of these. Often, these patients have been through the mill of services – in and out of jail/prison, chronically suicidal, and spit out by every mental health provider in a 100 mile radius.

And then they are referred to me.

These referrals come from people who are out of options, who are at their wits end as to how to provide care for these individuals. Whether it is people who are chronically addicted to some substance, have a personality disorder, or just don’t want help (which is a lot of people), I am the one who gets the call when there is no one left to call.

When I get these calls, I can confidently say that I always want to help. Is it an ego thing? A “big heart” thing? Am I perhaps too na├»ve? Whatever it is, I always want to add them to the caseload.

When they do get added, it is very quickly that I realize why they were referred to me, and refused services from so many other organizations in the process. They are angry, aggressive, belligerent, intoxicated, and a plethora of other things that prevents me from being able to help them, if they even want help in the first place.

When the violence, anger and belligerence starts, though, I feel at a loss. These individuals are justifiably angry in many instances. They have been abused, mistreated, refused service and generally thrown to the wayside by every societal apparatus that we have at hand. And I do not blame these apparatus’ when they do throw these people away! Many of these individuals are fundamentally broken people, and beyond the help that I, or the wonderful people that I work with can provide.

As a therapist, I often have to come to the conclusion that I am unable to help these people, and that it is only a choice on their end that will allow them to become able to accept help, when it does eventually come to them. But as a Catholic? It is extremely difficult for me to accept this. Christianity is the religion of the broken and the castaway. It is the religion for those who have been shunned by the society in which they are a part. So how do we help these people? These people, who refuse the assistance of secular society, often justifiably so. These people, who are so often simply beyond the help of secular society. These people, who deserve to be accepted by those of a religious heart?

I do not have an answer. But I had to ask the question.