The patchwork quilt

Some people seem to think that humility is being self-effacing, self-critical, even self-despising. But humility simply means being real. It’s a lovely grounding word, from ‘humus’ meaning earth, and it should make us feel comfortable with who and what we are.

All that self-abnegation stuff can be another product of the annoying ego, the I, me, my aspect of my primal instinct for survival. If I’m focussing intently on myself in this negative way, I’m not thanking God for creating me. Nor am I expressing gratitude for the harder lessons in life.

Instead, I can get into low self-esteem and project that on others. In an inverse way, my me first instinct can prevent me from directly experiencing God’s love.

Certainly the ego needs to be managed, but we should never allow it to divide us. In a battle of self against self, who ends up the loser?

As children, we were socialised at an early age. Some things were good, attached to “Yes.” Other things were bad and connected to “No.” Remember that? As we grew in experience and could evaluate situations for ourselves, the black and white values of infancy, became multi-coloured and some choices needed careful discernment.

Every now and then we made the wrong choice. We wounded ourselves and maybe someone else. We felt regret, sought forgiveness. Then came the valuable resurrection experience. We realised we’d learned more from that mistake, than we’d learned from several right choices.

So how does this fit with our desire to grow in faith? Maybe we can describe it with a parable.

Our lives are like lovely patchwork quilts, a variety of shapes and shades stitched together with faith. There are patches vibrant with colour, some fabrics smooth and silky, some strong, some delicate, others that are dark or rough in texture. Together they make wholeness.

If I look at my quilt of life, it is the dull and rough patches that are the most interesting, because they have been the greatest teachers. They have enabled me to bring new fabrics to the quilt. I think this is called redemption.

But surely, if I try to unpick and remove a patch I don’t like, all I will do is leave a hole, damaging the entire pattern of patches.

So I say thanks to God for the awkward patches and integrate them with my gratitude. This, I think, is called reconciliation.

We are both the quilt and the quilt maker. And what is the purpose of the patchwork quilt? If we extend the metaphor, we see it wrapping our precious little soul that has been brought into incarnation. I like to think that as the quilt grows, so does the soul.

That is a satisfying image, but what do we do about that annoying ego? Any attention we give the me first instinct, be it positive or negative, will only feed it.

Perhaps the answer is quite simple. We just laugh at it.

Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.

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