Earlier this spring, I was sitting up with a friend the night before her wedding.
Our makeup had come off, and the other bridesmaids and I praised her glowing skin. She beamed and explained her multi-step skincare routine, how it was such a small thing, but it made her feel happy and beautiful. I was impressed; in the not-so-distant past, I might have dismissed it as frivolous or a waste of money, especially for a woman who’s only 23. But something about the way she looked as she described the products she used made me want to invest in myself in a similar way.
A few weeks later, I stood in front of the empty, weedy planter in my backyard and dithered. The last frost was over, and I had already seen more flowers that I wanted at farmers markets than I could ever fit into my little repurposed metal tub. But, I thought to myself, what about something more practical? A few herbs, or a vegetable that doesn’t need a ton of room. You don’t have an entire garden to work with here…
Yet deep down I knew I just wanted daisies and snapdragons. Not a particularly important decision, but one that still had me torn.
Suddenly it hit me. I wanted to plant flowers because they’re beautiful.
They don’t need to be anything else—the mere fact that I find snapdragons and daisies beautiful, that I derive pleasure from growing them, was enough. It’s not as if I wouldn’t have access to fresh herbs and vegetables if I didn’t grow them myself.
And that got me wondering. If my initial reaction to things as small as nightly skincare routines, and planting flowers over vegetables, was so scornful, what else did I feel this way about?
I took this to prayer. Lord, what else did I feel this way about?
He answered quickly: Yourself.
And just like that, my eyes were opened. I had long ago fallen for the lie that simply being wasn’t enough, that I had to be doing, producing, achieving, creating. Not even to be worthy of love, necessarily, but just to be above being scorned. And if I wasn’t practical and productive, I wasn’t worthy of resting, or taking myself seriously.
As I continued along with this newfound self-knowledge, I realized how common this belief seems to be, even among people who are close to the Lord. One of the deepest and most fundamental lies that we, as broken humans, fall for is that we need to earn love.
Just take a second to consider how often this plays out in our society, in ways infinitely more serious than flowers and beauty products. Our coworkers who make a mistake or fall into habitual faults become the subject of gossip or anger. We sometimes try to decide who is more “worthy” or “deserving” of charity—if someone is down on their luck or just trash. Unborn children with disabilities are aborted, to avoid the potential hardships they’d cause.
And of course, as women, we’re wounded by this lie in a unique way.
Still single? We must not be pretty enough, not yet perfect enough for romance. Our children suffer or are unhappy? It’s our fault; we clearly don’t try hard enough as mothers. Or a thousand other little whispered lies we hear, reinforced by a society that touts productivity and actualization and self-reliance.
One of the most countercultural things we can do, as women, is learn to receive love despite feeling unworthy, and in turn learn to give love even when others deem it undeserved.
A woman who knows that, whatever she goes through or whatever mistakes she makes, she has a beauty and loveliness and worthiness that comes from something more than herself, is a woman who will show the world how love is meant to be lived.
Becoming this woman is no easy thing; that’s why we sadly see so few ladies who are truly at peace with themselves. But as Catholics, we know that we can rely on Christ for everything, including transforming us into the women we were made to be. Whether blessed with physical prettiness or not, women are called by their very existence to reflect the beauty, receptivity, and mercy of the Trinity. Being patient with our own shortcomings (and those of the people around us), being convicted of our lovableness in God’s eyes, are all part of His will for us. We simply need to sit with Him, to reflect on His love for us, and to ask for the grace to receive this love with open hearts.
Fortunately, everything Christ has done has been an act of love for us and for the Holy Trinity, so we have plenty to reflect on.
Of course this doesn’t mean that we let ourselves get lazy, blow off what we know what we’re called to do, stop putting in effort, or think that we don’t need to apologize for our failings. True love isn’t complacent. But the closer we grow to Christ, the purer and more ordered our love and desires will be. We can trust that as we grow in humility it will become easier to take responsibility for our poor choices, as well as love ourselves for Christ’s sake.
So, as a small act of love and trust, this spring I planted flowers and began a simple skincare routine. I’ve begun asking for a heart totally open to God’s love, knowing that I can only spread His love if I am filled with self-love. Not a vain, feel-good, “empowered” self-love, but in a truly radical one, springing from the desire to love everything God has created, including myself.