Some days I think I run for the conviction.
It doesn’t start that way. When I start, it’s to alleviate the restlessness, to quiet the noise in my head. On a low day, it’s purely for the endorphins.
But inevitably, when the noise quiets, and I am left with nothing but myself, sweaty and stinky and out of breath, there is a bit of space for a voice other than my own.
Sometimes it’s a whisper out of nowhere, an idea without an obvious source. Sometimes it seems to come from rustling in the trees or it rides on a rare and welcome breeze through the city streets.
Sometimes it comes from a few lines of Florence and the Machine through my headphones.
Hey, look up
You don't have to be a ghost
Hidden amongst the living
You are flesh and blood
And you deserve to be loved
And you deserve what you are given
Deserving. Ha, yeah, right.
We've been fighting this week, a little more than usual. Two nights ago we said cold, courtesy "I love you"s and I went to sleep curled up in a ball of self-loathing. I never know when to shut up. God I am such a bitch. What is my problem.
Last night we were headed for it again. And then, almost imperceptibly, something shifted. One of us softened, or maybe we both did. And Jake asked, What happened to you, that you do this to yourself? He knows, and I know, it predates anything that happened between us. I’ve been this way for as long as we’ve known each other.
But last night, to my own surprise and through intermittent tears, I was able to answer him. I told him that, however subconsciously, I believe that my worth is dependent on achievement. That to deserve his love, or anyone else’s, I need to be smarter, nicer, prettier, stronger, thinner, and generally just better.
Years ago, when Jake told me he had cheated, it reinforced every false belief I already held. It must have happened because I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t thin enough. I wasn’t fun enough.
I must have deserved it.
And now that things are good, I had better keep achieving or improving, or all this could go away again.
And by that I mean, if I don’t keep up the ruse that I have it together, it’s all going to crumble, any second now.
I caught my reflection this morning, running along with Florence’s words in my head. A strong-looking woman. Good posture. Decent stride.
Must be a weird curve in the window, I thought. Optical illusion.
That couldn’t possibly be what I look like, because I am just not that good at this.
“Four kids?” people say. “You look amazing.”
I smile, I say thank you, and I think, You haven’t seen me in a bathing suit. You haven’t seen me naked. You’re only complimenting me because you don’t know what I really look like.
I spend my work hours telling clients they are deserving of love. That their worth is innate, irrevocably tied to their humanity. I remind them we don’t need to earn love, we just need to accept it. I tell them shame is a liar and that we need to have compassion for ourselves. I remind them we need to see ourselves for how wonderful we are.
Jake said, “You need to find a way to work on this.”
I responded, “What do you want me to do, use some bullshit hippie affirmations or something?”
In my inner world, there is no such thing as enough. There is no smart enough or pretty enough or thin enough or strong enough or fast enough. There is no good enough. Even though I know there should be. In my inner world, I am not so wonderful.
So what, my choice, right? If I want to make myself miserable with such an outlook, so be it.
Except, every time I choose this viewpoint, I’m slapping God in the face.
My entire belief system, my entire relationship with a Higher Power – the pieces of the relationship that are intact, anyway – hinges on an understanding that love is not earned, because it is by nature un-earnable. That mercy and grace are the only way, our one remaining option for connecting with a Being greater than ourselves.
If I have not love, I am nothing.
When I allow myself to be convinced that I can earn love – when I believe that my worth is tied to achieving this elusive “enough-ness” – I am living in defiance of my Creator. I’m blatantly contradicting the Source of every ounce of love I’ve ever given or experienced.
Traditional evangelicalism would call this sin.
Because it’s an entirely cocky and self-centered mindset, to think that somehow I can earn the love and affection of the Creator of the universe.
High stakes. Geeze, don’t screw it up.
But, that’s totally okay, because I already have it. I get to be loved and connected if I’m smart and strong and pretty, or if I’m dumb and weak and ugly. Or, as is the case most days, if I am a confused and jumbled ball of all of the above.
In marriage, I used to think I was committing to love him even if there were moments a part of me found him dumb or weak or ugly. Or at least, you know, kind of annoying.
And yeah, maybe that’s a part of it, staying by someone’s side when they piss you off.
But even more, it’s a willingness to accept from another human being the kind of love we get from God – arguably, the only kind of real love that exists. It’s letting someone see you as more than dumb and weak and ugly, even when you can’t see it in yourself. It’s accepting love you haven’t earned, and choosing to believe you deserve it anyway. It’s being loved by somebody who knows how you really think and what you really look like.
It’s a willingness to become, undeservedly, the Beloved.
There is one (no bullshit, non-hippie) affirmation I love. It’s arguably trite. You probably already know it. But consider it again anyway.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God."
I used to read this passage as a comfort. Today, I read it as a challenge. If I believe myself to be a created being, if I believe it’s possible to personally connect with One who is greater than I am, I don’t get to have a negative view of myself. It’s contradictory and illogical. It’s self-centered and damaging. Who am I, Who gave me the right, to see myself in such a negative manner? Nobody.
To do so defies the gift of grace.
Because grace says I will never be enough alone, but that I’m more than enough already.