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The struggle to love myself

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By Mark Azzara

Dear Friend,

OK, OK, I admit this doesn’t sound like a deeply spiritual letter. But, hey, there is something sad about the closing of my favorite ice cream shop for the winter.

The lines are extraordinarily long in good weather. And even in the midst of a driving rainstorm Sunday there were more than a dozen of us standing around under the overhang waiting for our orders to be filled.

I went there to buy a quart of ice cream that I hope will last the next five months. And if that isn’t an act of faith then I don’t know what is.

Chocolate malts are, I confess, one of my great weaknesses. I have worked to tame that beast for decades and now, as my options narrow down to two – cut back on the malts or spring for a few new pairs of pants – I think I am coming to terms with the notion that I have to dial back.

We all have our weaknesses and desires. That’s OK. It’s part of being human. We get into trouble when we give in to them (e.g., drinking, working, eating, spending or vacationing) so frequently that we forget about being human, and/or we forget about the effects that our over-indulging have on other human beings, whether it’s our spouses, kids, fellow workers, neighbors, etc.

We can write all kinds of rules to rein in those weaknesses/desires. Heaven knows we have tried to do that. Bookstores are filled with advice about losing weight, fixing our marriages, balancing our work-life demands, etc. And religion has played a big part in rule-writing, especially when it comes to identifying virtually every human activity and desire as a weakness and then commanding that we tame them.

But I prefer to listen to God for direction. I’m not perfect at it, and seeing my tummy in the mirror is all the proof I need. But I am unlearning the guilt I have felt about enjoying life. Even if I were to spend my very last dime to help the needy, their needs would continue. And I wasn’t put on this planet to play God by eradicating evil and need, as if I could ever really do so.

In short, God wants me to love myself as much as anyone else because Jesus died for me along with everyone else. The vast majority of us are not called by God to a life of ascetic self-denial, but to live a life in which we let him define the balance we must maintain between love of others and love of self.

We will always struggle to learn from him. We will always be struggling to give more than we’d like; struggling to learn the crucial difference between giving out of love and giving out of guilt; struggling to believe that Jesus loves me or you as much as anyone else on this planet. It’s the struggle to surrender to God’s good will for us.

Sometimes it’s hard. Today it was easy.

All God’s blessings – Mark

Mark Azzara

About Mark Azzara

Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, "And So Are You." He is active in his church and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal State Los Angeles. He holds a master's degree from the University of Connecticut.

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