Dear Older Self,
I know that as you look back over your life you will remember times that were difficult. There were times when you felt devalued and unloved. There were also times when you talked or acted in ways that were unloving and dismissive of other people.
When you remember times in which you failed to love and value other people, try not to turn away from them. This is part of your life’s story. It’s not the whole story but it is important to pay attention to this part. Let the sorrow you feel have a place in your heart. Take some time to pray about these particular memories. Admit your failings to God. Talk with someone you trust about these memories.
Then ask for God’s help to receive the forgiveness God always offers to you. I know it has not always been easy for you to receive this gift. In the past, you have found it difficult to receive God’s forgiveness because you had a hard time forgiving yourself. Your expectation of yourself has been, and may be still, that you should not have failed others. So, dear older self, in order to receive forgiveness you will need to be willing to continue to let go of your pride and your self-judgement. They both can harden your heart against God’s grace and against the grace others extend to you. What has helped you in the past has been to pray for a humble, child-like spirit that is open to receive the life changing gift of forgiveness. It is a gift that will set you free.
Finally, if it is possible to make direct amends, do so. If that is not possible, allow your growing capacity to love other people lead you to express your love to people who are in your life today. Perhaps these memories can motivate you to be more generous with your gratitude or more generous with your words of blessing.
When you are looking back over your life and remember times in which you felt devalued or unloved notice how these events may have impacted your sense of yourself. Sometimes experiences like this can leave lasting wounds. They can even convince you that you are not lovable or valuable. These false beliefs about ourselves sometimes “float to the surface” during the late stages of life.
Often false beliefs about ourselves are rooted in early childhood experiences that we interpreted from a child’s very limited perspective. Think about your elderly friend whose parent was often depressed. She concluded that she was not lovable enough to make her parent happy. It may be obvious that such a conclusion doesn’t make much sense. But it was not obvious to her as a child. Children assume they have powers that they do not possess. If bad things happen they assume that they have been bad or defective in some way. These early misinterpretations of painful experiences can lead to a very distorted sense of self that follows a person all their life.
Sometimes the challenges of aging can significantly complicate these false beliefs. Because you are probably no longer able to be as productive as you were when you were younger, you may find yourself thinking negative things about yourself. Things like: “I am no good to anyone.” “I am nothing but a burden.” “Everyone would be better off without me.” “I use to be someone who contributed to other people’s lives, now I am nothing but a taker.” You have heard all of these things voiced by elderly loved ones as you cared for them in their later years.
It is also possible that your life review may underscore your belief that you didn’t do enough of value in life. When you find yourself thinking like this you are believing the lie that your value is something you can earn by achieving something you think would be notable.
Remember your elderly friend who devalued herself and kept saying that her entire life was worthless because she never had children? Remember how distressing this was for you to hear?
These painful, negative thoughts can lead to self-pity and despair. They can rob you of any peace or contentment.
Doing something to change this kind of distorted sense of self is not easy. This is due in part to the fact that the distortion feels like the truth. It just feels real. If you find yourself thinking like this, talk with a close friend, a minister, a counselor or a support group. It may be time to bring greater healing to the wounds and losses you have sustained in life.
If you notice that you are living with a negative sense of self, dear older self, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you work to let go of these devaluing messages. There are a few practical things you can do to begin to let go of negative messages so that you can embrace your true worth.
The first thing you might do is to sit with whatever painful memories come up. You might do this in a time of prayer or in conversation with a trusted friend. If you can, talk or write to yourself as if you were in that earlier stage of life. Offer yourself the same wisdom and love that you would offer to anybody else. Notice what these loving messages and these compassionate responses do to your sense of yourself.
You might also let yourself recall times when someone expressed love to you. Like the birthday when you and your adult children and your grandchildren had gathered for a few days at a Southern California beach. You woke early on your birthday and walked the beach looking for a heart shaped rock. It was a gift you were hoping God would give you as a reminder of God’s care for you in the difficult times you and your family had just been through. But there was no such rock to be found. Instead, you were given the gift of watching an enormous school of dolphins swimming and leaping close to the shore. You were thrilled. And grateful. When you got back to the beach house, your youngest grandson was waiting for you. He was excited to give you a special birthday surprise. Yep. He held a heart shaped rock in his hand. He told you he had stubbed his foot on it the day before and had been waiting to give it to you. Remembering moments of this kind and taking in the love you were offered in such moments can help you rest in the truth of your worth.
You might also want to begin to use affirmations every day, maybe several times a day. You may not feel differently right away. You may find yourself resisting these affirmations. It is surprising, however, how helpful it can be to review some simple affirmations over and over again. These affirmations can be very simple truths. They might include: “I am loved by God, always.” “I am forgiven.” “My worth and value is a gift from God that can never be taken away from me,” “I am God’s beloved child.” “My life is a gift from God, one day, one breath at a time.”
Another practice that can be helpful is to let yourself picture yourself as God’s much loved child. We tend to know that children have inherent value. We delight in children and feel affection and compassion for them. You may not have had this kind of experience as a kid but you still feel this way about the children in your life. This is how God sees you. We read in Scripture that God is the God of Compassion. We read that God “quiets us with singing,” and “rejoices over us.” Letting yourself see and feel this — even a little — can be affirming in ways that reach into the depths of your being.
Dear older self, it is time to let go of devaluing yourself and to embrace affirming your God-given value. You are cherished. You are loved. May your soul know its worth.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com