Did you ever hear about the Ascetics, those people who tried to be so holy that they beat their flesh at any impure thought? I used to admire their ability to practice extreme self-discipline and self-denial as they so passionately sought inner wisdom, contemplative ideals, and connection to the divine. But at the same time, those who would whip their own backs sounded crazy to me!
I thought that would never be me. Who would inflict pain upon themselves willingly? I mean Olympians, mothers birthing babies, and others will say yes to the pain that comes along with the gift, but they are not actually holding a lash and whipping themselves. What is the purpose to self-inflicted pain? Is it simply a misguided belief that it will make you stronger or it that it will beat out the bad in you? I personally think that it is more about self-punishment. It is about feeling like you do not deserve something or are unworthy in some way.
As I cringed at the images of men whipping their own backs, such as St. Ignatius himself, I realized that I was doing the same thing. Although I was not physically beating myself, I was with my internal, ongoing dialoguing. I was filled with shame, bitterness, and even a rage against my ownself. My inner critic was following the misguided belief that it was helping me become good, better, and holier by punishing me for each mistake. It believed grace was for the weak and that it was making me strong. It was making me worthy of love.
It took a meditation on the passion of Christ to set me free. When I watched Jesus at the scourging at the pillar, I saw how he took on all the lashes that I had been doing to myself internally. He took it on himself until I could stop doing it to myself. He wanted to help carry my pain. He wanted to show me that I am worthy of his love already and that he will take on all my shame and bitterness. I realized that I didn’t want to add any more lashes to Jesus’ scourging. It’s amazing what we will allow for ourselves but we wouldn’t allow for another who we love. Once I realized this, then I knew…it was time to stop the whipping.