Conversion starts when we say to ourselves, “I am not fully living the life that God gives me. I am not fully inhabiting my life, not fully experiencing or valuing the unique entity that is me. I am not using the gift of life as fully as I could.”
Self-esteem reflects the values we apply in judging ourselves. When those values are unrealistic or wrong, when they set false standards that we cannot meet so that we feel bad and deny our worth, we may feel like failures and treat ourselves badly. Finding better values that are rooted in the spiritual, not the material, and in faithfulness, not success, sets us free to love and accept ourselves and so to treat ourselves well. And as we treat ourselves, so we will tend to treat others. If I only love myself when I am rich and famous, I will not love you if you are poor and voiceless.
Emotional development means taking responsibility for all of my emotions, all my feelings. It can be rightly called “emotional conversion.” This process involves reexamining our feelings about other people, as well as our feelings about ourselves. For example, what do we honestly feel about people of other backgrounds, genders, age groups, religions, classes, colors, nationalities, or sexual and political orientations? Only when we acknowledge such feelings truthfully can we bring our reactions under scrutiny and begin to examine how legitimate they really are, or how prejudiced we are, or how well our feelings match up to our spiritual values. We know we were not born with these feelings. None of us was born with a racial prejudice, for example, yet any of us can become racially prejudiced. Why is that?
You may know people who are quite religious and yet also prejudiced, whether the prejudice is racial or religious in nature. This is not spiritual fulfillment. If I feel negative or bad about other races, particularly the new immigrant and refugee groups, I have to ask myself: Where does this feeling come from and how am I integrating this feeling into my life of faith?
Emotional development helps us deal initially with repressed negative emotions. We assume responsibility for hidden motivations in our actions and we seek not to be controlled or enslaved by our repressed anger, guilt, fear, or whatever. Sectarianism, racism, sexism, color prejudice, and the like breed in emotional hurts.
Emotional conversion opens the way for these hurts to be healed. A person who has truly espoused spiritual values of love, acceptance, and forgiveness will not go around with a chip on his or her shoulder about other races, religions, traditions, and so on. He or she will truly respect others, whoever they may be. Emotional conversion liberates the mind and broadens horizons. It opens up the possibility of relating to others in a new way.