(In this second installment of our series on M Scott Peck, we shall explore how the family can be – and must be! – vehicle and venue for self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-love. These are the necessary ingredients to enable family members to truly love one another.)
It must have been an extremely sad time for the apostles when they realized that Jesus was going to leave them. Jesus understood their insecurities and despair and consoled them with His promise to send the Paraclete, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to complete the work He had already begun. “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever… you know him, for he dwells with you, and he will be within you… he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (from Jn 14)
As He did two thousand years ago, Jesus continues to send the Holy Spirit to lead people into truth and understanding, which is the pathway to the Kingdom of God, the pursuit of which is a primary goal for each individual. Jesus said “The kingdom of God is within you,” (Jn 17:21) thus the context for the work of the Holy Spirit and the search for truth is an exploration within oneself, the search for self-understanding, to discover how one is created in God’s image, and so even in part, to discover God Himself. Salesian priest Fr. Alfred Cogliandro has said, “God has excavated in our souls an abyss so profound that only He can fill it.”
Precisely because the primary earthly setting for each individual is the family, it is within the family that discovery and growth towards wholeness are to be nurtured. Health in the family then, requires that the members follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and constantly attempt to discover truth and understanding within the self, especially as it unfolds in the complexities of intimate relationships.
The striving for self-understanding becomes a significant step in discovering the kingdom of God, and by definition needs to be one of the highest, if not the highest, priority of the Christian. Thus man searches for the Lord through personal wholeness, and his “missing parts” can only be known to him through his increasing self-discovery. Families help in bringing its members to wholeness when each member is able to learn from and adopt the strengths of the others. Thus, to the extent that each family member applies his or her faith to the inward search for truth and understanding, the family has the potential for being a spiritual and growth-filled vessel.
Loving and Reconciling Aspects of the Self
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matt 19:19
“Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you.” Luke 6:27
These verses speak largely of interrelationships, or how we are to treat others. They also have, however, a prior, individualistic relevance. In the first verse, it is clear that in our relationships, the degree to which a person loves self is or shall be about the degree that he or she can love another. This underlines the importance of self-acceptance.
In the second verse, it may be said that one enemy that needs to be loved is the darker side of oneself, namely, all the characteristics and experiences which a person finds difficult to look at or accept. If an individual is able to accept and love these “enemies” within the self, then it is not difficult to accept the same traits when seen in others, especially in one’s spouse or children. On the other hand, if the “enemy” cannot be accepted, much less loved, some hatred or disdain of oneself and others will likely prevail. These often emerge as judgmental or prejudicial thought, unrealistic expectations, a complaining spirit or undue criticism.
If we sincerely examine ourselves, we will realize that our pet peeves or persisting irritants among our family members are, one way or another, reflections of our own negative, unrecognized aspects. Family life often consists of a criss-crossing series of projections (in psych-speak, projections are an unconscious ego defense mechanism whereby a person ascribes his own beliefs, attitudes and other attributes onto another). Instead of loving the internal enemy, a parent might judge his children for the same qualities which remain unacknowledged and thus unexamined within himself. This dynamic is very frequently present – albeit unawares – in the marital relationship as well.
“You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But now I tell you, do not take revenge on someone who does you wrong. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap you on your left too.” (Mat 5:38)
Revenge is another very common dynamic in families. Instead of applying self-understanding to the reasons why a hurt or difficulty continues, a family member might more easily take offense and aim to get back at the perceived offender. This can start a vicious cycle that can very quickly escalate and run out of control. In revengeful situations, negative communication often worsens and each person involved becomes less able to objectively and caringly look at what he is personally contributing to the problem. It is easier to look at another’s omission or commission (NOT mine, of course, it CAN’T be my fault!) than it is to look at a complex system of multiple, interacting and reciprocal behaviors, issues, feelings or shortcomings.
The Holy Spirit, through our very selves and our family members, is inviting us to stand face to face with our personal emotions, personality traits, experiences or imperfections that we deem fearful or repulsive. As we understand how we fear and refuse to integrate these internal enemies, we can begin the work of growing into wholeness.
Marriage and family life provide wonderful opportunities for healing and reconciliation within and between persons. This is the stuff of unconditional love. This is how God moves within families. If a person can learn to accept and love discoveries about himself by way of the acceptance he receives from loving – because they are self-loving – family members, family life can indeed be like the Kingdom come to earth.