The Lord Your God will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing. (The Prophet Zephaniah)
I was a smart, speedy child. I could read when I was just four. I skipped kindergarten, went to first grade at five years old, did three grades in two years, moved to the United States and repeated third grade (there was no way the Ventnor school system would have a seven-year old in fourth grade), skipped fourth grade when I went back to Ethiopia and ended up in fifth grade when I was only eight years old. Sounds exhausting just writing it, much less living it. After that, I actually did only one grade per year, but it meant I graduated high school at 16, even before I got my New Jersey driver’s license.
Needless to say, I was praised all the way through for how smart I was. What a great performer I was. How “special” I was. I loved the attention and thought of myself as the “one to beat.” But to tell you the truth, I actually did not believe you would ever “win” if we had a competition when it came to smarts.
This perpetuated itself in high school when I received the award for the #1 Bible quizzer in the United States for our church’s denomination and was deemed worthy of a spot at the “Harvard of Christian colleges,” Wheaton College in Illinois. I had performed well and was rewarded for it.
Lest you think that I sailed through with flying colors both outside and inside, there were many times that I struggled with embarrassment. I did not want to be the “odd man out,” the one who was different, “special.” I lived with two conflicting emotions: I loved being the best, the fastest, the smartest, but I also wanted not to HAVE to be that, desiring to be average, normal, the right age and be accepted anyway. I actually purposefully got a “C” in Physical Science in ninth grade to fit in (not even with others, but just within my own head). Opposing messages swirled inside of me: I am worth a lot because I am smart and I wish I was worth a lot because I am me.
I took these two opposite notions with me well into adulthood when one day, I heard the phrase, “Your worth is not based on your performance.” Really? Really? Because my worth certainly was. As time marched on, I began to entertain this thought and realized much damage had been done to my heart so long ago and still continued. It began to make sense why I was driven to achieve and worked tirelessly at everything I did and ended up in an adrenaline-overloaded life-style, constantly feeding the “worthy monster.” It morphed into terrible anxiety in my late 30s as I struggled with the idea that if I wasn’t “pulling my weight” here on earth, God might just deem me unworthy of staying and he would take me to Himself. Weird thoughts prevailed: if I wasn’t the perfect mom, God might just give me cancer. If I don’t make that person dinner or take their kids to soccer practice, they might not want to be my friend. If my kids misbehave in church, people will judge me. So I paddled along, hearing that good message faintly echo in my thoughts, but living from the louder opposing voice. I wanted to believe that I was worthy even if there was no performance, but my actions proved that I still held to the contrary.
It didn’t help that our culture permeates this point of view. Constant evaluations based on performance in school, community, church, sports, friendship and even marriage flood our lives. Learning is replaced by good grades, teamwork is replaced by winning games, compassion is replaced with mandatory volunteer hours, Christian community is replaced by behavior-management sermons, long talks on porches are replaced by a “what can I do for you” mentality and intimacy is replaced by well-manicured lawns and magazine-worthy homes.
I spent years combatting this highly destructive-to-the-soul belief, shouted truth from the mountaintops to my children, friends and anyone who would listen, hoping it would penetrate my own soul and that I would finally live within the framework of knowing I was worthy just because I am who I am and God had deemed it so. Until this past week, I would have told you that I had won the war for my heart.
Not so. While waiting for Broden, our grandson, to arrive (and yes, we are still waiting not-so-patiently), I was scurrying around cooking meals for home and for the soon-to-be-parents, cleaning out every cabinet in the house, washing every last dish and dirty clothes item, and tackling projects long-laid to the side, when I asked myself the deeper question: what’s going on? why do you feel the need to get “all your ducks in a row” before this baby comes? Of course, there is the natural “nesting” that takes place when a baby comes into the world, and that is all well and good, but I sensed a below-the-surface wound that was oozing out again. After all, I am making the transition from motherhood to grand-motherhood. I can justify my worth if I have children and take care of them. But what about now that they are grown? I had a huge moment of clarity: once again, I am trying to prove my worth. This does not come from a deeply-loved place, but from an earning place. Keep working. Keep doing. Get praised. Be loved for what you do. Prove. Prove. Prove. YIKES!
As the week progressed, it came to the forefront that I still have ways to go. I am still surrounded by constant evaluations, some of them coming from inside of me. The battle is not “one-and-done.” It’s a daily fight to the place of wholeness and healing. There is good news: I believe and live whole-heartedly from the place that YOU are valuable, beyond any measure. YOU are of infinite worth, whether you ever perform another task again. I never measure YOUR worth on your performance. And there is future good news: I am much closer to living from that same place for myself. After all, my mantra in this blog is this: wholeness and healing is for all of us. And finally, there is the best news of all, a spark of hope: it can start with me. I am loved and that is enough.
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