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How do I get Rid of My “Inner Ugliness?”

July 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Difficulties, Fr. Bartunek, Pride

the-song-of-the-lark-1884-jules-adolphe-breton-10221Dear Father John, I have been struggling with some interior trials with forgiveness, resentment and jealousy. I call this “inner ugliness.” I have been praying fervently, going to confession, and receiving excellent spiritual direction. I have been willing myself to be charitable even when I am not feeling it. So here is my question. What am I missing, why do I still feel “inner ugly”? How do I let go of all of this?

OK, brace yourself for this really blunt answer: You still feel “inner ugly” because you still are “inner ugly” – at least partially. Let's be blunt again: It's obvious from your question that you feel frustration at the stubborn persistence of some of your faults, in spite of your efforts to extricate them. Where does that frustration come from? Does it come from God? Is God frustrated with you because you aren't perfect yet? Is he up in heaven tapping his watch and raising his eyebrows? Not a chance. Let me tell you, as a Catholic priest, that he is OVERJOYED with the fact that you have followed his nudges and made your way through the wilderness of our secular society onto the one path of holiness. Yes, you are on the path of holiness; you are on the “steep road” and passing through the “narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13) that leads to salvation, wisdom, Christian joy, everlasting fruitfulness, and eternal beauty. He has been trying to convince you to get onto that path for a while, most likely. Now you are there, and you are traveling it, and you are following the road signs (prayer, confession, spiritual direction… You're in the fast lane!), and he is delighted!

So, if your frustration doesn't come from God, where does it come from? I am sure you have already guessed it: your pride. You want God to go at your pace, but God is not always going to go at your pace. He knows better; he is going to go at his pace, and we (all of us) need to learn to follow that pace. If not, we will never grow in humility, the bedrock of all holiness and true happiness.

Baking School

Imagine: You are teaching your teenage daughter how to make an angel-food cake. First you make one together, and she really just watches and assists you a tiny bit. So then she gets really excited about it, and she wants to do one all by herself. She is so excited that she tells you, “Mom, you go running or something; I want to do this myself.” So you go running. And you come back to find her huddled over a rather floppy, lopsided, misshapen, and gooey culinary mutant. She is either crying or fuming. She is an impatient girl and wants to do everything perfectly right away, but the reality is that some things can't be rushed. If she were a bit humbler and more patient, she either wouldn't have tried to do it all on her own so soon, or she would have had more of a sense of humor over her delicious dessert disaster.

Transitioning the Garden

Here's another analogy. Think of your soul as a large garden. You haven't always been attentive to taking care of the whole garden. In fact, there were parts you didn't even know you had, sections with amazing potential. So now the Lord has shown you the potential of your garden, and together with him you have rolled up your sleeves and gotten to work to make your garden into what it should be. There are various phases to this work. First, you have to repair the broken fences, cracked fountains, and disheveled walkways. Then you have to extract the weeds that have been growing freely for a while (maybe for a long while), so that the good plants (the ones already there and the ones you want to plant) have room to grow. Then you have to dig up the soil, aerate it, water it, fertilize it. Then you have to keep tending the good plants (protecting them from rabbits, deer, birds, etc.), repair things that get broken during storms, keep weeding, etc.

That's the process. It's long and hard, but it's what matters most, because the flowers and fruits that come from our spiritual gardening are the ones that matter most: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22). That's the opposite of the “inner ugly” that you are striving for.

Right now, you are working hard, sweating, and doing all the right things. But you are discovering that the weeds had deeper roots than you thought. You are discovering that the broken fences are taking much longer to mend than you anticipated. You are finding out that the soil is extremely dry and alkaline in certain areas and needs a lot of deep digging. You like the look of the new plants, but they are still so little, while some of the older, ugly weeds are still big. So you see the fresh inner beauty, but you also see the stubborn inner ugly, maybe even more clearly (more realistically) than before.

Letting God Be God

God can speed up the process whenever he wants (and in some aspects, he probably already has, whether or not you realize it). But when he doesn't, he has his reasons. We can only make a decent effort to do our part (what more could he expect from us?). God's part is up to him. If he is going at a pace that makes us uncomfortable, we need to trust his wisdom. The worst thing to do would be to let your frustration get the better of you and give up. The best thing to do, being the little and beloved daughter of God that you are, is to wipe the sweat from your brow, smile, and keeping following his lead: “But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance” (Luke 8:15). He has guided you faithfully so far, and he won't lead you astray now. And remember, the frustration doesn't come from him – he is DELIGHTED with you!

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Susanna

    Dear Father John:

    Thank you very much for these insights. I believe we all go through these thoughts at some time or another and your words are very comforting, reminding of the infinite love and mercy of our Lord. I am blessed to be part of this network and group on Linkedin, which I read with much pleasure.

    Kind regards,


  • Renata

    This text was really important to me. In fact, I´m trully sure that God´s providence made me come to this site and read this. It seems to have been written to me. Thanks Father John!

  • Dekretser Gerry

    No one is self righteous but we can try to be the best we can

  • Ethel Grimes

    I love this! 😀 Thank you so much for writing this. As someone who is constantly struggling with her own “inner ugly” this is a most welcome eye-opener. God is good all the time!

  • Nat

    My marriage is in termoile after over 20 years, the last 3 years of my life I don’t think there’s a day that has gone bye that I haven’t cried! On the 3/12/2016 I lost my dad without speaking to him he was only 65 years old and I find it very hard to come to term with the fact I’ll never see him again!
    I can’t let go,
    my husband was very cold and cruel towards me when my dad died I thought he would understand my pain because he lost his mum 6 six years ago and I stood by him and his family through thick and thin ave up my own life to help care for all of them and his dad along with my 7 children it was a very hard time and my heart blead for them all,
    I done that for 3 year and then we left his dads and moved back home with our children because my marriage was starting to bread down ever since we moved home things became a lot worse and we’ve spent a lot of time apart,together for a few weeks then we have an argument he go back to his dads! We try again am so on an So on!
    I can’t forgive him for the way he treated me in front of people and when dad died we had another argument 3days after he died and he hit me,
    Just before he was buried he hit me again and said some very cruel and heart breaking things to me.
    I became angry an I tol everyone the truth about everything that happened between us in the past 6 years Nomore secrets!!
    And I pray to our lady every day I say the rosary every night.
    But still I can’t forget what he has done to me I no I’m no angle but Our lady knows I done him no wrong but yet he is so hard.
    I’ve decided for me to able to mourn my father I have to let my husband go first.
    If he loved me the way I love him how could he hurt me at this time.
    I feel so worthless and I feel I don’t deserve anything because I wasn’t speaking to my dad before he died.
    I Hate myself!!

    • LizEst

      God is not asking you to stay with someone who hits you. There are Catholic therapists who can help … and you can search for one here: Please get some assistance with this.

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