God couldn't NOT love you if He tried
The thing that most hermits say is most awfully challenging about settling into a life of solitude is having to confront themselves, in all their squalid flaws and weaknesses, without anyone else around them to share the blame or distract them from their own imperfections. It is a most painful process! So, the first thing I want to write about is learning to accept and love yourself as you are right now, which is the necessary first step to becoming the beautiful, holy, loving, shining individual God designed you to be.
The mind-blowing breakthrough for me came at age 19, when I was deep, deep in depression and PTSD and self-loathing. I'll tell my story, over time, but for now let me just give you this, what I realized: that God couldn't NOT love me if He tried. God is omnipotent, God is limitless, infinite, of course ... but God is Love. The essence of God is Love. God cannot not love me, because God can DO anything He chooses, but God cannot BE contrary to His own nature, and the nature of God is Love. God loves me, God loves you, God loves the saint, and God loves the most heinous sinner, too. God loves the mass murderer, and the wife-beater, and the paedophile priest, and the predatory corporate CEO. He can't help it, He loves us all, deeply, passionately, compassionately.
So, what are the implications of that for you and me, who are probably none of those shocking kinds of sinners, we're just ordinary garden-variety jerks, lazy, selfish, [name your poison here].... Lots of implications, the one I want to point to is that there is no sharp and bright dividing line between those really awful sinners and the glorious saints in Heaven. We are all sinners, and we are all called to grow in holiness, we all carry within us the seeds of conversion and we all need Grace to help us to change. The way I understand what Jesus says in Matthew 5, every flare of anger equates us with the murderer, every lascivious glance at someone inappropriate equates us with the old cardinal who preyed on handsome young seminarians, every over-buying self-indulgence equates us with the rich oppressor of the poor.
So who can be saved? We're all sinners, so where's the hope? Pop quiz, chapter and verse: where does Jesus say to Peter, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And, where does Jesus say to Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" Does it surprise you to realize that Jesus calls Peter "Satan" in Matthew 16:23, right after calling him the rock on which the Church would be built, and entrusting him with the keys to the kingdom of heaven, in Matthew 16:17-19? He rebuked him fiercely -- but He didn't take back the keys, either. He never took them back. He knew Peter would deny Him, at the end, but He never denied Peter. Peter's own heart broke with his shame, but Christ still loved him. Saint Peter was among the greatest of the saints, and he was a weak, deeply flawed man.
God doesn't choose perfect people (who don't exist, anyway). God chooses YOU and ME, and St. Peter. And St. Paul, who participated in a lynching (the stoning of Stephen) immediately before he was convicted and converted and called to be the apostle to the gentiles. And St. Benedict, who prescribed severe fasts and harsh beatings for delinquent children (chapter 30 of the Rule). And St. Augustine, who after his conversion cried "Lord, give me chastity -- but not yet!" I could go on, but I won't. The point is that wherever you see (or feel) yourself on the scale between saint and sociopath, you are LOVED, deeply, compassionately, passionately, and surely. Oh, and don't forget, you see your own weaknesses, but just as you try to hide yours from the world, everybody else has hidden weaknesses you can't see. Our sins are forgivable, we are convertible, we are intrinsically capable of change and growth. The condition is confronting and naming our own weaknesses, revealing them in humility, and surrendering to God's loving grace, letting the walls come down. The devil is stronger than we are, but God is stronger than the devil, so put yourself in God's loving hands.
Solitude and the disruption of current events can help to bring us to that excruciating, but hopeful, place. Take stock of yourself. Ask God to hold your hand through this, to support you. Start a journal. Write down your thoughts and feelings about yourself, where you're strong and good, where you're weak and ashamed of yourself. Pay attention, especially, to that one: shame. Pay attention to resentment, too, and when you find it, go beyond it: acknowledge the other person's wrong against you and then set it aside and look at yourself, what is your part in the situation, even if it's lesser: where have you been wrong? I like to use the framework of the eight principal thoughts in John Cassian's Institutes, to look at myself from all angles (start at Book V. Or read Thoughts Matter, by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk. Or look around online for an Alcoholics Anonymous 4th step guide. And, if you know how to do footnotes in blogger, please comment....). Take stock, and ask God for the grace to grow and change. The exciting thing is, although we may hate looking closely at ourselves as we really are, it is actually the most amazing opportunity to grow beyond what we ever believed ourselves capable of being. This is the necessary, painful beginning.
OK, confession (you could figure this out yourselves): one of my weaknesses is a tendency to ramble, and also a tendency to think a thing to death without ever taking action.... So I am going to stop here, and hit "publish" despite the weaknesses of this first attempt, so I can come back on another day to write more about combatting demons, as the ancients would have said. That is, dealing with the thoughts and feelings of self-disgust, confronting our flaws and weaknesses, that have a tendency to come to the surface at the beginning of a time of solitude.
May God bless you all in this crazy Lent, and remember we are all joined together as the Body of Christ, even when we are physically apart. I am yours and you are mine and we are Christ's together. Keep the faith.
P.S., pardon the ads ... I hate them myself, so I'll probably graduate to a paid blog host soon, but for now I just wanted to launch in the simplest way possible. The perfect is the enemy of the good, they say.