This week I realized that I had fallen into one of my old traps. I have this overwhelming desire to prove myself and I realized that I was pushing some things way too hard, way too fast because I am worried about proving my worth. I’ve done enough work with my therapist to know where this comes from. It’s simple, really: my dad ran out on me and I’ve spent my whole life trying to prove to the world that I am worthy of love and acceptance. Lately, I’ve been better about seeing the hollowness of that narrative. My worth doesn’t come from anyone’s opinion of me and certainly not from the man who wasn’t even smart enough to stick around to see how awesome I would become! No, my worth, like yours, comes from being a child of God (or child of the universe, if you prefer). Our worth is inherent, God-given, based in our very being. It is not about our work, appearance, talent, wealth, or utility. Our being gives us worth. Our unique being being gives us value. I understand all of this intellectually.
Still, this doesn’t stop me from occasionally falling into the belief that I have to perform. My return to church work has made this more pronounced. There is a big part of me trying to prove to myself and to the world that I deserve to do this work, that I am not the worst things that have been said about me in the last three years, and that I am more than the worst of myself that I displayed. There is a little voice following me everywhere whispering “don’t fuck up again!”. Most days, I can ignore it. But there are other days where the judgment that I put upon myself, coupled with the judgment that I imagine is being directed at me is almost too much to take. I imagine that there are eyes on me at all times waiting for me to fail.
The truth is, I have a lot of cheerleaders right now. So many people are proud of me for sticking it out through the denomination’s discipline process, so many are happy to see me back in the church world, and so many are eagerly awaiting for all of the restrictions to be lifted from my work once and for all. This is what I hear most often, not condemnation, but encouragement and love. The circle that surrounds me these days are people who are more than willing to tell me when I’m slipping up, but are rooting for me to do well.
So why do I still struggle so much? For one thing, I know that there are a lot of people out there who are still very disappointed in me. In my mind, I hear the voices of formerly close friends telling me how much I let them down. There are people who meant the world to me whose last words to me were of my failure. That still stings. Add to that the people that I have hurt. There is still a part of me that reels when I think about how selfish I allowed myself to be, how blinded I was to the consequences of my actions. I would love to scream “that’s not me!” but the truth is that that selfishness is just as much a part of me as any altruism I may display. I am my light and my shadow, my yin and my yang, the devil on the one shoulder and the angel on the other. For someone who invested so much of his life in being “good”, this is still a hard concept with which I must come to terms. I wish I could say final “I’m sorry” to those I’ve hurt and have it be done, but that’s not the way it works. I have to live with those mistakes and at times they hover around me like ghosts.
I guess the other reason that I struggle is that I don’t believe that I actually am all that good or talented or… whatever it is that makes people effective in my line of work. I think I got my ego stroked one time too many by people with agendas and I don’t know what’s true about my skillset. I question whether I am cut out for this and if I ever really was. I wonder if I’m just a pretty face that’s not all that pretty anymore (and a little chubby). I wonder if I’m just good to have around because having a token black guy is always a little cool. I question whether I really do have anything to offer this world.
This is what creeps into my head in the dark moments and fortunately, those are fewer and farther between than they used to be. When I feel these things beginning to overwhelm me, I am usually present enough to stop, breathe, and remind myself that the best thing I do on most days is to show up. It’s true. My best skill is making myself available, available to possibilities, available to opportunities, available to be a listening ear or an extra set of hands. There’s not a lot of stock placed in availability. It’s not something I can put on a resume. And I worry at times that my availability is actually me being in the way of people who are doing actual good work. Yet and still, it is the thing that I have to offer.
I’m tired today, feeling a little sick and worn down. This is always when the thoughts about my worth come creeping back in. I know it won’t last. I am in a good place right now. But it’s important for me to remember what got me into the bad place and to be proactive about correcting the voices in my head. If feels like the same old stuff, but I’m aware of the fact that I am not the same. I am stronger, healthier, and much more self aware. It doesn’t mean I won’t slip up on occasion and go into despair, but I won’t stay there long. I come back to my self, my true self, the self that is love and presence and I rest there. It’s funny that more than just about anything else God (and Jesus by extension) offers God’s people peace and rest. I suppose that speaks to the ever present reality of conflict both within and without. I lift these things up here so that my soul might find rest and perhaps, if you struggle as I do, yours might as well.