Have you experienced the temptation to use those around you for validation of your own self-worth?
For regular listeners of the podcast, Incurvatus in se will not be new. David references it often because it applies well to both our current book, Till We Have Faces, and the previous season’s book, The Great Divorce. Incurvatus in se is a Latin term that was first coined by St. Augustine and means to be turned or curved inward on oneself, rather than outward toward others or toward God. When we become turned within ourselves, we begin to use those around us for our own validation. It is a natural temptation within all of us. The spiritual journey is about turning outward toward others and God. When we do this, we can both love and experience love properly.
As we have gone through Till We Have Faces this season, we have seen the primary character, Orual, undergoing a process of turning further within herself. It started when she felt shame for the first time after her mother’s death and has continued throughout the story. In this week’s chapters, we saw this sad journey completed (or at least for the time being). She says,
“there had been a time in childhood when I didn’t yet know I was ugly. Then there was a time (for in this book I must hide none of my shames or follies) when I believed, as girls do – and as Batta was always telling me – that I could make it more tolerable by this or that done to my clothes or my hair. Now, I chose to be veiled. The Fox that night was the last man who ever saw my face.”
In those few sentences, we can see her journey of turning within. She started open to the world and believing she was worthy. Then she experienced shame early in her life and spent her days trying to feel loved and receive validation. Everything and everyone around her became an opportunity to determine whether she was loved or ugly. It was all about her and not the others. Finally, she hit a point where she chose to be completely veiled, closing off her deepest inner self from the world.
If you are following along with us on the podcast, I don’t want to give anything away, but we will see in upcoming chapters that in this new, veiled state (completely turned within), she uses people without realizing it. Her relationships are not about the other, but about herself. How do they make her feel? How do they help her?
I would argue our natural, default state, when not resisted, leads us inward. We are ego-centric creatures; we naturally view and approach the world through the lens of our “self.” Our interactions become about validating our self. We are continually asking the question, am I loved (or some variation of that)?
Our spiritual journey is about resisting that temptation and turning outwards toward others and toward God. Since it is our ego that turns us within, it is a journey of dying to our self; of killing the ego that turns us outward. C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,
“to love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin.”
In a hyper-connected age with social media, the temptation for validation is stronger than ever. We put ourselves online, hoping for a certain amount of likes for validation or a certain amount of views to validate that we are worthy. If we have nothing to do some evening and have a few hours alone, we can even experience a temptation to text someone to know that we are not alone. The temptation for connection purely for the sake of validation is extreme.
TRUE SOURCE OF VALIDATION
If you notice yourself struggling with the need for validation from the world and others, Henri Nouwen offers some excellent advice. He reminds us that,
“home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says: ‘You are my beloved, on you, my favor rests.’”
For Nouwen, the spiritual journey is about returning home to the embrace of our Heavenly Father and hearing the voice within us that says we are His Beloved every day. Our Heavenly Father is the only person that can give us the validation and affirmation that we are seeking within the world. We have to turn toward him to find what we are all deeply seeking.
When we go to him for our validation, we can begin to love those around us fully because we no longer need them. We no longer give them power over our self-worth. Instead, we can become the person that pours into them the same dignity our Heavenly Father gives us. We begin to open ourselves up and turn outward toward God and toward others.
We are entering the Lenten season today. So often we focus on what we can give up, which I heartily endorse as a beautiful spiritual disciple, but what if, in addition to that, we added the practice of spending 10-20 minutes in silence and solitude, stilling our hearts and mind, and allowing our Heavenly Father to pour his love over us; creating the space to hear that small still voice call us the Beloved. Imagine the impact that could have.