Becoming a Nobody so I Can Become a Somebody

I’ve been known in my community and now I am opting to become unknown.

Fr. Thomas Keating, a Cistercian monk, says that we interact with the world through “programs for happiness.” As part of the way humans develop we all seek power and control, affection and esteem, and security and survival.

I grew up in an environment that was far from encouraging. So, I figured out how to get acknowledgement and kudos by striving to be the best in all that I did. I told myself that all of this hard work and self-denial was for the benefit of the people that I served. While that was partially true, I recognize that there was also the selfish motive of trying to prove my worth to the world. I have spent a good deal of my life chasing after esteem and fueling the existence of my prideful false self.

So now that I am semi-retiring and moving to a river community outside of the town that knows me by my professional identity, my false self rears up and shouts, “What if you are forgotten?” “What will your worth be now?” “Girl, you are going to be left in the dust!”

While reading Becoming Who You Are by James Martin, I came across this quote by Henry Nouwen from his Genesee Diary:

I know too well how hard it is to live without being needed, being wanted, being asked, being admired, being praised. Just a few years ago I retired from my teaching job in Holland and lived for a year as a student in a rented room in the city, I had expected to be free at last to study and do the many things I couldn’t do when a was busy and so much in demand. But what happened? Without a job, I was soon forgotten. People I had hoped would come and visit me didn’t come; friends I expected to invite me remained silent; fellow priests whom I thought would ask me to assist them in Sunday liturgy or to preach once in a while didn’t need me; and my surrounding had pretty much responded as if I was not around.

I have a kindred spirit in Nouwen. Sometimes just knowing that someone else has walked the same path provides comfort. The dark night of the soul can be an agonizing experience as we lose our own “programs for happiness.” We can’t be the people God created us to be when we are operating out of these underlying motives to compensate for unmet childhood needs. Nouwen surely sounds as if he was in a place of pain and isolation. He felt unknown.

My false self-peeks around the corner into the future and sees the strong possibility of a dark period ahead. She now screams, “Go back to your old attachments. They fit like an old comfy shoe.” I suddenly feel invisible, lost and filled with anxiety. Why would I want to walk right into a stripping of myself?

I know I have to trust those who have gone before me. Thomas Merton writes,
“If I find Him I will find myself, and if I find my true self I will find Him.”

Or as Phileena Heuertz writes in Pilgrimage of the Soul,
“The false self has to ‘die’ in order for Christ to reign in us.”

I deeply yearn to walk toward divine love rather than to seek esteem and affection from others. In being nobody to others I can open space to become known by God who only knows me as my stripped and real self. I am reminded that this is God’s work and not mine; I just need to surrender to him and let go. Thomas Keating says that, “If we don’t face the consequences of unconscious motivation (the programs for happiness)—through a practice of that opens us to the unconscious—then that motivation will secretly influence our decisions all through our lives.”

In light of this, I submit to God’s will by including these spiritual practices into my life by:
1. Praying the prayer of welcome.

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me in this moment because I know it is for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions. I let go of my desire for security. I let go of my desire for approval. I let go of my desire for control. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person, or myself. I open to the love and presence of God and the healing action and grace within.
– Mary Mrozowski

2. Practicing centering prayer daily.

Keating calls this “Divine Therapy.” For more on this rich practice, go to:
https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/sites/default/files/private/method_cp_eng-2016-06_0.pdf

Another wonderful resource for centering prayer is a free app called, “Centering Prayer.”

3. Praying the Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, 

Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …

From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

Kathy Milans

Kathy has experience as an elementary educator, teacher trainer, adjunct professor, and has served as Family Resource Director for a major hospital. Kathy is a Kentucky Licensed Pastoral Counselor and is credentialed as a Registered Play Therapist/Supervisor by the American Association of Play Therapy. She is owner of a private practice, Path of Life Ministry, in Wilmore, KY.

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