Paste your Google Webmaster Tools verification code here
Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates
Catholic Spiritual Direction

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

Print Friendly

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". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at and questions and answers on the spiritual life at FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!

  • 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

  • Sasha

    Dear original poster,

    I read your letter and Fr. John’s response with interest because you sound so much like me (except that my interior ugliness tends in different directions) but I very much recognize the frustration, and the pride which is at its root. I would like to offer three things that have brought me some relief (and PLEASE Fr. John correct me if they are not good suggestions.

    First, as Fr. John says, recognize that the frustrations are not from God. So each time I catch myself feeling frustrated I stop and say “Get thee from me, Satan. You will not make me quit.” and the frustrations always cease for a little while.

    Second thing, I pray Cardinal Merry deVal’s “Litany of Humility” every other day and alternate it with a prayer I wrote that I call my “Litany of Mercy” addressing my specific faults and asking Jesus for mercy. Perhaps writing and praying a similar prayer would help you.

    Third thing, (prompted by the recent feast) I have been asking Jesus to enclose my heart in His Sacred Heart so that, wherever my mind goes, I can trust that my heart is always with Him where it truly wants to be. This gives me great comfort.

    I am a new convert (2 1/2 years) and I wish I would progress more quickly. It seems that as time goes by instead of growing in holiness I become more aware of how far I have to go. But these three things have helped me to be more at peace with the process and to say to God not just “Thy will be done” but also “Thy timeline be done.”

    I hope this has been helpful. Peace to you!

    • Linda Almaraz

      Wow! You converts always seem to bring along with you special gems/gifts to Mother Church in terms of good works and deep desires to assist her! Your inner zeal to learn and evangelised others about the Truth you have found in the Catholic Faith always amazes me. Many of you put many of us “cradle Catholics” to shame when it comes to spreading the Gospel and loving the mystical body of Christ, our beautiful Church! God bless you on your journey.

      • Sasha

        Thank you Linda! I sometimes wish I had been a cradle Catholic and think that perhaps I might have entered a contemplative order. But God brought me home at age 43, a wife and mother, so this is clearly where He wants me. In any case, one thing that I find to be true since my conversion is an overwhelming gratitude that permeates all my days, fueled by the twin awareness of having been rescued and the recognition that all of this is a gift. Not that cradle Catholics can’t have that, but in my experience it is less likely for those who grew up in the Church to sense this. And of course, that changes how I parent my little cradle Catholic!

  • patricia

    Our inner ugliness are like the weeds as Father John said. We have big little rocks in which signify venial and mortal sin in the garden of our souls. like Dan Burke has said in the class navigating the interior life at Avila Insitute. I have received counsel in confession and my confessor said look straight at Jesus and believe God is moving in you and believe that he will heal you in his time. In my own life in which I call the battle in which I believe God does not want me to take away my struggles because he wants me to grow in humility and love with mercy. I believe God in his time will remove the struggles in our lives according to his will and glory our sanctification and salvation( Dr. Lilles, Avila Insitute) which is love and mercy it’s self ( St. Faustina)

  • RobinJeanne

    Your garden scenario was ferfect… matter of fact, most wisdom seams to come from looking at a garden and what’s ironic is I don’t garden but i know more then I want to becuase my husband does and i share what I hear from others. what you say is so true and I can see it happening in my own life. Reading your article made me smile and there was a peace… I am on the right path, keep going, keep perservering but leave the frustration behind!!! Thank you! I’m excited about tending my garden. :D

  • Annie


  • DianeVa

    My reply is that of Renata… Thank you Fr John! My garden is a work in progress.

  • Sarah Crowe

    Amen Father, excellent article. I would like to add to it if I may. If people would learn to self examine themselves frequently and with honesty, they would be able to find that “ugliness” and then to offer it to GOD asking Him to replace that ugliness with HIS love. It is HIS Love that neutralizes any ugliness that is still within. If people can’t find any ugliness within they can always ask GOD to show what is hiding.

    Here’s another analogy of the Garden. As we tend the garden we are pulling weeds, [which can people you know and must get rid of in your life] We always keep weeds at a distance, never in our inner circle. Fertilizer is [Spiritual food, or Christ’s teachings] which nourishes the love within us.

    There will always be someone or something that can trigger the ugliness within, but we need to learn to ignore it and keep moving forward.

  • Diane

    Thank you Fr. John Bartunek, this is very helpful to me. I truly want to be closer to Jesus but I can get in the way sometimes. Up to this point it has been a lovely and difficult journey and this helps me understand Him better and the process. I’m printing and saving your article for future reflection.

  • Sandra Traw

    I am sitting here thanking God for this discussion this morning. I have been crying out from my spirit about these very things and have followed this site for months not being able to express my feelings nor hear what I needed to hear to encourage me. I just finished my “time with The Lord” and was again asking for help. I am one of the “unfortunate ones” who have even searched the Internet for a spiritual director. (Remote area local searches empty). Since my increased TIME during Lent and physical illness and remoteness…I have found myself in that place you spoke of of letting my frustration get the best of me. I ask especially at mass yesterday for a word from God about “where I was” and “how to move forward! The timing of this discussion was perfect. Wonderful example!

    • nosidam

      Yes me too! Spiritual directors are few and far between. As I said in my post, Catholics, even priests are all different and many are people pleasers. Many just do not understand my depth of questions!

  • Martin Carla Jones

    I enjoyed your in sight. Sometimes I think maybe God is letting me Feel some
    of the suffering so that someone else can heal or for the good of them. Martin and Carla

  • Ellen

    I often feel the same way, I know the root of my sin is “Pride” this article reminds me everything is in God’s time. I just need to persevere in following my faith not my desires. God Bless

  • Jeanette

    Thank you Fr. Bartunek for your reassurance. It is evident to me that those who travel this narrow pathway to holiness need to be more patient with their failings; God is so very patient with us so we need to be patient with ourselves. We are sinners after all. Pride is the reason that we get frustrated with our sins, imperfections and failures because we think we should be able to be perfect quickly and do it, more or less, on our own. When we fall, it is a reminder to us that, indeed, we need God every second of our lives to help us. This leads to humility. God knows what He’s doing! We cannot do it on our own. Ask, ask, ask for more grace to overcome. When we realize that we have failed in some way, we need to be calm, ask for forgiveness and grace, pick ourselves back up and trust that God is with us, leading and teaching us throughout our lives. Trust is essential…trust in His goodness and wisdom gives us inner peace along the way. Frequenting the Sacraments of the Church keeps us on even keel. I am so happy that God is sooo very PATIENT with us!

  • nosidam

    Thank you Father! I needed that also! We all must have that yucky part which we just want to get rid of. Yes I am having trouble getting it out at the root. It is frustrating. People call me a perfectionist maybe because I just want things right. But I also get frustrated with others who do not get things right. This is part of it. Am I supposed to just let go of everything? I thought I was to bring the kingdom of God here by helping change the world. It begins with myself I know but since I am forever imperfect how can I do this? Especially I am trying to re do some mistakes I made in the past with my family. But time has passed and the consequences have happened. I feel like I am supposed to also give them tools to weed but they do not want them.
    I have never found a spiritual director and have been searching for years. Seems that the priests I speak to do not think deeply. I think very deeply and have many questions. I considered Fr. Groeschel my spiritual director via his teachings and books since he began on EWTN. Now I get it from Fr. Barron and Fr. Mitch Pacwa. But I never seem to find someone in my area here like them or even close. Any ideas as to how to find someone like that??? I bounce things off of my Catholic friends with same beliefs. Not all Catholics believe the same any more, even priests.
    Any input would be appreciated. The weeds in my garden are tough and I need help. BTW, Last year I was gifted to travel to the Holy Land with some priests and brothers from Chesire Conn., your Legionaries! I live in the Arlington Diocese in VA. It was awesome.
    God bless you and all who read these emails. Any advice on spiritual directors nearby me would be wonderful. Hope they do not charge money because I am struggling with that too! Life is interesting!
    I would also love Monsignor Esseff but he is in PA!
    Gotta have a sense of humor. Thank you.

    • nosidam

      Will someone please explain why it is PRIDE that we all seem to have in being frustrated? I do not get that???

      • MgW

        I think because frustration with ourSELF is focusing on OUR OWN inability to do anything about it, when we should let go of frustration (our SELF focusing) let go and and rely on God, rely on Mary our Mother, as she is with us and wants to help us if only we go to her.

      • MgW

        I know it is hard to let go when one is a perfectionist, so everyday ask Mary to help you with that. yes it is a trait you have but it isn’t who you are “Perfectionist”, no you are “Christian”, and you can relax in the sense of knowing you are loved right where you are, (ugly pride inside, etc) and because of that love (that God has for you) you are drawn into his heart by sheer joy of knowing this love. And then you will just naturally begin without even trying…you will begin to live a Christian life , rather than a frustrating “perfect” life. prayers for you, Mg

  • Francity Vemraba

    It is happening to me.One time my ugly pride come up again when I am in off guarded moment.I am in the moment of very stressful day, physically and mentally.I went to mass with such bad feeling,moods that explode.I say to God.Here I am again Lord so as I am.I will not hide from you.I can not change this, help me. My ugly rebellious self.I will tell you.after mass, I was in the bus going home.As if there is an angel, that I recall in my mind what had happened to me that morning.It turn into smiles and giggling silently as if things went loose instead of keeping those bad moods and feelings.The next day. the person whom I have encounter of stressing moods.Did the same early morning,A kind of threatening attitude towards me.But things were change in me that moment the next day.I feel Gods’ grace in me.His initiatives in me to be calm and silent also without any feeling of resentments or fear.There is a kind of what I will call, graces of calm spirit of God and I was praying inside me calling the Holy Spirit while a rebellious attitude of someone threatens me to react. but I did not react.There is the difference of being unaware and aware or off guarded moment or guarded moment. Thanks to what father said.It makes me smile seeing my self in a mirror.but thanking God in His merciful graces available which is in me also at that moment.I can not guarantee the ups and downs of my moods but trusting God loves me as I am.

  • Richard Murray

    It is funny how you may have already realized this about yourself, yet still this hits home! God told me years ago my pride was in my way, that I try too hard to fix myself my way and stop God from fixing me His way. Yet, even though I know this, I still do the same things!

    This came to me as a confirmation of messages sent in the form of ‘nudges,’ and such. Thank You Lord for this message to me and so many others as I know You are speaking to so many like me!

  • April

    Thank you, Fr. John.

  • Renee C

    I really struggled with this issue when I was in my twenties. I eventually decided that we simply are the “inner ugly.” All we can do is what the writer described as using an act of the will to try not to show so much of the ugly so that we are not inflicting it on other people. I think of this as putting on the cloak of Christ. Is it dishonest? No, I don’t think so, not when you are aware of your true feelings but act out of love of God or the other person to try to work around the ugliness. There is also humility to be found in realizing that even seemingly unselfish acts are ultimately done for some kind of personal benefit (at least for me that is the case.) It seems like the analogy of tending the garden implies that you can actually change this part of yourself when in fact it’s hard wired in, I think it’s better to focus on the positive and try to develop that, knowing that the weeds are there to stay.

    • Bob

      Are you saying we can’t change our bad habits/behavior? I think growing in holiness is changing our behavior. Although sometimes it is barely changing and seems like it will never go away. I found when I treated the moment of choice, when I decided to do the bad behavior or not, as a temptation, then It began to change. See the behavior really isn’t you, it is a trial or temptation not something that you HAVE to do. You do have that choice and that is where behavior change begins. I would pray for grace to do the right thing and when I fail I would go for confession. We always have free will, nothing is hard wired, although I can easily see that it can seem that way. We always have hope with God, ask for his grace, admit our failure and keep trying and things will change, eventually.

      • Renee C

        If you read the third sentence of my post you can see that changing behavior, despite what is going on interiorly, is pretty much what I was talking about. As for the tendency to sin, we could debate all day as to whether or not it is hard wired in but my guess is if you ask the average person in their 80s they will still be having issues with sin. I’m not saying I’ve stopped trying, I’m just saying I don’t kid myself about both my motives to avoid sin (usually pride) and my ability to remove the tendency toward sin from my thought processes.

  • JoFlemings

    Outer, inner… it all overwhelms me. This is helpful! Thanks, Father!

  • Linda Hamel Smith

    I found this VERY helpful! It seems I have been battling the same sins for a while and get so FRUSTRATED when I fall back again. I have a wonderful confessor and he has given me wonderful advice. I have named my problem as what it is–pride! This article really was a great gift. NOW I have a sense of renewal and joy to realize that my Father loves me enough to allow me to continue my battle just giving me only what I really need to continue on my journey to my TRUE home. I feel certain that I am not the only one who benefited from this article, it is truly inspirational!!!

  • MgW

    Accepting our human imperfections, the ugly caused by original sin, we must realize that grace is not magic, it takes time to seep in. To do its work to chip away at the ugly. It takes our will to work with it, over time. We walk carrying our ugly but we as long as we walk with Our Lord, as we walk with Christ, towards our Eternal Destiny, His light and warmth like the sun, causes the ugly to dry up and fall away, over time, and this is the perfection God is so thrilled about. That we take our ugly and walk with Him to the end.

    Thank you for an amazing inspiration!

  • Tanya

    Gods timing alright just what I needed to hear, Thank you, for the Spiritual Direction which is most appreciated, He knows my heart and answers me, through the Love that teaches to Love, Again Thank you, for your Loving Kindness.
    For me;
    Peace, comes from being Loved through The Love that is Greater than all things,
    Faith comes from Believing in that Love, and Hope is that Love in which we seek that never leaves, but always present.

    I agree, Perserverence is key, or the keys to unlocking the Door of Love that makes one beautiful in it. His Love that is given that we may love also! and then become beautiful in his Love.

    By comparision , for me everything else does seem ugly, if I am not Loving then yes I do feel ugly. i’m not perfect, but his Love is! when I am not I seek that which is, that I may be also! For he said be perfect as the Father is perfect, when will that be? Keep growing in Love that you too may one day be like him who is Love.

  • Karen Guilford

    To the woman who thinks she has inner ugliness, my heart felt empathy goes out to you. I will pray for you. My prayer for you would be for God Himself to show you why you are struggling. I once thought I was struggling with pride and I kept confessing it over and over. In time, the Lord showed me that some of my struggle was not with pride at all. It was the exact opposite. I was not truly loving myself. I was not truly forgiving myself. Therefore, I couldn’t love nor forgive others. I had to grow to know of God’s love for me and love myself because He loves me. I am slowly growing in love of others. I have stopped beating myself up about having pride, which made loving myself harder, always thinking I was falling to pride! I was actually falling from lack of love. Love of God and loving what He loves, Me and you. So, now, I will pray for you that you will always love yourself despite your failings.
    It seems to me that we will always fall and fail, that’s what human beings do and that’s why we need a beautiful Savior to make a gift of Himself to us. If we didnt fail from time to time, we wouldn’t need a Savior or the gift of Himself. Often when I fail now, I cry out, “Save me Jesus! Save me! Now’s, your chance to make a gift of yourself to me! I need you!” Then, He swoops in with His Love! I will pray for you, my sister in the Lord. His Peace be with you.

  • Willie Simpson

    Great Posts, A thought: Dive into the book “Thirsting For Prayer” and soak in the spiritual, healing benefits.

  • MgW

    This post has been hanging out with me since I read it yesterday and today during Mass somewhere as I was reflecting on the homily, I thought again of this “inner ugliness”, then it occured to me to go to Mary with these types of issues. I am mentally preparing for my consecration to Mary to begin the preparation on the 13th and reading the 31 days to Morning Glory introduction, Fr. Gaitley MIC, speaking of De Monfort’s “little known secret”, quotes the saint: ” POOR CHILDREN OF MARY, your weakness is extreem, your inconstancy is great, your INWARD NATURE is corrupted. You are drawn from the same mass as all the children of Adam and Eve.. Yet Do NOT BE DISCOURAGED because of that, console yourselves and exult in having the secret I am about to teach”

    Fr Gaitley goes on to tell us that the secret is a TRUE DEVOTION TO MARY.

    And in reading this it confirmed what I first thought about the “inner ugliness”… (“MONSTERS” is what one author called it! ) . Mary! our Mother! So many times we forget to invoke her, and she is really the answer to all our earthly woes! So today I pray for Her intercession and to beautify our souls with her Motherly adornment.

  • Pingback: {bits & pieces}()

  • Chris Smith

    Wow what an awesome response, I was truly inspired as I continually get frustrated with myself. Thank you for sharing