The quote above could stand alone, in my opinion.
I read this and wonder how many times I have acted in exactly this manner….looking for my self-worth and validation from others: in my friendships and relationships, as a mom or perhaps in my career.
I suspect there are many of us who live in a place where the approval of others is more important than how we view ourselves – how Christ views each of us.
Think back to middle school or high school for a moment.
There were always those people who seemed to sail through adolescence with the grace and beauty of a well-crafted yacht. They were the shiny people. Others were drawn to them. Their clothes fit neatly, they grew in seemingly appropriate proportions, their teeth were perfect….in a nutshell: they belonged. Their brightness seemed to bounce off you when they were around. You felt important. You (should you dare say it) felt shiny.
It felt great to be a part of their circle.
Until you realized that you weren’t.
I was never a yacht-sailing adolescent. My transition through my youth looked more like a small dinghy that could barely make it out of the harbor without capsizing. I was awkward. I was short and lanky. Long after all the other girls began looking like young women, I still looked like a little girl. I had braces to close the enormous gap between my front teeth – teeth that were too big for my head (or so it seemed to me). My clothes hung on me because I couldn’t fill them out. I was a swimmer and my hair stayed short for the ease of the sport. Boys were not flocking to my side. Oh, how I wanted to be one of them.
I stayed on the outside of the social groups for many years. It took some special friends in high school to finally help me find my place in the social tribe, not to mention the end of adolescence.
I have often wondered how my early experiences shaped my future outlook on friendships, relationships and how I ultimately viewed myself as a person. Taking an honest look at my life through that lens is embarrassing, at the least.
I think girls are particularly vulnerable to allowing the opinions of others to shape who they believe themselves to be. Look at the marketing ploys of the fashion industry. Look at the TV shows a lot of teenagers are drawn to watching. The media has crafted a world that so many young people believe to be reality; and yet, when their own lives are a dim reflection of what they have been led to believe, they become lost and unable to form healthy relationships with others and most importantly, themselves.
Let’s go ahead and throw social media under the proverbial bus as well. Teenagers live in an era of instant gratification and a world where their validation comes in the form of “likes”, “comments” and “streaks”. Can you imagine the damage this instantaneous world has done to the next generation of adults? Research is not favorable to technology in how it influences social and emotional health in people. Not to mention that social media allows its participants to create an on-line life that projects perfection and fun.
As a mom of 2 teenage daughters, I am watching them navigate the very worlds I describe here. One daughter is lauded for her beauty and gracefulness. She is well liked and she tends to handle most conflicts with peers as if they don’t matter to her own existence. In fact, she is pretty good at walking away from it altogether. My other daughter seems to be bobbing along the waters of adolescence in a very different way. She has difficulty navigating the social waters in her peer group. She speaks her mind and doesn’t easily let the behaviors of others roll off of her back. She stays in it to fight back. I’ve painfully watched her bounce from one peer group to the other, searching for the right fit. When she is in one and things are good, she is good. When things go sour, her mood plummets.
I try to coach them both through these years: telling one to be compassionate to others who are still figuring things out and to the other, I assure her that she has wonderful qualities that anyone would be honored to be around – maybe she hasn’t found the right group yet. I have also had many discussions with them both about what it means to love yourself first and who they are in Christ.
I am reading the book Uninvited, by Lysa TerKeurst. The sub-title really just captures the essence of this book: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely. I want to share a profound quote from her work.
It reads, “The mind feasts on what it focuses on.What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.”
That is an amazing thought.
As I look over the landscape of my own life, I see where I went wrong on so many fronts. I see times today, as a 46 year old, when I am still sending myself the wrong messages. Times when I am focusing on the wrong things, punishing myself for mistakes, putting value in the things that ultimately don’t matter. I still seem to battle for spots in social groups and can get sensitive with friends from time to time. The habits, fears, and insecurities of adolescence seem to follow some of us right into adulthood.
See if any of these messages sound familiar to you:
“I just can’t lose the weight like I used to.”
“I don’t want to buy a size bigger; I’d rather squeeze into something too small and be miserable for the sake of a number.”
“I wonder why I wasn’t invited to go with them to the movies?”
“Who is going to love a woman with a train-wreck history in relationships?”
“I texted her an hour ago and still no response. Did I do something wrong?”
“Why didn’t they pick me for that job? I have the years and experience. I was the perfect candidate.”
“I can’t believe I was foolish enough to believe the lies he told. Look at the wasteland my life has become. I will never find love.”
“God can’t use me for His Kingdom. I have made some terrible mistakes and disobeyed His word.”
“I am not as talented a writer as others. No one will read my stuff.”
I could go on and on about the messages we send ourselves. The quotes above are messages that I told myself. Some of those messages are pretty recent. When I send myself those messages, I become that 12 year old girl who listens to others talk about the great birthday party they went to over the weekend – the same birthday party that I wasn’t invited to. Or I send myself those messages and am reminded of all the unwise mistakes I made and how those have caused my story to be vastly different than what I imagined. Sometimes when I send those messages to myself, I am indirectly telling my 2 teenage daughters that the number on the scale or in my waistband is important. Then there are some messages that I send myself which counters the very thing God says about me in His Word.
I wonder what my life could have looked like if I had let my value to Christ pierce my heart when I was a young girl? I’m not referring to the salvation story here. No, I’m talking about the stuff that points to my place in His Kingdom no matter what.
The part that says I am loved by a God who dances and sings over me with joy. (“Yahwah your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His Love,He will dance over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17)
The parts that remind me of His promise that He has a plan for me, a divine purpose that is not deterred by any action on my part. (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11)
The piece of Scripture that reminds me He makes beauty for ashes. (“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.” Isaiah 61:3)
The reminder that He makes no mistakes and all those created are done so with His hand to perfection. (“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14)
My story with God is the greatest Love Story of all time. It is a story where He wants me to remember to LIVE my life with the piercing knowledge that I am LOVED with an abundance.
What about you, Reader?
What messages are you sending yourself that might be keeping you from living loved in this world? What messages are you sending others who are struggling with the same?