When You Want to Rank Yourself. Or Others.

drawerpullsI woke up at age 30.  I faced the truth about insecurities deep.  I wrestled with my patterns of denial.  The traits I scorned in others for years became a mere reflection of what was raging in my own heart.

Have you ever noticed that?  Often what annoys us the most about others are our own behaviors, as well.  Sure, there’s variances in how they unfold from a person’s heart, but the roots, oh the ugly roots, they’re often similar to our own.  It’s as if we’re gardening but scared to harvest.  We’re digging in the tension of what we know to be true deep, deep down and what we so desperately want to ignore.

Women and men go about their lives silently teaching us what we look like to others.  And I keep digging, forgetting why I’m even in the garden.

So I rank them.  I rank them to cope with the tension of my soil.

When I’m feeling insecure it looks like this:

She’s a good mom because her daughter is outgoing and confident.  He’s smart because he went to graduate school right after college.  He’s classy because he cooks on a Jenn Air instead of a Kenmore like me.  She has taste because she buys her drawer pulls at Anthropologie. 

I want to scream, “I’m working with my children and their social skills even though it doesn’t  look like it. I desperately regret not going to grad school right away. I know a Jenn Air is classier than a Kenmore. I know cool girls shop for hardware at Anthropologie instead of Target.  Because I KNOW all of this does it make me more valuable in your eyes even though I’m not living it?”

And when I’m feeling insecure it also looks like this:

I’m a good mom because my son just asked that adult how she was doing.  I’m smart because I prefer non-fiction.  I’m classy because I’m cooking with coconut oil instead of canola tonight. I have taste because I’m decorating with Anthropologie look-alikes instead of randomness.

I rank myself low.  And I rank myself high.  I silently ruin community along the way, and those around me don’t even know it.  I can’t really rank myself without ranking others, even unintentionally.  It’s so broken.

It all points back to my insecurity.  And pride.  They’re sort of the same thing.

We rank people’s worth in everything, don’t we?!  We determine if people are in the know  based upon what exercise plan they do, what type of salt they use, what brand of clothing they wear, what ministries they engage with (when did certain non-profits become trendier than others?!).  The list goes on and on.

We despise Hitler for ranking people based on ethnicity.  We hate how the media controls our view of beauty.  We scorn society and teach our daughters to ignore its shallow lessons of worth.

But in our everyday, when did we start caring about impressing a stranger over teaching our children gently?  When did academic degrees impact the fulfillment of God’s purposes for our lives?  When did an oven first define our worth rather than our act of feeding hungry people?  When did the ornaments of our homes become more valuable than the families living within?

I was made in God’s image, so I crave what is kind, and complex, and beautiful.  But my goodness, tangible blessings and temporary pleasures don’t define me.  Earthly success doesn’t define me, either.

I carry that insecurity (and pride) back to the Cross and throw it all in It’s shadow.

“Who has the authority to condemn?

Jesus the Anointed… died, but more importantly, conquered death… So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? … The answer is, absolutely nothing… For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8: 34-39

Yes, I have confidence that nothing will separate me from the love of Christ — my broken worldview, the way I limp along in community, the lies Satan whispers through modern culture, the way others rank me, my own crooked and insecure heart — nothing will separate me from the love of Christ and the identity His work on the Cross gives me.

I have to stop living to impress those I’ll never meet.  I must stop trying to evoke admiration from those I don’t even feel safe with.

I’m still digging, and the Light is wooing growth from the dark, dark soil.  It’s like when you hold in shame for years and then your secret comes spilling out to a friend.  I need to do this more often.  We were created to live in community.  I fight it and fight it, and yet when I give in, I’m the one that feels victory.

I’m the one who harvests without fear.

The Pretend Game | When You’re Done With the Mask

urbansunriseI’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve found myself in this athletic family. Me, the non-competitor. I’ve been told I might just have what it takes and could possibly uncover an inner athlete if I tried hard enough. But when you don’t care who wins in the end, it’s sort of hard to put all that work into it. I know sports hold potential for life-lessons and discipline and virtue-building experiences.  But truly, if you’re not a competitor at heart, you can find other ways to grow your character.

I hope you still like me.

There is one game, though, I played and mastered for years.  It’s called the Pretend Game, and the only equipment you need is a mask. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it. It’s popular all over the world. You’re required to wear a huge smile, but if you want, your mask can do that for you.

There’s all sorts of reasons one joins, and the more you practice the better you get. And truly, the longer you’re in this game, the more you don’t realize you’re even playing. You can excel despite the baggage you carry, the baggage you can’t drop even if you wanted to.

Once you sign your name to the roster, it’s really hard to leave.

I was first made aware of the Pretend Game when I was 20 — even though I had played it for years. It wasn’t until 10 years later that I walked away from it all. Yes, it took me a decade to let action emerge from knowledge. And honestly, I didn’t walk away. I limped. And crawled. And wrestled myself into authenticity.

The shame of playing for years has kept me from reconnecting and facing reunions. How do you live in community with people who only knew you as a facade?

The freedom you taste after finally throwing in your mask is, well, indescribable. The world looks different. Your Redeemer looks different. But oh my goodness, unfortunately you look different, too. It’s terrifying, really.

When you look at yourself through the lens of truth, all you avoided and judged is wrapped up right there in your own little heart. Any fear you’ve had of the dark as a child envelopes you like never before, for when the night is in you, you can’t run away. You can’t just turn on the light. No, He actually reaches for you.

The God who spoke light into existence, saying, “Let light shine from the darkness,” is the very One who sets our hearts ablaze to shed light on the knowledge of God’s glory revealed in the face of Jesus, the Anointed One. 2 Corinthians 4:6

And I know He created light at the dawn of history. I’ve seen it shine into the night and remove the shadow’s power. But my Redeemer, the miracle worker, He’s creating light from my darkness over and over. And the power that ugly facade had over my relationships and motives is broken as light is born, overcoming all that’s not true.

“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope,” promises Tim Keller.

I’m valued. I’m noticed. For God, the Creator, chose to pursue my heart and set it ablaze.

I risk, hopeful for redemption, as He sheds light on the knowledge of God’s glory revealed in the face of Jesus.

Yes, He restores what is broken, but he creates new life, too, out of utter despair. From my darkness held in secret for years, He’s shining truth and mercy forever.

And like turning my face toward the sun in winter, I look to Him, anticipating another miracle rather than staying away in shame.

“Let light shine from the darkness,” says He who spoke light into existence.

Pain. Even on Vacation.

sunriseI ran, and I felt the sun wake the earth. I saw my husband discover his childlike joy again. I watched dolphins from a rustic dock.

Community with family I rarely see. Restoration from life’s weariness. The reminder the world is much, much bigger than our everyday. All gifts. All grace.

But pain is often part of the Puzzle we’re trying to piece together here on earth.  Even on vacation.

jellyfishAnd with experiences only the beach can etch on our hearts comes the sting of the jellyfish.  The oldest grandchild, the youngest grandchild, and the husband discovering his childlike joy again after life’s deeper sting – all victims of its randomness.

“Why did God make jellyfish in the first place, Aunt Christan?”

“When exactly did jellyfish start stinging people, Mom?  Was it before or after the Fall?  Before or after sin entered the world?”

Together we pondered marine biology and ancient history and theology.  And I winced.  I still cringe today, for my daughter’s sting was so tiny compared to the pain she’ll face as her life unfolds. Sometimes its easier to look back on the mysteries of history instead of looking ahead.

And the Puzzle, it can be so frustrating, but we keep coming back for more. We try and fail and try again. We work with the hope of wholeness. Work toward restoration.

We were made for complexity. Made to wrestle the deep. And the unsatiated longing keeps us going, keeps us piecing together the mystery until every piece is in it’s place.

We’ll be piecing until the dawn of eternity, connecting pain with beauty, suffering with wholeness, heartache with understanding. Yes, we’ll be piecing until each fragmented piece becomes peace forevermore.

We have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day. You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here.  2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Help me see You, God, amidst all these pieces. Help me want to see You. Guard me from bitterness as you grant the hope of a mystery fulfilled.

Calm me when the Puzzle isn’t beautiful yet…when I’m too scared to pick up another piece.

photos | Tybee Island, Georgia, usa

This post can also be viewed as a guest post at the Greentree Community Church blog (St. Louis, Missouri).