Humiliation

I’ve had a humiliating year, in many senses of the word. Before 2019, my body was young, obedient to my wishes, and in decent shape. Thanks to a healthy childhood and easy young adulthood, my mental health was balanced. Looking back, I was kind of proud of myself for having it together–as if I’d done everything right and deserved my good health. I was even hard-hearted about others’ poor health. Pull it together, people. 

But a difficult pregnancy and a rough postpartum has changed a lot. After the birth of my baby, I began to suffer from clinical-level anxiety, hypochondria, and pain more intense than childbirth. I could hardly recognize my body or my mind; I felt like a different person than 2018 me. I was so wrapped up in my own suffering that COVID and civil unrest barely registered on my radar.

I’d never been good at asking for help or admitting weakness. My primary emotion surrounding my situation was embarrassment. It was my fault, and my problem to hide. I must’ve done something wrong. What was wrong with me, that I couldn’t take care of myself, much less my family and home? 

At some point, I knelt down and asked the Lord, “Have I learned enough? Can’t it stop now?” It wasn’t a rational question; I know He doesn’t wish suffering on His children. But I’d reached the valley of the shadow of death. I wasn’t suicidal, but the idea of death only frightened me when I thought of my kids. For my own body, the idea of no physical pain or mental anguish sounded relieving. After three decades of good health, I was in a pretty low spot.

The word “humiliation” carries a negative connotation these days. It’s tied up with shame and loss of reputation. But in the Heavenly Doctrines, it’s a positive thing. Swedenborg writes of two kinds of humiliation: external and internal. We humble ourselves to the Lord in an external way by bowing down, kneeling–anything to lower ourselves before Him. Internal humiliation is a bowing of the mind–acknowledging that the Lord has all power, all glory (Arcana Coelestia 5420). 

Now that my body and mind aren’t so sick, I’ve been trying to see how humiliation can turn me to the Lord. During my hard time, I had to give up the false idea that I had agency and power. According to Arcana Coelestia 6866, “[I]n genuine humiliation, a man divests himself of all ability to to think and do anything from himself, and wholly leaves himself to the Divine, and thus draws near to the Divine.” The valley of the shadow of death is a terrible place, but it funneled me toward a spiritually healthier one: the crucial truth that I was not in charge, that I did not merit good health because of some intrinsic goodness. It’s made me more merciful toward those having hard times and more grateful for the improvements I’ve made. I like to think this is a beginning of the process described in Ezekiel:

 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (36:26)

[T]he Divine of the Lord cannot flow into a proud heart, that is, into a heart full of the love of self, for such a heart is hard; and is called in the Word a “heart of stone.” But the Divine of the Lord can flow into a humble heart, because this is soft, and is called in the Word a “heart of flesh.” (Arcana Coelestia 9377)

10 thoughts on “Humiliation

  1. Oh Taryn… my absolute sympathy and empathy. It’s really good to hear that your mind and body are not now as sick as they were. I too have been ‘in the valley of the shadow of death’ – for slightly different reasons, but at a very similar age. I clearly remember when I reached rock bottom. And just as clearly, I remember the awareness that I was beginning to leave that valley behind – what a huge relief! Humility – true humility – is what led me to that point. It resonates still, decades later. I send many, many strengthening thoughts for your continuing acquisition of ‘a new heart and a new spirit’.

  2. Love this post, definitely resonates. Makes me think of a book by Elizabeth Goudge entitled The Scent of Water, in which there is a character who had learned in her struggles with mental health to place herself in the Lord’s hands when she feels a dark spell coming on. Seems like we spend our whole lives learning to peel back our death-grip on life and live by the knowledge that actually the Lord is in control and that is as it should be.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Taryn. I’m sorry you had such a tremendous low but I am and grateful to you for sharing your perspective on the usefulness of humility. I always appreciate having a refreshed look at concepts that are generally perceived as negative. I’m glad things are looking up.

  4. Hi Taryn.

    Thank you very much for sharing some of your journey with me. I’m so sorry about your difficult time with your pregnancy and the period after your baby arrived. That’s hard, very hard. And lonely. I resonate to what you say about not being in charge, and finding that truth the hard way, or through hard things. Mercy flows out of the Lord so freely and can fill hard things with life and learning. I’ve seen this in my life. But it sure feel hard hard hard in that valley.
    I’ve observed that the hard pummeling of life in terms of disappointments or losses or just being stretched so thin sometimes while raising a big family have softened my heart and made it more humble. The squeezes that make you feel like you can’t go on, can’t really breathe are sort of meat tenderizer.
    Anyway, I really relate and I enjoyed the quotes.
    I hope you feel stronger now.

  5. Thank you for sharing this powerful message, Taryn. Loving you and wishing you the best from afar. I love that you turned this suffering into a message for all of us.

  6. Thank you for writing this Taryn. I had a similar experience…not so much about my physical health but around my “sunny” personality. Your insight is beautiful. My experience certainly made me realise that we can only learn and grow by living, and especially, by living through the challenging times. No amount of reading or listening to others equates to going through something oneself.

  7. Oh, wow, Taryn! I had no idea. I’m so sorry for your struggles — and so glad to hear that you’re returning somewhat to your previous state of health, with the added bonus of a new awareness. (Congratulations on the birth of your baby!! 🙂 ) Thanks so much for putting yourself out there and sharing this story with us. Big hugs and much love to you on your journey. <3

  8. Thank you for the outpouring of support, everyone. There are too many kind comments to reply to individually (with four kids in the background, hah). Writing and female community have been lifelines for me, and I get both here!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.