Like many people, I developed a crippling sense of low self worth early on in life and carried it into adulthood. Low self worth can form in many ways and I probably would have suffered it without the contribution of religious messages, but religion certainly did kick it along and help it grow.
When I was about twenty I started trying to correct the situation. I would walk to work trying to brainwash myself by constantly repeating to myself under my breath that I was as worthy as any other person. The words were hollow at first, but must have eventually stuck, because I stopped feeling like a piece of useless garbage.
While there were many aspects of my childhood religious beliefs that encouraged unworthiness, one thing that stands out in my mind as particularly wounding was a prayer we would recite every Sunday in church, which contained the phrase: ‘We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.’ Nice huh?
I wanted to check that I had the exact wording correct, so I googled and came up with an article about this particular prayer, which apparently is called the Prayer Of Humble Access. The article claimed this was an excellent prayer and explained why. The author did have a point. Saying this prayer instantly evaporates thoughts of self-aggrandisement.
It sure does, can’t argue with that. Perhaps if self-aggrandisement is a problem for you, then this prayer may be the remedy you seek. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that throughout history, church congregations have been made up out of a majority of people who were already weak and downtrodden with not much power or agency in their lives. Weary wives, vulnerable elderly people, small children surrounded by big scary adults, exhausted and impoverished men who toiled down mines and in factories, people who lived at the bottom of the food chain and were anxious to do well in the next life because their current one sucked so much.
Self-aggrandisement is not the most pressing problem for the average churchgoer. It certainly wasn’t for me. I was just a timid little girl who wanted so badly to be good. Saying that prayer every week eroded my self-worth and damaged my concept of God. I used to fume about how evil the church must be that it encourages people to say such a disempowering prayer, but I see now it was simply not appropriate in the circumstances.
No single religious belief or practice is suitable for every person in every situation, which I guess is why there are so many different ones in existence. For example, fasting could be a good idea or a terrible idea depending on your individual circumstances. Some people may find the Prayer of Humble Access deeply enhances their experience of communion with the divine, and that’s fine for them. Personally, I find that church is not a spiritual environment I particularly resonate with or find helpful, so I have moved on to other things.
It seems unfortunate that I spent almost the first half of my life saddled with such a miserable mindset, and I was angry for many years about having been subjected to the toxic environment of the church. But now I can see that so many situations in our lives are like gym equipment for our souls to push against. If I had not been told over and over that I was unworthy, I may not have ended up having such a strong and indignant reaction later on and stood up and declared that no I’m not. I’m not unworthy. I am as worthy as the next person. I am worthy to commune with the divine and I don’t need anyone’s permission to do so. I consciously made the decision to not consider myself unworthy only because I had become fed up with people trying to convince me of the opposite.
Sometimes you don’t know how you truly feel about something until you reject the opposite of it. Then the way forward becomes clear.