When I was seventeen, I never thought I would make it as an adult. I was reckless. I drank a lot, smoked a lot, and drove way too fast. But my greatest thrill more than anything, was to win the affection of my friends, because deep down I had very little affection for myself.
At twenty, I thought I was a big shot. I had “reclaimed my life” and was a legendary (read: self righteous) follower of Jesus. My drug of choice was the respect and affirmation I won from people for my “good behavior”. I tricked myself into believing that my performance determined my value.
People responded when I performed well in ministry and in my family. Winning this game meant survival for me, because I really believed them more than I believed myself. If they liked me, I liked me. If they didn’t like me, well, I had to try harder until they did. And worst of all, I attributed this type of transactional love to God. Good behavior meant love.
By my thirties, the life of facades and performance had absolutely exhausted me. I began to find it way easier to let God love me in my mess than to perform for the love of other people. I felt as if I was inching toward that freedom that Jesus promised. I'm so grateful for the spiritual mentors and friends who show me the love of Christ by accepting me for who I am and not simply because of how I perform for them. Honesty among these peers began to give birth to freedom. And freedom opened up opportunities for growth in humility.
I’m not sure if it’s aging wisdom, but now in my forties I do have a couple of things to say about all of this. 1) God really does love me regardless of how I perform. 2) A few real and honest relationships are better than thousands of affirming people.
The mess of our life shouldn't cause us to perform for others or to get stuck in shame, it should remind us of our need for God and His grace. I believe in a God who loves me as I am and not as I should be. The greatest thing I can do for myself is to rest in that love.
"My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it."
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
And the greatest thing we can offer the world is that same kind of love. Today, I want to love people more than they hate themselves, so that they don’t have to perform like I did for so many years, so that they quit the act, receive healing found in authenticity, and accept that in the midst of all of their sh*t, they are loved beyond imagination by a forever God.
Hear me; don’t wait as long as I did to love yourself. God loves you and you can too.