The wisdom to be yourself

Holy Spirit, grant me the wisdom to know how to be myself.

This was the prayer my priest gave me for my penance after confession last week.

I don’t know about you, but these words really struck me. I was coming off of a week full of hustling. I was really pushing myself in the lab, staggering experiments and jumping from one thing to the next. I was using my time well and I was getting a lot of work done, but I felt unsettled. I felt rushed. I felt, well, overwhelmed.

When I finally took a moment to catch my breath, to settle down my frantic heart and look at what was going on inside myself, I didn’t like what I saw. I saw a woman who was afraid. Afraid of failing, of letting people down, of not meeting their expectations. I saw a woman who was desperate for approval and who didn’t in any way feel like she was good enough. I saw a woman who was ragged and worn, tired by the weight of trying so hard to be who she thought she was supposed to be.

In a way, I’ve been this woman most of my life. Always hustling, always striving, always “trying my best” because I thought my best was simply a prerequisite. I thought perfection was a requirement. And in always trying to meet the expectation that I thought were being put on me, I often lost my way from being who I wanted to be and doing what I thought was important. And after so many years, I guess this was the week it all finally caught up with me.

And so, after confessing to the priest the weight I had put myself under and the ways I had responded to that in my work and how I treated myself, this was the prayer he gave me:

Holy Spirit, grant me the wisdom to know how to be myself.

Just take a moment to breathe with that. “The wisdom to know how to be myself.” Because being yourself takes wisdom. It takes wisdom to know how you were made, all the unique and unrepeatable qualities the Lord has placed within you and that He wants you to use to light up the world. It takes wisdom to understand how He has called you, and to look beyond the world’s expectations to accept that commission. And it takes wisdom to see yourself through the heavenly gaze even if, in the eyes of the world, your life is not a “success.”

I have not been a successful graduate student. I have worked hard, planned carefully, and tried to execute my experiments as well as I was capable of. And yet, my work has not yielded the results that I or my advisor desired or expected. I am now reaching a turning point, starting with some new directions and pursuing new projects, but I still cannot help feeling like I am far from having reached the expectations I had set for myself when I started.

But as I’ve started praying this prayer, asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom, I have begun to see my journey through graduate school in a different way, noticing all the ways God has worked in me in these years that didn’t include successful experiments and publications. The Lord has reminded me of the beautiful community of women I have taken part in cultivating. He has shown me the hearts that I have loved, the women that I have supported. He has shown me my unique ability to comfort and encourage the lonely and the suffering. He has done good work with me. I have not failed. But the measure of success is so very different from what I thought it was going to be.

Friends, we are all called to carry on Christ’s mission here on Earth. We are all called to use our gifts and the way we were made to be a channel of grace for those around us. And what that looks like will be different for every one of us. Understanding who we are and how we are called to live takes the invocation of the Holy Spirit, and a calm, quiet, receptive heart, eagerly waiting to hear what Wisdom Himself has to say.

Won’t you pray this prayer with me, and let the Holy Spirit tell you who you are?

Holy Spirit, grant me the wisdom to know how to be myself.