By the light of this flame
May we come to see the beauty in every person
The wholeness within
The miraculous love we can give
And the connections between us
No matter how you might want to change or grow
No matter what flaws loom large to you.
Begin here. Knowing you are held.
Knowing you are accepted
Just as you are
Reading: The Ponds, by Mary Oliver
Every year the lilies are so perfect
I can hardly believe their lapped light crowding
the black, mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them -
the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that rife and wild.
But what in this world is perfect?
I bend closer and see how this one is clearly lopsided --
and that one wears an orange blight --
and this one is a glossy cheek half nibbled away --
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own unstoppable decay.
Still, what I want in my life is to be willing
to be dazzled --
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing --
that the light is everything -- that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
Reading: Poem, by Shane Koyczan
But I want to tell them
That all of this shit
Is just debris
Leftover when we finally decide to smash all the things we thought
We used to be
And if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself
Get a better mirror
Look a little closer
Stare a little longer
Because there’s something inside you
That made you keep trying
Despite everyone who told you to quit
You built a cast around your broken heart
And signed it yourself
You signed it
Message by Rev Andy Pakula
We are talking about happiness. Are you happy? What does that even mean?
Sometimes, I look dispassionately at my life and I know that I feel satisfied - I feel content with my life. I feel no great striving for anything more. So I am happy. And sometimes, I’m quite certain that I would be happy if only one little thing was different. OK - not so little. I sometimes feel I would be happy if only I was… you know… perfect. It doesn’t matter that even what seems perfect isn’t, as Mary Oliver describes of the lilies. When I feel like I must be perfect to be loved and to be happy, every defect takes a bit more away from my happiness. Too little hair, too much nose, too little height, too many stone, too few bulging muscles - these, I am sure at the worst of times, make me someone no one would want to meet or talk to or befriend. And my declining memory, my anxiety, my perfectionism - among other failings - make me unloveable. If only I could be rid of these defects, life would be so much better.
I want to tell you about a young British woman called Harnaam Kaur who lives in London. Kaur grew up in Slough. She was a shy girl and sensitive about her appearance since she was - as she says - chubby and brown. And then, when she was 11 years old, she started growing something that none of the other girls did - a beard. The other kids were merciless. Kaur says “They called me a ‘man’, ‘a beast’, an ‘ogre’, or just ‘fat’.” And so she set to trying to remove the defect that was causing her so much pain. She was waxed and tweezered and threaded and used hair removal cream. All of it hurt terribly and left her skin raw and painful. And doing this only convinced both her and the bullies that she was indeed defective. Soon after removing it, the thick black hair quickly grew back.
The bullying continued. Kaur was threatened with knives and stabbed with pens. By the time she was 15 she had begun skipping skipping school. She was self-harming to punish the imperfect body that made her so unloveable. She began to think of suicide. And then, one day, she found herself with a bottle of bills emptied into her hand. It was her turning point. At that moment, she decided to live. She decided to be herself come what may. She grew what has become a luxuriant shiny black beard. She is listed in the Guiness book of world records as the youngest woman to be able to grow a full beard. Kaur has become a body confidence advocate. She is model. She is a social media star. And her story and her confidence and her conviction to accept herself as she is have given many many other people hope.
My worst imperfection is not my height, anxiety, nose, hairline, poor memory or any of the rest. In the pursuit of happiness, the flaw that holds me back is none of these. It is my imperfect ability to accept and love myself despite them. Harnaam Kaur is a source of hope because she models a self-love despite imperfection - and hers is a big, bold, glossy imperfection right there framing her face. And she shows us all that we can accept ourselves with all that we are and despite how we would like to be different. We can love ourselves as we are.
I remember, as a young person, being told ‘you can’t be loved unless you love yourself.’ I hoped that this wasn’t true because I certainly did not love me. There was too much wrong with me - too much I wanted to erase and improve - too much that other kids and my parents had taught me were not good enough. I decided at the time that it was just one of those things that people said. People say a lot of things and many are just nonsense. Unfortunately, this one isn’t. The truth is that - to be loved - you must be open and honest and vulnerable. And you can’t be truly known and truly loved by another person if you are constantly hiding parts of yourself away. Any love than is love an illusion - a facade that you must work harder and harder to maintain.
Happiness is similar. If there are parts of yourself that you can’t stand, then you can never truly allow yourself to be happy. And happiness depends on relationship. No one who hates parts of themselves can let others see them as they are. Even in relationship, they have the feeling that ‘oh, if they only knew, they’d hate me.’
It is easy to say ‘accept yourself’ and ‘love yourself.’ Doing it is something else entirely. For some reason, we have a tendency to be much harder on ourselves than we would ever be with a friend. And because we are so quick to condemn, we feel was must deny or hide away what we see as our imperfections. The first step to self-acceptance and self-love is to be honest with yourself. You have plenty of flaws. We all do! Being flawed is part of being human. Recognise them. Count them. List them. You may find that they seem smaller and fewer when you look at them honestly than they seem when you are busy pushing them away. They seem huge in your peripheral vision but shrink when you look at them head on.
Second, respond to your flaws as you would if they were confessed to you by a dear friend or loved one. Explain to yourself that you are making too much of very little. Tell yourself that anyone worth loving will love you for who your are. Remind yourself that you are willing to love others despite much worse.
And the third and final step, take a chance. Go out there in public with your flaws not only visible but long and beautifully coiffed. Some people will run. Some will embrace you for being yourself. Only the latter group is worth bringing close in any case.
Be loved for who you are
May it be so
This life we lead is a journey of discovery.
A journey of learning.
A journey of deepening and growing.
The one sure way to stop the journey
Is to hide ourselves away because we feel unworthy and unlovable.
Know that you are enough.
Know that you are acceptable.
Take a chance and take a step in the adventure of your life.
We are one and we are lovable.
May it be so.