Author: Paulo Coelho
A young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it.
But an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said,
“Your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.”
The crowd and the young man looked at the old man’s heart. It was beating strongly but full of scars. It had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in … but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. The young man looked at the old man’s heart and laughed.
“You must be joking,” he said. “Compare your heart with mine … mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.”
“Yes,” said the old man, “Yours is perfect looking … but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love….. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them … and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart but because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges.
” Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away … and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges … giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too … and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?”
The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man.
The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart.
It fit …. but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges.
The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man’s heart flowed into his.
I was all set to write this sermon and then the Roe vs. Wake draft paper from the Supreme Court was published on Politico. Then I felt that sick twisted feeling in my gut and I had trouble reading the news. I just couldn’t believe it. And the rationale used to nullify Roe v Wade could be used to nullify so many other rights like marital equality and contraceptive medication. How could I possibly talk to you about the beauty in you, when it so hard for me to find beauty in the world right now? Then I realized that it is even more important to find, see, experience beauty in times of trial, trauma, and stress, for beauty, particularly the beauty in you, is about resilience, is about love, is about grounding, and those are what I need, maybe what you need.
When you say to yourself, there is beauty in me, what response do you hear from yourself? Yes, there is, and I am proud of it. No, there isn’t, I have so many thoughts and feelings that are mean and destructive, there is no beauty in me. Or maybe you tell yourself this: I am such a mix of loving and wonderful, as well as mean and destructive thoughts and feelings I am not sure if there is beauty in me. Or you may have any number of other responses. When you heard the story of the young man with the beautiful perfect heart and the old man with the scarred heart, did you resonate? I certainly did. My heart is full of scars with many jagged edges. I have given love and not received it back. I have been given love from unexpected places and added it to my heart. I have given and received love, knowing that the love I received is not, and will never be a cookie-cutter copy of the love I have given, leaving my heart jagged and uneven. To expect the love I receive to be exactly the same as the love I give is transactional and only invites future resentment, hurt, and pain into my heart. Let me say that again: to expect the love I receive to be exactly the same as the love I give is transactional and only invites future resentment, hurt, and pain into my heart. That’s not to say I haven’t been hurt by giving love, I think we all have, but at least for me, giving love, particularly when I am able to give love without expectation of getting love in return, well that’s part of the beauty in me. I am human, far from perfect, but I know I have a generous supply of love within me, so when I show love, care for, or express compassion toward another person, it’s authentic, and authenticity is beautiful. I know the risks of loving; I think we all do. I can feel the scars in my heart. And yet, the scars make my heart beautiful, at least to me. The risks taken, the uneven responses, even the hurt, are part of a sometimes terrible beauty. It’s certainly part of my beauty.
I mentioned last week that I worked with patients who had eating disorders, in fact I was the director of an inpatient and outpatient eating disorders clinic. All of these patients had body dysmorphia. They perceived their bodies very differently from the ways their bodies actually were, in most cases experiencing their bodies as much larger than they actually were. This perception results in destructive eating, destructive exercise, and unhealthy routines which ultimately interfere with the person’s ability to function – in ways that are healthy psychologically, socially, and physically. I bring this dysfunction up because I want to talk about one of the treatment strategies I’ve used. I ask the patient to find beauty somewhere in their bodies with a final goal of finding beauty in themselves. I would start this by having the women lie down on butcher paper for a body tracing. This was a first step to confronting the dysmorphia. Then I ask them to color in the parts of their body that were beautiful. I can remember one young woman who struggled to find anything beautiful about herself. I literally had to ask her about almost part of her body to help her find a part that she found beautiful. She came up with her ear lobe. Just one ear lobe. So I asked her to color in her ear lobe on the butcher paper. It took her many weeks to find more parts of herself that she considered beautiful. Very slowly she was able to color in her whole ear, after several more weeks her nose. As she found beauty in her body, she was more willing to accept that she might have beauty within her. She accepted that her artistic abilities were unique and special; that she expressed whole hearted love for her parents; that she had made a positive difference in the lives of other patients, helping them as they too came to grips with their disorder.
I tell you this story because sometimes, perhaps many times, we don’t see the beauty in ourselves. Perhaps because of what people have said to us, perhaps due to experiences we have had, and most often because we don’t take the time to look deep within, with an affirming spirit, to find the beauty within ourselves. Many people don’t think about the beauty within themselves or how that beauty is expressed in how they live their lives. When was the last time you looked for the beauty within you? Have you ever? How often have you consciously, intentionally nurtured that beauty? I am not talking about being narcissistic, but about having and nurturing a positive self-image and positive self-esteem.
If you don’t have a positive self-image or a positive self-esteem, how might that affect your resilience? How vulnerable are you to the challenges and trauma and the stresses of the world when you are unaware of the beauty in you? How much power do you cede to those around you, power over your well-being, power over your self-image, power over your self-care when you don’t have a positive self-esteem?
I am not going to advise you to go look in the mirror and say to yourself “You are so beautiful to me.” Or to do a body tracing and color in the parts of you that are beautiful. But I am wondering how you might affirm and nurture the beauty within in, so that you empower yourself, so that you ground your decisions within yourself rather than allow people or circumstances to overly impact them, so that you like and even love yourself, consciously, intentionally, regularly express love for yourself, and so that you can experience the beauty in you.
I am going to invite you to take a risk in a moment, to say out loud something that is beautiful in you. If you’re watching this online, think about what you’d like to write in the chat. It might be a creative spirit, a loving heart, a bright mind; it might be a willingness to learn from your mistakes or to forgive the mistakes of others. I don’t know what beauty you find in yourself. Before we do that, I invite you to close your eyes and take a deep breath. Focus on your breathing. Don’t worry if you are having a racing mind. Just keep gently keep bringing your attention back to your breathing. I don’t want you to struggle to find beauty within you, just keep breathing, and pay attention to what you experience when I say there is beauty in you. There is beauty within you. There is beauty within you. Now I invite you to say one aspect of the beauty within you. Online folks, say something in the chat.
You can open your eyes. I invite you to hold onto this connection with the beauty in you. And I am going to re-read the chalice lighting words. I wonder if these words might feel different as you hold onto that beauty in you.
I need you to know
that there is nothing
wrong with you, if you
find the world congealed
and unwieldy. You were
never meant to serve money,
to give loyalty to unprincipled
power, to spend your joy
frantically soothing yourself
in order to tend wounds
of being constantly
dehumanized. I need you
to know that your sense
of injury and anger is not
overdeveloped. You are meant
for love and beauty. You belong
where you are known and
where your future is not just a
resource, but a promise, which
you begin to fulfill by being
—you are not wrong.
Stay connected to the beauty in you. And find more. Affirm more. Nurture more. And notice how that empowers you. How much better you feel about being you. May we believe the Truth about ourselves no matter how beautiful it is!