“Have you ever thought maybe you should just break up with your idea of success?” These words easily rolled off my tongue, as I listened to my friend outline all the “new” things she was going to do to be more productive this year. Like many mothers navigating life, fearing that at any moment her boat was about to topple, she desperately searched for a lifeline to rescue her.
“Just Stop!” I gently (yeah, right) instructed. “Stop with all the to-do lists, stop with the new phrases to live by, just stop trying to be anything more than a follower of Christ.” This was too close to home; I understood her fear — that no one believes that who I am and what I do matters, least of all, me. She fills her life with self-help books, podcasts on how to succeed in this area or that, and conversations about how to “do life” better — anything that confirms her value as a wife, mother, and friend. Anything to remind and reinforce that YES, YOU ARE IMPORTANT, no matter what you do today, YOU COUNT.
Later that evening, in a quiet house, my mind raced. Who am I to give advice about feeling valuable when I continually criticize myself, feeling like a complete waste after staring at the blank spots on my calendar. Oh, I bet you assumed that because I write to encourage other women in their daily walk through life that I rarely stumble or falter in my own, that I have it “all together” — right? Hardly!
You don’t see my dirty laundry piling up, but it’s there, in my heart with all its foulness. My marriage is solid, I have two healthy girls and one on the way, all easily conceived, and more friendships than I have time to foster. We don’t fret about putting food on the table or where the next paycheck is coming from. Yep, I am, indeed, blessed. You would think that my life is all peaches and cream.
On Sunday mornings we exchange pleasantries with our friends, sing a few hymns, fill in our sermon outline and leave with the same smile plastered on our faced as the week before. In Sunday school we share prayer requests. How many times have you hidden behind an “unspoken” prayer request? I have, a lot. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when this is wise, but for me, it’s usually because I am too embarrassed to let others in on my “secret” — that my life is not what it appears. I don’t want to destroy the façade that I don’t struggle like the rest of “you people,” because after all, I really love Jesus, and I really try to follow Him. Everyday.
Over the past two years my emotions have bounced back and forth like a ping pong ball between true contentment and self-loathing. Usually on Mondays, after being in church on Sunday, I’m at peace staying at home with my children, knowing I am investing in their lives. But by Tuesday I scold myself for napping with my two-year-old and failing to wash and dry even one load of clothes . If lucky, these battles are waged on different days, but often I beat myself up hours on end.
And why am I so hard on myself, you may wonder. Because I tie my purpose and self-worth to productivity and achievement. I simply possess an unrealistic view of what I should accomplish on any given day/month/ year and over a lifetime, compulsively turning even the smallest task into a benchmark or a contest or a future success story. Smiley faces on homework convert to high marks in a course, and plaques for achievement like “Top Performer” translate into a high paying career. The message is clear: Laura SUCCEEDS. Laura brings VALUE.
Perhaps you don’t relate to what I’ve just expressed about myself. Your value isn’t anchored in achievements or accolades; nonetheless, there is something. There is something that defines your self-worth, that shapes your life, making you feel useful, appreciated and above all, special. On the flip side, this very thing by which you measure yourself, also fills you with doubt and despair. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be “normal.”
A dress size?
Let’s be honest by taking off the rose-colored glasses to look at the not so pretty parts of our hearts. I have long known that I have attached my identity to my achievements, but it was not until a recent conversation with a pastor that I began to realize the depth of this issue. I figured that as long as I kept this one area of my life “under wraps” I could successfully function quite well in other areas. I’m not perfect, but I do love Jesus. You know, like Peter, the disciple of Christ who denied Him three times. It’s okay to have a few flaws myself, right?
I originally went to seek this pastor’s advice about a theology- related topic, but the conversation shifted, and I basically began to share what was really going on in my heart. “I truly want to have the mind of Christ, to live according to His will, to honor Him with my writing but honestly feel like most days are a waste of time. I can’t stop thinking that I am squandering my talents at home, that I was made for so much more, so why doesn’t the Lord give me more?” Are you feeling a little uncomfortable about this confession to a pastor? Yeah, me too.
God knew I need to hear His Truth that day, not to continue burying my secret sin in the crypt of my heart. He showed me this passage in James. (Side note — James is filled with a powerful punch of truth, so if you need some life coaching, head there!)
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:13-17
I have shared my struggle, my secret, and hope that you will face yours, share it with someone you trust and ask for prayer as you deal with it. Start with a filter-free lens as you look deep into your heart. Ask yourself the hard questions, acknowledge the hurts and wounds that if opened, will most certainly bleed. Seek forgiveness. Be opened to God’s working in your life, even when He is quiet and seems afar off. Something revealed to me recently is that God may be using this season of my life, this time of inner conflict, to heal me. It’s funny because I never looked at my desire for success, achievement and productivity as a form of brokenness or weakness. Paul tell us in Corinthians that strength comes from weakness.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 1 Corinthians 12:9-10
Find a friend, a pastor, or a counselor and share your burdens. (I am a HUGE fan of counseling; sometimes we need a little “outside” help as we wade through the mess of our lives.) I am right there with you. These next few weeks, maybe years, will not be easy for me, as I reckon with my shortcomings and downfalls. My prayer for you and for me is that God will open our hearts, ease our minds, and renew our spirits in assurance that we are His and are valuable for simply being in Him.