Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That’s how the light gets in
-- Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
When I first received a text invitation to write this blog post, I was lying in bed shaking and crying during one of the worst mental breakdowns I had ever experienced. I hadn’t slept in weeks, I had no appetite, I hated my job. To be frank, I was in no mood. Still, for some reason I gathered enough energy to ask for details.
“What’s the theme?”
Ironically, my reason for not wanting to participate is the topic of this post. For the last year or so, I have been struggling with a sense of inadequacy. I sometimes start countless projects, including a blog of my own, that I stop halfway through because I don’t think I’m good enough. It is still awkward even writing this on paper considering how recent I started feeling this way. A couple years ago I would have called myself a confident ‘go-getter.’ I loved networking and taking on new opportunities. I loved getting to know people and hearing their stories. I knew who I was and didn’t let other people’s opinions affect where I was going.
But then I went through a few circumstances that challenged my identity. I went through some times with people close to me that were very dark and abusive. I had my name unjustly dragged through the mud. I discovered that a lot of people who claimed to support me for years only supported me when I was confident and had everything together. While today I’ve made peace with those people, I realized later than preferred that I had slowly internalized a lot of what happened. I couldn’t trust people like I used to, and I counted myself as the common denominator in my shortcomings. On top of that, I was fighting the resulting mental health issue that only reiterated my sense of inferiority [see mental breakdown].
Feeling inadequate bled its way into my academic performance and my workplace, but it primarily manifested in my relationships. I had adopted a mentality that I was not good enough for my family, that my friends would eventually desert me, that I was destined for a lonely future. So instead of striving for genuine relationships, I tried to be the perfect friend. I had the unfortunate conviction that I had to prove my own worth, and I eventually projected that expectation onto others. I looked to them for approval and consequently placed my identity in their hands.
My friends still complimented my work ethic and my drive to keep moving forward. I still got compliments for being people-centered. But what others didn’t realize is that inadequacy often parades itself under the guise of perfectionism and hardwork. I was trying earn my right to take up space, but I never felt anymore significant.
Then one day I found myself in my room praying, admittedly in the midst of another mental breakdown. I got an image of Matthew 14 when Peter walks on the water toward Jesus. I pictured his incredible courage in stepping out onto the water. I pictured him walking toward our incredible savior. And then I pictured him looking at the incredible waves just before he went under.
I heard God ask me, “what are you putting your confidence in?” And it clicked.
I was spending all of this time trying to prove that I was good enough. I was projecting my feelings of insufficiency onto my education, my career, my relationships. I was superimposing unrealistic expectations of security onto things that were never meant to save me. But I had forgotten where my confidence came from.
You see, Peter didn’t go under because he focused on the storm. He went under because he put his confidence in the storm. He was overcome by the size and strength of the waves because his confidence was no longer in the person who commanded them (Matthew 8:21).
What is ironic is that I had it right the whole time. I am inadequate. I do make mistakes. Most times I have no idea what I want to do with my life or how I am going to make it through tough situations. But I was never meant to go it alone. I wasn’t created to depend on my own strength or to be my own savior. There will always be storms I can’t weather on my own, but when I put my confidence in Christ I can look each one dead in the eye and not be overcome. God has called each one of us because of our unique identity, and that includes our insecurities. If we put our trust in Him, He can turn it all around for good (Romans 8:25)
“Patiently wait for God alone, my soul! For he is the one who gives me confidence” (Psalm 62:5).
I still wrestle with this from time to time, but I am learning that I am enough no matter how many mistakes I make or how other people view me. If there is anything I've learned about insecurities it's that they often bury themselves in the same soil as our destiny. On the surface we may not always know they are there, but once we start watering our gifts those insecurities grow right next to them like weeds.
For me, it felt like I was endlessly pulling out one weed after another. If I wasn't struggling with self-esteem, I was struggling with humility. If I wasn't struggling with loneliness, I was struggling with being an adequate friend. I tried to spot treat these issues in many unsuccessful and toxic ways. Still, no matter how much time passed without an issue, they always seemed to come back at the beginning of every season of growth.
What a lot of people don't know about weeds is that they tend to grow in unhealthy soil. If the soil is so dry and compact that none of the right things can get in, or if it's so loose that all of the wrong things do, then the plants will die and the weeds will thrive.
So instead of asking ourselves how to pull out the weeds, we need to start asking how to change the soil. Where are you planting your seeds? Where do the roots of your destiny run? Where do you place your confidence? Is it in yourself, your friends, your job, your appearance? The fact of the matter is, the things that this world has to offer are too small for the destinies each one of us are called to carry. If we put our faith solely in any one of these categories, each one will collapse under the weight. We are called to greatness and we therefore must trust in a great God. Each one of us will struggle with this from time to time, and it will manifest in different ways. But we have a gracious and faithful God who calls us back home whenever we are lost; a God who uses our brokenness for plans we could never imagine.
"Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness." (Colossians 2:7)