Don't Deny Who You Are
A few years ago, I discovered I was habitually lying to myself. I thought in order to succeed and to be loved by others, I had to be perfect. And every time I made a mistake or did something embarrassing or tripped over my own feet, I lied and told myself how dumb, ridiculous, awkward, and unlikable I was. The turning point occurred when I saw the lies for what they were and refused to tell them anymore.
Fast forward to the present day. I've gotten better about not criticizing everything I do or say, but it still happens. A lot of times, it happens subconsciously. The old fear of doing or saying the one thing that will ruin my credibility with someone forever still haunts me more often than it should. It often takes the form of words or actions performed, then second-guessed ad nauseum. They're impossible to take back, so the question that blares in my mind louder and louder is, "Did I just blow it?" The question cycles for seconds, hours, or even days. If not resolved, it gets shoved back into the subconscious to resurface at inconvenient times and trigger serious flinching.
Over time, I've discovered I am simultaneously easy and difficult to embarrass. I don't get embarrassed by a lot of things that bother other people - I either find them funny or view them as a part of life. What does embarrass me is things that reflect badly on my quality as a person, that call into question my intelligence, social skills, relevance, etc. Anything that might broadcast my weaknesses to the world. Because I know I have them, but when you grow up in a home where for years every sentence you uttered would be picked apart, where you were routinely told you needed to get a life, where your siblings despised you for not being as physically strong and naturally athletic as they were, and where your breakdown was suspected to be an excuse for laziness, you learn to believe that being weak means being worthless.
I feel like I'm sounding melodramatic. Let me take another tack. Until I got to college, I never really had strong female role models in my life. My role models were men, and my first and only mentor was my dad. My dad is a manly man. I used to think he knew everything important there was to know. But he is also a perfectionist, with himself and with others. Incidentally, my entire family consists of five perfectionists. Growing up, I learned that making mistakes or not knowing things I should know got disapproval. Therefore, I subconsciously reasoned, the only way to not get disapproval was to do everything perfectly. That was the only way I knew I was okay.
One area where this caused a hang-up was with playing the piano. I took piano lessons from the time I was seven all the way through my senior year of high school. I learned how to play classical music, sacred arrangements, and eventually congregational hymns. But around my junior year, I plateaued in my skills. When I practiced, I cringed inwardly when I made mistakes and worried about what other people in the house would think. So I got into the habit of fixing my mistakes in the moment, instead of simply going on. This made proper practice nearly impossible. In ten years of playing, I never got truly comfortable with the piano. I disliked having to play harsh Baroque songs; Romantic were my preferred genre, especially if they had plenty of rubato so I could manipulate the timing to compensate for my mistakes. And I was truly grateful when I got the flu right before our recital during senior year, for which I had not practiced nearly enough.
There have been many things in my life I have done that make me cringe to think about them, not because they're necessarily wrong, but because they show me where I'm weak. And I try to hide my weaknesses, because they make me vulnerable to the criticism and dislike of others. But the stones others throw are only hurtful to the extent that they make me dislike myself. I am afraid to see the in full color what a pathetic, corrupt, selfish, vulnerable, quivering little piece of flesh I really am. So I pretend not to be the same person who did those things that were done yesterday. I know better now. I'm beyond all that. All those dreams and fears, all those hopeless paths my thoughts would take, all the crying over things I couldn't change - none of those are part of me anymore. I'll forget about them and move on. Make my life what I want it to be, by making myself who I want to be.
The problem with denying the past is that then you are moorless. You have no context for the present, no anchor for the future. There's a reason Jason Bourne went to such great lengths to remember his past, because it told him not only how he got where he was but also what direction he was supposed to head next. When I live the day in front of me pretending there was no yesterday, I eventually become confused, frustrated, and hopeless. The positives of the past give us hope for the future. The mistakes we made were lessons learned, nothing that hasn't been done before. Since time began, other people have shared the weaknesses we despise so much in ourselves. Our self-worth is not found in being perfect and avoiding mistakes - that's an impossible standard no human alive today can reach. Our worth is found in our status as the creation of God, each soul individually fashioned according to his plan and loved with a love as infinite as he is.
We're right to feel a sense of loathing for the worst parts of ourselves. It's the knowledge that we were designed for a higher and better state of being, but we currently live corrupted and exist in a corrupt world. We reject our Creator to serve ourselves, thus breaking both the first commandment ("you shall have no other gods before me") and the greatest commandment ("you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength"). This treason against the infinite God of the Universe deserves infinite punishment, but the God who intricately wove each person together in the womb would not abandon the ones he loves. In the words of the Son to the Father, "I in them, and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them even as you loved me" (John 17). Therein lies our worth.
This week I had the thought that trying to erase all the painful mistakes of the past and the present was a pointless endeavor. What am I trying to protect myself from? From finding out that I'm a worthless person who has no right to speak, no thoughts that matter, no qualities worthy of love. But those are all lies. I am a unique creation with a life purpose unlike anyone else's. Everything I experience, someone else has experienced before; I'm not the weird anomaly. I may be young and socially uncomfortable, but my insights have counseled and helped plenty of my friends and family. And I am loved. God loves me no matter what I do, and I have friends and family who love me in spite of my obvious flaws. I don't have to convince myself or anyone else I'm invincible. I can cry without hiding (maybe someday). I can forgive myself all the mistakes I made while scrabbling for love that was right in front of me. That's my history. That's part of who I am. That was my coming-of-age. And adults still mess up. Adults still cry. Now, so can I.
|Posted 08-06-2017 at 06:54 AM by Vballspieler|