Today I was having a particularly self-absorbed day. I was diligently stewing in distaste for the inordinate amount time I’m required to spend with myself. In addition to my self loathing over substantial writer’s block, I’m a bridesmaid in my friends wedding in 3 weeks and I’m convinced my arms look like they belong on a chubby baby. I’m roughly 2 unpleasant scale experiences away from semi-permanently swaddling myself in saran wrap.
That’s no exaggeration. I was unhappy with the number on my scale this morning, so at lunch I walked 5 blocks to the gym exclusively for the purpose of weighing myself to see if the number had dropped in the past 7 hours. Walking out of the locker room I realized that since I’m not competing in a weight loss reality show for large sums of money- nor am I Rocky Balboa, that weighing myself in increments measured in hours was a bit obsessive. I went to the Coffee Bean next door and ordered an iced black coffee and laid my forehead to rest on the table in front of me.
I considered why people’s opinions of the status of my arm fat mattered so much. I made a private mental declaration to renounce the judgement and opinions of others! Love it or leave it, society! It occurred to me that if others don’t determine my value, then I am to determine my own self-worth. Not much of an improvement. Day to day I’m fairly appalled by my own ineptitude, vanities, and low credit score. I know what goes on inside me, and I’m largely unimpressed. I fail myself all the time.
I love God, and I know God created me and cares for me. Søren Kierkegaard said that the normal state of the human heart is to build your identity around anything other than God. Although I believe in God, I still struggle with building my identity (who I am, what characteristics come together to make up “Jess Beckett”), around anything and everything but God.
We are all searching for ourselves, trying to define who we are and discover what makes us worthwhile. Billions of people are looking for that elusive purpose to be bestowed upon them- especially the American twenty-something. We are so anxious to craft our artisan identities, to have an outstanding sparkly resume, Pinterest perfect apartments, witty tweets, and interesting interests. But not only do we want those things, we want a resume that is outstanding relative to our age, apartments more sprawling than our peers, and more likes than our friends posting their newborn babies.A huge portion of our energy is spent comparing ourselves to other people. C.S. Lewis said it best,
Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about.
Keeping up and striving is alarmingly stressful, it’s that nagging feeling always saying you’re not working hard enough, you’re not doing enough, you wont reach that ideal future self that you have pictured in your mind. That’s what leads me to place my head down on the table at coffee shops. I’m under the illusion that this striving and achievement will increase my human value and my self-worth hinges on it. The human ego is so fragile- even if we have a few successful days/weeks/months in a row our ego will inevitably be deflated again at some point. Maybe not like a balloon popping, but more as a tire will slowly deflate until it’s no longer going anywhere.
Is there a point where we feel our worth has been irrevocably established and can coast off of past achievements, swinging in hammocks and wearing Crocs? Or am I looking at 60+ years of striving to proving myself? Will I be trying to have the nicest walker and the cutest grandkids at the nursing home?
Halfway through my coffee I absent mindedly scribbled “God Loves You” to myself. It felt corny, like something my mom might have on a magnet. I don’t know that I believe it, I know God cares for me, but is it really for real “unconditional”? I’m constantly doing very non-Jesus-y things. I love Jesus, but I have a hard time “being good” and as a result I have a hard time believing that God values me any differently than I value myself.
I think that that’s the truth of my entire spiritual basis that I was missing. In part, I didn’t want to believe God really loved me unconditionally. I was like “by unconditionally you mean unconditionally as long as I behave, right? You love me when I’m behaving?”
When I decided I believed that Jesus, who was God, came to earth as a man and died for our sins, all of our mistakes, that I also believed that God loves me. Unconditionally. If I believe in the truth of the gospel, that’s part of it. It is His opinion that matters, which is great because He says I love you no matter what, there is nothing you could do to make me not love you. His love for me is not reliant on my abilities, achievement or social standing.
So many, including myself, have had poor experiences with “churchy people” – people who made us feel like we aren’t good enough to be associated with them, or worse good enough to be associated with God. People standing outside Planned Parenthood who scream, spit on, and throw things at anyone going inside. People who tell homosexuals that God hates them. Those people make me angry, and those people will have to answer for the lies that they spread about God.
Yes, God doesn’t want us to sin, and he has guidelines outlined in the Bible of how to live. But His purpose of those guidelines is to keep us from what will do us harm. Jesus cried with the broken-hearted, broke bread with thieves, and befriended prostitutes. My uncle once told me that judging God by the actions of his followers (aka aforementioned “church people”) is like judging Beethoven’s music by hearing a kindergardener try to play Symphony No. 5 on the piano. Research God, Spirituality and religion for yourself. It is not a popular belief to have, but in the words of Mark Twain
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect
As I learn more about God and how he feels about me, I realize that He wants better than the constant second guessing and worrying for my life. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) I’m not bound by a ton of rules and regulations, because God knows I’m going to make mistakes, and mess up and be imperfect. He doesn’t care, he’ll love me anyway. I don’t need to stress about being perfect because I know that I will be imperfect, but I still have a future and a hope.
I don’t have to love me, in fact I shouldn’t be thinking of me at all. Knowing that God loves me no matter what makes me want to go out of my way and be kind to others and love them no matter what, it makes me feel invincible in an odd way. I want to tell everyone about why I am free of my own judgement, and the judgement of my peers. As unpopular as it is, and as much as society has rejected God, I want everyone to realize that freedom. It’s better than anything I could ever achieve or become on my own, and it is worth any criticism I could receive for believing in it. It will change your life, but only if you choose to accept it.