Jason Evert, an amazing layman and speaker on chastity, said he surveyed a thousand high school and college girls and one of the things he asked them was, “If you could tell guys anything to understand a woman, what would you tell him? One girl said this, ‘We always feel inadequate so you have to let us know how precious we are.’”
My experience is that many women feel tremendous pressure to look beautiful and so suffer from self-doubt. A woman once told me, “I felt so depressed when I turned 30.” Some guys hate aging too. When I asked a friend of mine on his birthday how old he was, he said he was celebrating the 20th anniversary of his 30th birthday. A young woman told me there are 6 lies that women are tempted to believe: “I’m not beautiful enough, not unique, not worthy, not chosen, not enough, not loved.” Our culture tells us that women have to be beautiful, tall, thin, and sexy.
So we’re talking about insecurities. Everyone has them. What about men’s insecurities? We feel pressure to be strong (especially to have a big upper body), to keep up, to be tough; we tend to exaggerate our height to make ourselves bigger than we are. There’s a pressure to always be right, which is why we have difficulty admitting we’re wrong. Commercials tell us we’ll get our confidence back when we get our hair back, as if our confidence was based on a good head of hair.
All of us have insecurities that we won’t be loved or accepted. In elementary school, I was deeply embarrassed because of the car my family drove. It was an old car, and we didn’t have it because we liked it; we had it because we couldn’t afford anything better. Kids at school made fun of me by calling it “the boat” and I hated it. I also remember being deeply self-conscious about my hair cut, about my jeans and clothes because I had no sense of style (it’s good I became a priest, because I don’t have to think about what to wear the next day).
Our culture praises exterior beauty instead of interior beauty; it values having a nice house and a nice car. We all know we’re judged by how we dress, our appearance, our job, our abilities—that’s reality, sad but true. That’s why most of us are insecure.
What’s your insecurity? If you have none, God bless you. We’re so used to it we might not even recognize it.
St. Paul today gives us good advice: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Don’t be conformed to this world because the world tells us lies. Being judged by our appearance, abilities and what we have is a lie.
This point hit me a few weeks ago. I was watching TV and a lot of the programs and commercials were so superficial. It was all about money, pleasure, appearance, and I said to myself, “This is a bunch of garbage. If I keep watching this stuff, I’m going to think like this,” because it affects me.
If this is a lie, then what’s the truth? The truth is God loves us unconditionally. He loves us even when we don’t love Him. No matter how we look, what we do, what we have, He loves us. Even today, when we hear Jesus call St. Peter, our first pope, the devil, He still loves him! He corrects him because he’s thinking according to a lie, not according to the truth. But Jesus still loves Him.
I’ve been blessed to have parents who loved me unconditionally. I know it so deeply in my mind and heart that there’s no doubt. When on retreat as a teenager, we all got letters from our parents telling us how much they loved us. While almost every other person cried because they were overwhelmed by the words of love, I was barely moved because I had heard it all the time. Hearing the truth over and over again gave me and still gives me great security and confidence.
If you’ve never felt this unconditional love from your parents or anyone else, I’m sorry. I think our family does love us greatly, but sometimes they fall into the lie of loving us conditionally.
There are two ways we come to understand this truth: 1) Through prayer. The more we spend time talking and listening to God, and hearing the truth, the more we’ll stop believing the lie. That’s why prayer is so important. We live in the world and we’re so inundated with lies that we believe them. That’s why Confession is so beautiful: considering the bad things we’ve done, God still loves us.
2) Through spending time with other people who live according to the truth, not according to the world. I once got a really bad haircut at the seminary (well, actually lots of times I got a bad haircut because we cut each other’s hair and you get what you pay for; we paid $2). The haircut was so bad that I was embarrassed and a part of me thought I would cry. I’m serious. It’s terrible to look so bad. But something was different this time. Another part of me realized that it wasn’t that bad, that nothing had changed about who I was, and that the guys up at the seminary really didn’t care. I mean they really didn’t care. They’re not superficial and no one talked about my bad haircut, because no one cared about it. Besides, it would be better in two weeks.
Do you know how freeing it is to be with a group of people who don’t judge you according to how you look? You don’t have to be self-conscious, worrying that you’ll be rejected. That is one of the most amazing feelings around.
That experience showed me I had changed. How did I change? By spending lots of time in prayer and by being with people who loved me as God loves me. The seminary is filled with seminarians driving old cars, wearing old clothes for sports, and lots of monks are bald, but they are all loved by each other. One monk has what looks like a severe curvature of the neck but no one judges him based on his external appearance, rather, we respect him for being virtuous, prayerful, faithful and hard-working.
That’s why I love spending time with people who live in the truth. My Catholic friends who are really living according to the truth don’t worry about superficial things. One such friend gave up wearing make-up for Lent. What do you think about that? Would you be willing to give up make-up for Lent? I talking to the women, of course. It was a sacrifice for her, but she did it so that she wouldn’t find her self-esteem in her exterior beauty. And when she did it, no one noticed the difference. People who really loved her didn’t change their love for her. At the end of Lent, she was free of the lie and felt more secure. Now she can wear makeup to enhance her beauty, but she doesn’t find her self-worth in her makeup.
That’s an important distinction: being beautiful is good. Guys, being strong is good. Being talented and successful is good! But, we shouldn’t put our self-worth in it. Aim for excellence, dress beautifully, be in shape, buy what is necessary, but you’re not loved according to those things!
What’s your insecurity? What truth is Jesus telling you?
Here’s your homework for the week: pay attention to the people you spend time with and ask, “Are they loving me like God, or do they judge me according to superficial things?” When you watch TV, surf the net, go on social media, look at people’s messages and pictures, ask, “Are they living according to the truth, or are they trying to find acceptance in what they do, wear, have?”
Lastly, don’t ever make fun of people because of their clothing, their car, their body, their lack of talent, etc. We all know how scaring it can be to be made fun of. And when we insult people, we’re feeding them a lie and we’re living a lie. Instead, we should affirm people, especially we parents. We should constantly support people and tell them we love them.
God tells us the truth: that we’re beautiful, good and loved. And that takes away our insecurities. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”