Dear Older Self,
Your 97 year old friend who said, “ I think I am learning to let go of pride, in order to get ready for heaven,” spoke with a clarity that startled you.
For her, pride had been a form of defensiveness. It had been her attempt to stay in control by always being on the giving end of things and rarely on the receiving end. Her pride was her attempt to push away vulnerability by being self-reliant and self-sufficient.
Letting go of this kind of pride is not easy. You know this all too well. You know this from watching your elderly friend struggle to let go. And you know this because of your own defensive pride that has been much like hers. You know what it is to be more comfortable with giving than with receiving. You know what it is to push away vulnerability by being self reliant.
You also know how this defensive pride has robbed you of intimacy with others. And you know how your elderly friend’s pride made it more difficult for you to help her.
When this elderly friend was struggling with her husband’s terminal illness you told her to call you any time they needed help. You told her you wanted to be with the two of them as they walked through this challenging time. She was a person who was known for her ability to talk long and often, but her response to you that day was to stare back at you in silence. She was not accustomed to allowing others to help. Later, her husband, who had overheard this conversation made her promise that she would agree to the support that was being offered. And she did. It was a big step in letting go of her pride.
Then, as she aged into her mid 90’s and developed congestive heart failure, she realized that she had to have more help and support. She needed help with groceries and trips to the doctor and house keeping. Eventually she needed live-in help and hospice care.
Each step involved a loss of independence. Each step required that she give up more of her self- reliance. Each step was a part of the painful, amazing journey of letting go of her pride so she could open up to receive the help and love that was being offered.
Who would guess that on the other side of the painful process of letting go of pride awaits the gift of experiencing love?
Our defenses often come from the fear that we are not lovable, or that love is not available to us. Perhaps we have come to believe that we can only be loved if we perform in some way. Or that we can only be loved if we out-give the other person. Or that we can only be loved if we never bother anyone else with our needs.
Basically our self-reliance is a defense against a kind of despair that we will never be truly loved simply for who we are. It is a kind of resistance to love.
This kind of resistance to love can come out of life experiences of abuse, neglect, trauma and loss. Early experiences of this kind can stay with us all our lives if we have never had the opportunity to explore them and experience the comforting attention, acceptance and support of others.
But life has a way of offering us new opportunities to heal.
You, dear older self, are invited by your growing dependency to let go of your defensive pride and to open yourself to love.
A helpful practice in learning to open to love can be to picture yourself being loved in some way. Perhaps seeing yourself with a grandparent or parent or sibling who nurtured you. Perhaps picturing the love of a dear friend. Perhaps seeing yourself loved by God. Ask the Spirit to bring you images of yourself receiving love in some way. Let the image of love come to you. Sit with it. Breathe in the truth of it. Rest in it. Let it fill you and hold you.
It can also be helpful to notice all the ways you are being offered love and care each day. All human love is limited. We all “love our crooked neighbor with our crooked hearts.”1 But our limited human love, when offered and accepted, can transform both the giver and the receiver. Something sacred takes place as we break the bread of human kindness and pass it to each other. Receive the bread of kindness being offered to you and give thanks. Opening yourself to love is what it means to get ready for heaven—heaven here on this earth, as well as in the life to come. And this is what your elderly friend did. She slowly, painstakingly, allowed you and others to help her and care for her. And she learned to do so with gratitude. As a result, she grew into someone who was a joy to help, a joy to be with. She grew into someone capable of receiving love.
So, dear older self, please be aware of your defensive pride. Please pray for the grace to let go of pride and to open your heart to receive the love offered you every day by others and by God.
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