A few months ago, as I prepared to speak at a local Christian school, I had an ah-ha moment. As I pondered my own spiritual journey, I recognized that wounds from my past could be my excuse or my strength.
Everyone experiences episodes that cause wounds. Interestingly, it is not the episode that causes long term problems. It is the lie that forms when the experience occurs.
For instance, if your fourth grade teacher said you would never amount to anything, it isn’t the words that are the problem. It is the belief that formed: I am worthless. I won’t ever be anything. Beliefs can be changed while experiences cannot.
In many ways, we have very little control over the beliefs that form. Words are spoken and they make little divots in our brains. We automatically process the information and form a belief based on the experience.
I really don’t know the first time I formed the belief that I would not be chosen. But I do know that an experience in high school solidified that lie. It was in the spring of my junior year. The time had come for National Honor Society induction. I really thought I would be chosen. My grades were right, my siblings had all been chosen, I was a perfect candidate…I thought. And then the fateful day arrived and I waited breathlessly in a dimly lit theater waiting for my name to be called. It wasn’t.
I remember that day confirming what I feared to be true. No matter how qualified I was, someone else less qualified would be chosen. And that lie followed me for decades. I developed a pattern of working tirelessly to meet the standards required to be chosen and time and again, I didn’t feel chosen. It seemed to always be just out of reach, over the next hill, after the next accomplishment, with the next degree or class or qualifying event.
In order to dull the pain of not ever being quite good enough, I developed dysfunctional behaviors. I became a really good person. I chased religion and excelled in right behavior. I read, prayed, memorized and performed all in an effort to dull the pain of not being good enough.
And I mastered the art of judgment for those who were not as good as me. I nursed the wound and hid the pain under the facade of busyness, good behavior and a righteous lifestyle. And then I added to my religious rigor a love for education. I studied, earned degrees and taught – all in an effort to prove to myself and others that I was good enough.
But all the time I feared deep inside that I would be discovered. You see, I still believed that I wasn’t good enough; that I would never be chosen. And any moment I was in danger of being exposed for what I truly was: a fraud.
I always felt like I was swimming upstream. But then of course, that was the hardest path and surely that is what it took to prove I was enough. The most difficult path with impossible obstacles to overcome. If I could do that, then I would be enough.
Your dysfunctional behavior may not be religion. It may be addictive behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, sex, exercise, work, shopping, food, recreation, television…whatever it takes to numb the pain of the lie that screams at you.
Like an onion, there were many layers to protecting myself. Think of the pain as a smoke alarm. We will do anything to silence the shriek of the alarm. This is our dysfunctional behavior. For me, I invested heavily in religion and good behavior.
The next layer of defense is protection. I don’t want to experience the pain of rejection again so I build a wall to protect myself. The walls I constructed were judgment and pride. I acted exactly the opposite as I felt.
Learning to live without feeling chosen required me to develop a strategy. I became a people pleaser, performing in whatever way I discerned others required. I listened and watched for clues as to what you might want from me and then attempted to live that out. It is exhausting.
This way of living created internal dissonance. I resented that others required so much of me and in turn, I learned to withhold genuine affection. Self-contempt and rejection of my true self swirled within, creating a tornadic environment of chaos.
So what do I do? My brain endlessly processed the next good thing, the next right thing, the next thought I should think, prayer I should pray, book I should read. How do I shut this off? Is it okay to shut it off? What happens if I shut it off?
What would happen if I just let go? I pondered that question for months and months and it terrified me. So many excruciating scenarios played out in my head as a result of letting go.
But one day, I had enough. One day I decided my pain would be my beauty rather than my excuse.
And that’s what we will explore tomorrow.
May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.Numbers 6:24-26