Please forgive the four week hiatus since the last post. I'm happy to be back after some time away for prayer and ministry. We continue with the third reflection in our human formation series.
As mentioned in our last reflection, in order to discern and answer God’s call, we need to know that He loves us. An essential ingredient for knowing God’s personal love for us is proper emotional development and maturation. But, how does this take place? While there are many contributing factors to emotional maturity, some of which we will touch on in this series, emotional maturity is ultimately the fruit of unconditional love, or what some Catholic psychologists call affirmation. As Dr. Conrad Baars puts it, affirmation is the “fundamental human need” to have “one’s goodness revealed to oneself by another”. Being affirmed involves actually feeling my own goodness; experiencing that I am “loved and lovable simply for being” who I am, not for what I can achieve, produce or possess. By being affirmed, I receive from another what only they can give me, the unique gift of myself, my true identity. This is a life-changing experience—Dr. Baars actually calls it our second or psychological birth—that ideally begins in childhood in one’s relationship with their parents and significant others but also needs to continue throughout one’s lifetime.
How does it work? Dr. Philip Sutton teaches that affirmation takes place when “another person is fully present and attentive to us to recognize our goodness, is moved by our goodness, and then is in communion with us, revealing their being moved by us in the visible, sensible, physical changes in their face, posture, [touch] and voice.” It’s more about being than doing. This awareness, feeling and revealing of our goodness to us is all prior to any words or actions on the other’s part. Based upon our needs and the circumstances of a given situation, words or actions may follow another’s affirmation of us, however, they are not strictly necessary.
Being loved in this way is truly life changing! Not only does it lead to a real love of self and others, it also contributes to our love of God, producing an experiential or felt faith. Dr. Conrad Baars explains: “A truly felt faith and trust in a loving God is essential if we are to become open to the goodness of all being, and to live without fear. However, the presence of this felt faith and trust is virtually dependent on and develops only as a result of emotional affirmation. A non-affirmed individual is quite capable of directing his will toward God when his intellect discovers the necessary reasons for doing this. However, purely intellectual orientation toward God does not stimulate his feeling of love for God and does little to open him to knowing and feeling the goodness of all being. In fact, in times of severe emotional stress this spiritual orientation may collapse easily and reveal the underlying fearful self-centeredness.”Brothers, our human relationships can shape and influence our relationship with God. Let’s ponder that reality in these coming days….Stay tuned.