Almost no one knows this about me but when I was a young girl I lived life in my own imagination much of time. I was always pretend playing something or the other. I was usually by myself, ohhhh but not in my head. In my head there were crowds of people watching to see if I would fail or to succeed. In particular, I remembering rollerblading around a huge parking lot on so many days pretending that I was a figure skating star going for the gold. In real life no one was actually watching as I skated around the “rink” but at least in my mind, I was the only one out of there in that big, empty rink. I was the center of attention and all eyes were on me as the crowds (particular people in my life seated front row) watched my flawless and beautiful performance as I did my carefully rehearsed routine. As I jumped and twirled my way around my pretend rink, the applause would roar and the sounds of their make-believe cheers would overwhelm my heart and fill me up inside.
Make believe or not, in that small moment in time, I felt important. I was somebody of value.
Even my childhood pretend play loudly echoed the cry of every human soul.
Fast forward time 20 something years later….
“On days where I just need to feel good about myself I’ll take a bath, fix my hair and makeup and put on a cute outfit, go grab me a latte and do something, anything that feels way more amazing than just being a wife and mother – and I literally feel like a different person. It’s a strange thing. I actually feel like a better person.”
I have reflected on the words that came out of my mouth to a trusted friend and realized that I have been living life for the applause of men for far longer than I care to admit. I am not proud of this, in fact, it’s a painful and humbling realization. But one that I believe will set my entire life free.
If I am honest I have not truly believed that goodness comes from within, independent upon my own ability to make things happen; to accomplish much, to have much, to look a certain way, to be good. I have believed there was something I needed to do. And in all my doing, the ropes of bondage had wrapped their sneaky lengths around my soul.
Striving. Accomplishing. Earning. Performing. = Anxiety. Fear. Anger. Sickness.
More recently, I have found myself on many occasions either alone in my room, in the car, and eventually standing in front of my family weeping and wrecked, “I am just so completely overwhelmed! I. CAN’T. DO. ANY OF IT ANYMORE.”
And in that moment of total inadequacy, something powerful happened. My armor shattered. The iron-clad facade I had constructed around my soul from the time I was a child to keep me looking and feeling strong in my propped up, vertical position, fell away and I was laying flat on my face in the throne room, broken at the feet of the most merciful man I’ve ever encountered.
Hair a hot mess and tear streaked face, I began to see myself as I really am. Completely inadequate and empty on my own, unable to stand under the strain of life with all its pull. I’ve seen my own weakness and thought it is not beautiful or desireable to me, I can’t help but wonder if it is to Jesus.
Because everything is upside down in our world.
Inside I felt repulsed at the realization that that was me lying there in my obvious and pitiful weakness. I have managed to construct a solid life on the outside; but the question has become, what has all of my striving earned my soul? This is a question and part of myself I have spent 30 something years hiding from. Like most, I had believed the lie that weakness is something to run from at all costs.
But true humility is born out of acknowledging that we are weak so that something outside of us, something greater than we are, can undergird us and make us us truly strong. Humility is born out of coming face to face our own with the poverty of spirit that a life of self-sufficiency leaves us with.
We can ignore even pleasure but pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis
These days, slowly, one by one, I am choosing to allow the props to be removed out from under me. The things that have held me up and kept me believing that they were what made me who I am. These things – good things, that I have come to allow to be numbing agents in my life that kept me from feeling the emptiness of brokenness. The only brokenness that could ever lead to the healing found in realizing my own poverty. That in order to find my life, I must first lose it.
I am just beginning to look back over my life and realize that all of my life has been less of a process of becoming something important, but more of this strangely uncomfortable process of coming to the end of myself. Of losing myself, and my reliance on the very best yet feeble strivings of my hands to safety in the nail pierced hands of a Savior.
And maybe that is the point of life.
To be emptied out of oneself. To die, in order to live. This is the way of the cross.
Albeit, for most of my life I could not see it because my trust in the strength and charisma of my natural personality made it easier to believe that all I needed was myself and that sheer willpower and determination were sufficient answers to all that my soul silently cried out for.
Holes in my soul.
When I do not feel like who I am is enough, I just pursue another achievement to pin on the wall of my heart that keeps me believing that I am great because I accomplish great things. But what is left then when we come to a place where my physical body is weakened and racked with a kind of pain and suffering that takes away my ability to accomplish anything? What then am I? Worthless? Meaningless? Of no valuable?
When I want more material success to make me feel like my life is adding up to something, I just take on more work and earn more money to fill the hole of lack and needing material security. But what is left when storms come out of nowhere and wash it all away, leaving only piles of material rubble? Does my worth drift into the sea with all the possessions I had built my identity on?
When I am not feeling pretty enough, and fear creeps in with little lies that whisper that even my husband will stop choosing me when the years have left their mark on my body. So I prop my fragile ego up with another run, or a new outfit and hairstyle. But what will become of my life when the inevitable effects of age have stolen something I had staked my identity upon rather than using that energy to become a woman of eternal beauty on the inside? Will I lose myself, is a pretty face a commodity that in any way shapes what becomes of me? Can I stay beautiful forever because my soul is beautiful?
When people are displeased with me I just work harder to win their approval with non-genuine acts of service and self-serving love. And what then when we’ve tried with all our might to earn the love and approval of men and they withhold it; or worst, pull it right out from under the part of our value we had been propping up with the affirmations of others and give it to another? Will I crumble if human loves proves itself to be as fickle as it is?
When I feel misunderstood I run to write out articulate lengthy explanations about all the whys of my life life rather than being secure enough with myself to be misunderstood by some and just let it be so. Are my actions, beliefs, and feelings cancelled out or validated by the approval of those around me? Can I be pleased with who I really am when everything in my life is stripped bare and there are no facades to hide behind, the REAL me, even if no one else is?
But I am choosing to make a decision, a decision that I have to make and re-make every single morning my eyes open and before my feet the floor: That today I will not, I cannot, allow my identity, my life to be defined by or reliant upon me. Not on my abilities, or on my strengths, not on my personality, not on my goals, not on my accomplishments, not how my kids turn out, or what my home looks like, not on how others view me, or how “good” I can be.
As I lay broken at the feet of Jesus, He is looking at the 14 year old girl I was and is tenderly, compassionately, so kindly releasing me from the demands of performing for love. “Rachel, you don’t have to keep doing all these things, carrying all this weight. It was never yours to carry.” And I lay the crushing weight of life at the feet of the only one whose sacrifice already accomplished it all, whose love isn’t at all dependent on anything about me, who has already paid the price for the only success that brings true safety.
The crowds all gone back to their busy lives and the lights turned off, this gentle Jesus and I are all that are left at the corner of the rink as He lovingly removes my skates and the pretty costume that had covered all my scars. He bandages my bleeding knees and carries me off the rink floor in His arms and whispers, “Rachel, your striving is over. You don’t have try so hard. I’ve already won for you.”
You are enough, because I am enough.
So what does it mean when all the props get pulled out from under a life? It means we don’t have to perform anymore.
And I begin to learn to rest in that.
For you have been bought and paid for by Christ, so you belong to him—be free now from all these earthly prides and fears. 1 Corinthians 7:23