The Secret to Self-Acceptance

how to practice self-acceptance

“What often blocks the action of God’s grace in our lives is less our sin or failings, than it is our failure to accept our own weaknesses ,” writes French author Fr. Jacques Philippe in Interior Freedom.

“We refuse to admit that we have this defect, that weak point, were marked by this event, fell into that sin. And so we block the Holy Spirit’s action, since he can only affect our reality to the extent we accept it ourselves.”

Self-acceptance, or learning to love ourselves, can be a difficult process. But, as Fr. Philippe reminds us in his small, but densely packed book, it’s an essential component of unlocking the freedom and joy that we innately crave.

“The highest and most fruitful form of human freedom is found in accepting, even more than in dominating,” he writes. “We show greatness of our freedom when we transform reality, but still more when we accept it trustingly as it is given to us day after day.”

It is only by learning to accept our limitations – not deny or reject them – that we open the door to the power of God’s grace to yield self-transformation and growth.

God loves who we are – right now, at this very moment:

“The person God loves with the tenderness of a Father, the person he wants to touch and to transform with his love, is not the person we’d have liked to be or ought to be. It’s the person we are. God doesn’t love ‘ideal persons’ or ‘virtual beings.’ He loves actual, real people. He is not interested in saintly figures in stained glass windows, but in us sinners.”

God is realistic:

“His grace does not operate on our imaginings, ideals, or dreams. It works on reality, the specific, concrete elements of our lives. Even if the fabric of our everyday lives doesn’t look very glorious to us, only there can we be touched by God’s grace.”

Getting frustrated by who we are not is unproductive:

“A great deal of time can be wasted in the spiritual life complaining that we are not like this or not like that, lamenting this defect or that limitation, imagining all the good we could do if, instead of being the way we are, we were less defective, more gifted with this or that quality or virtue, and so on. Here is a waste of time and energy that merely impedes the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.”

Acceptance paves the way for change:

“To ‘set grace free’ in our lives, and paving the way for deep and spectacular changes, it sometimes would be enough to say simply ‘yes’ – a ‘yes’ inspired by trust in God to aspects of our lives we’ve been rejecting…[t]he Holy Spirit never acts unless we freely cooperate. We must accept ourselves just as we are, if the Holy Spirit is to change us for the better.”

This doesn’t mean we resign to our weaknesses and just give up:

“The desire to improve, to strive always to surpass ourselves in order to grow in perfection is obviously indispensable. There is no question of abandoning it. To stop moving forward means to stop living. Anyone who doesn’t want to become holy never will…[b]ut in order to become holy, we must accept ourselves as we are.”

It’s a bit paradoxical:

“These two statements are only apparently contradictory: both things are equally necessary, because they complement and balance each other. We need to accept limitations, but without ever resigning ourselves to mediocrity. We need to desire change, but without ever refusing, even subconsciously, to recognize our limitations to accept ourselves.”

The secret is this:

“It is to understand that we can only transform reality fruitfully if we accept it first. This also means having the humility to recognize that we cannot change ourselves by our own efforts, but that all progress in spiritual life, every victory over ourselves, is a gift of God’s grace. We will not receive the grace to change unless we desire to; but to receive the grace that will transform us, we must ‘receive’ ourselves – to accept ourselves as we really are.”

It’s less about our own efforts and strength, and more about God:

“The most important thing in our lives is not so much what we can do as leaving room for what God can do. The great secret of all spiritual faithfulness and growth is learning to let God act. ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing,’ Jesus tells us. God’s love is infinitely more powerful than anything we can do by our own wisdom or our own strength. Yet one of the most essential conditions for God’s grace to act in our lives is saying yes to what we are and to the situations in which we find ourselves.”

We can come to a greater acceptance by learning to see ourselves through God’s eyes:

“Under God’s gaze, we are delivered from the constraint of having to be ‘the best’ or perpetually having to be ‘winners.’ We have a deep sense of release, because we don’t have to make constant efforts to show ourselves in a favorable light or waste energy pretending to be what we are not. We can quite simply be what we are. There is no better form of ‘relaxation’ than to rest like little children in the tenderness of a Father who loves us just as we are.”

We don’t need to ‘prove’ our worth or ‘work’ for love:

“We find it so difficult to accept our own deficiencies because we imagine they make us unlovable. Since we are defective in this or that aspect, we feel we do not deserve to be loved. Living under God’s gaze make us realize how mistaken that is. Love is given freely, it’s not deserved, and our deficiencies don’t prevent God from loving us – just the opposite! Thus we are freed of the terrible, despair-inducing sense that we must become ‘good enough’ to deserve to be loved.”

As we grow in acceptance, God’s grace can transform us – from sinners into saints:

“We are never imprisoned within our own mediocrity or forced into a sort of dull resignation, for we always have the hope of advancing in love. God can make us, sinners that we are, into saints: his grace can accomplish even that miracle, and we can have unlimited faith in the power of his love. Even if we fall every day, as long as we get up again and say, ‘Lord, thank you, because I’m sure that you will make me a saint!’ we give immense pleasure to God and sooner or later will receive from him what we hope for.”

Ultimately, it is God’s grace that is doing the work:

“The right attitude toward God, then, is having a very peaceful, very ‘relaxed’ acceptance of ourselves and our weaknesses as well as an immense desire for holiness, and a strong determination to progress, based on limitless trust in God’s grace.”

“This double attitude is well expressed in a passage from the spiritual diary of St. Faustina:”

“I desire to love You more than anyone has ever loved You before. And in spite of my wretchedness and littleness, I have my trust deeply anchored in the abyss of Your mercy, my God and my creator! In spite of my great wretchedness, I am not afraid of anything, but I maintain the hope of singing my song of praise for ever. Let no soul doubt, even the most pitiful, so long as they are still alive, that they can become a great saint. For great is the power of God’s grace.”

how to practice self-acceptance

Interior Freedom is packed full of wisdom on how to attain an inner posture of peace and joy, despite our circumstances. As described, “Interior Freedom leads one to discover that even in the most difficult circumstances we possess within ourselves a space of freedom that nobody can take away, because God is its source and guarantee. Without this discovery we will always be restricted in some way and will never taste true happiness. Author Jacques Philippe develops a simple but important theme: we gain possession of our interior freedom in exact proportion to our growth in faith, hope, and love.”

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