“…accidentally, I’d let my life subtly turn into a performance.”
–Nothing to Prove, Jennie Allen
In light of the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I read an article that said, “Rather than pathologizing the despair and emotional suffering that is a rational response to a culture that values people based on ever-escalating financial and personal achievements, we should acknowledge that something is very wrong. We should stop telling people who yearn for a deeper meaning in life that they have an illness or need therapy. Instead, we need to help people craft lives that are more meaningful and built on a firmer foundation than personal success.”
This very point hit me like a ton of bricks just a few months ago after reading Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller. Something stole my joy and I was determined to pinpoint the culprit. Before finding the book, I had reached my own emotional rock bottom. I went to my former Dr., a complete mess of tears and postpartum hormones in total desperation and was put on a new anti-depressant (for the umpteenth time, and after saying I would NEVER do it again). One of the side-effects was “suicidal thoughts” and for the first time in my life, that actually crossed my mind. I cried out to God and begged him to give me the resources I needed to get off the medicine and finally find the root cause of my mental illness (more on that later). *I realize medicine can be a lifesaver for some and am not downplaying that. *
After finding physical and emotional healing, I pursued my spiritual journey in a deeper way and Counterfeit Gods landed in my lap.
For the first time I really heard and understood that I didn’t need to do “some great thing” to heal myself of my sense of inadequacy or give my life meaning, for God to love me, or to “prove myself” to anyone.
My whole life had been built on doing “some great thing” (I just didn’t know what it was yet). My whole life was in constant pursuit for that great thing and I longed for it as if it were a long-lost lover.
In reading that book, I realized I had become addicted to success and achievement, yet I wasn’t any happier. No matter where I put my hope, it was never enough and it was always a disappointment.
None of it could really satisfy me. As Keller says, “It’s not that you should try to love these things LESS, but that you should know and love God more.”
It finally hit me that no matter how much success I achieved, it couldn’t deliver the satisfaction I was looking for. No matter how much money I made, or promotions I received, I still felt like an impostor on the inside. It wasn’t until I read Counterfeit Gods that the truth sunk in….I don’t need to come to God (or peers, or family or even myself) saying, “Look at all I’ve done or all I’ve suffered.”
We can’t redeem ourselves through our own pursuits and relationships because we are already redeemed. I don’t want my self worth dependent on my career, success, money, relationships, or looks….I want to be FREE.
The enemy tells me that my freedom can only be found in finally proving to myself and the world that I am important. I am in control. I am liked, happy, and enough. (Nothing to Prove)
The more I grasp the gospel, the less power these things have over me. I still fall short DAILY (hourly even) but this conviction has been planted in my heart for a reason and I’m excited to keep pursuing it. Faith in the gospel restructures everything…our motivations, our heart, our self-understanding, our identity, our view of the world. Striving was stealing my joy and I am on a hot pursuit to get it back.
So, what does that look like in my world?
It means stepping back from social media. Stepping back a bit from some of my business ventures until I can find a way to work without letting it consume me. Taking a break from my constant need to learn, and DO. Resting in God, His word, and surrounding myself with trusted friends who will hold me accountable. Fixing my eyes on Jesus instead of myself. Setting up constant reminders that I HAVE NOTHING TO PROVE.
As Allen says, “Maybe the ones who recognize they don’t measure up, are the very ones the God of the universe picks to move wildly in and through?”
Jesus doesn’t need me to be strong. And neither does my mom, my dad, my kids, my husband, my pastor or my friends. As a good friend recently shared, “There is POWER in our humility.”
Salvation is received through my weakness, not my strength, my success, my achievements, or my own “awesomeness.”
I have a feeling that simply recognizing this pressure, this need for performance, these “counterfeit Gods,” may be the first step to not only healing, and redeeming our own joy, but our culture as a whole.