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)