I watched two documentaries this week. One was about minimalism, and the other about happiness. Both were very interesting to me, not very surprising, but great reminders that what we Americans pursue to make us happy are not the answer.
So I’ve been ruminating on the effect of culture on my mindset and goals in life, and I wonder if our culture’s equation of: my achievements = my worth is more prevalent in my approach to life than I realize.
You see, in America it’s important that we all do great and amazing things in order to “be somebody” and to be valued, remembered, appreciated, admired, etc. The amount of money we make, the way we look, and the items we own define who we are. The more eager admirers we have waiting in line to buy our product, watch us play our game, listen to our speech, or read our book, the better.
As a result of this, I find myself incredibly insecure. I’m overweight, a stay-at-home-mom (A recent document labeled me “unemployed”. As if I lost my job and now don’t have anything to do.) I have few marketable skills, and even less time to market the ones I have. I’m a nobody.
In order to satisfy myself I rush around life trying to be the very best I can be at everything I do every day, in the hopes that at some point someone will notice and validate me. I hope they’ll give me some worth by appreciating, admiring, or at the very least remembering that I’m over here working my butt off in this little corner of the world – unpaid.
I went to Uganda unconsciously hoping that it would give me some worth. That in going around the world to help people in need I would somehow be showing myself or you or someone that I am needed and important for the good of this place, and maybe someone should acknowledge that. But that isn’t what happened.
When I went to Uganda I saw in bright, bold colors the truth painted on this world in unmistakable brushstrokes: God is capable of running this whole show without me. And when I contribute for the good of others, I also contribute to the harm of others. No matter how hard I try to only do good, I also do evil.
I did the things I didn’t want to do, and didn’t do the things I wanted to do in Uganda. I hurt my friend while there. I said stupid things, which is my normal m.o. No matter how hard I try, my mouth spits out garbage. Before we even boarded the plane I had been afraid of that happening, and I had told God of my fears, and He had assured me that “my sister” would forgive me. He didn’t assure me that I wouldn’t hurt anyone, just that I would be forgiven, as my little girls forgive each other. That’s the state of affairs around here. There’s no guarantee from God that I’ll do good, only that He will clean up the mess.
Sometimes I just want to give up on this whole Christianity thing. I fail so miserably at it all the time and all my efforts to be good and do good are stupid and worthless and the more I know of God’s goodness and effortless constant love, the more I realize I am never going to get it right. The more I am aware of my own backwardness. I’m busted, and I can’t do right.
It’s hard on me. To fall so short all the time and to know that I’ll never be able to fix it. To know so obviously that I need help and to know equally plainly that I can’t fix myself. I wonder sometimes if I should keep going on trips around the world, or if I just hermit up and stay home. Forever. Maybe then I will hurt fewer people. I’d like to be an author someday, but I wonder if this should be avoided at all cost, because then at the very least only a few people will know the extent of my messed-up-ness.
The more I know about Jesus’ goodness and my own inadequacies, the more I want to throw in the towel, because I’m sure I give Him a bad name…. But somehow the opposite keeps happening. Somehow Jesus just keeps drawing me to Himself to tell me, louder and louder, the full extent of His love for me. I keep seeing the perfect love of Jesus, and I keep failing at loving the way He does, and He keeps loving me louder and louder to drown out the noise of my shame and guilt and failure. I want to run and hide, but instead I have been forcing myself to face the music and lean, like dead weight, on the cross that Jesus is lugging up that hill. His grace has to be sufficient, because I am so completely insufficient.
This week I haven’t even been trying. I haven’t been trying to be patient or loving or kind or hardworking or perfect. My house is a mess. My kids need a bath. My Bible has barely been opened. I haven’t been in prayer, or even able to focus my attention on Jesus for more than a few minutes. I have not gone outside except to get the mail twice in 7 days, and to take the trash out a couple times. My big girls have not done any school this week. I’ve logged a record number of hours on the couch watching Netflix. I have contributed nothing to society.
And it’s not because I’m depressed or I’ve given up. It’s because I’m sick. We all have the flu. Respiratory flu, with fever, chills, low appetite, sore throats, thick, phlegmy coughs all day and night, sore bodies, runny noses, headaches, and slow movements. 100% sick.
And it’s been glorious. I never thought that a week of being flat-out miserably sick could be such a lovely week. In a thousand little ways I am so deeply aware of my worth and rank in God’s opinion. So many things have been so simple and beautiful and enjoyable in this week of misery, and my Lovely Jesus has taken special time to tell me and show me that I am dearly loved even if I am not trying hard to contribute.
Yesterday afternoon I was tired and slothful but I needed to make supper, so I prayed that God would give me strength to do what I needed to do. I immediately thought to put some music on, so I opened up Google Play Music and chose a playlist I thought I’d listened to a bunch of times already. I prayed that God would give me good music. He knows I like upbeat, interesting music with good lyrics, a musical sound, and lots of variety. Sometimes I hear the same songs over and over again and I get bored. Top 40 stations annoy me.
But yesterday I opened a station I’d never heard before, and the music was fresh, lively, and lovely. Some songs were familiar favorites, but most were new, and all were just the sort of thing I like. I got through making dinner just fine. I didn’t want to turn the music off, so I got a few extra things done around the house.
I had a really horrible morning on Tuesday, and messaged a sister-in-law to ask for prayer. She brought over chicken noodle soup. It was so lovely. You know, God cares for me. I wish I had time to care for all of my friends and family, to help people other than my immediate family, but God sends people to care for me, and He shows me He understands where I am at.
Today I danced with the babies. Dancing with babies can be done while sick because babies are not very footloose dancers. They mostly just bob up and down. Lily was doing some really fancy footwork and she actually moved in a circle. It took all her concentration. When I got tired was about the time they got bored, but I still managed to snuggle and slow dance with them a little. It was mutually enjoyed. I got boogers on my sweatshirt, but it was so worth it.
Jesus told me to stop trying to achieve so much, and to just care for my family this year, and I am constantly surprised at the joy of this little role. I think that I can easily miss the point within my home though, and I have enjoyed this departure from the busyness of taking care of 4 active littles (I’m now taking care of 4 inactive littles). It shows me that even when nothing is happening, my worth never changes. My worth is so wrapped up in Jesus and the price He chose to purchase me for, rather than the things I try so hard to do.
My value as a believer is not in that I am good at following Jesus, but that He chose me. That’s the only thing I can say every day is true. Not “I did good today.” or, “I was a great person” but, “Jesus chose me before I was born. He values me.” and, “Jesus died for me. He thought it was worth it to pay for me with His life. His life for mine.” That remains true no matter how well I do or how much I do or how much you or anyone else notices that I did anything at all. My worth is Christ Himself.
Uganda did not add to my worth as a person, through my excellent deeds, as I hoped it would. But, in ways least expected, God did add to my worth through the things I experienced on that trip. I hurt my friend on Thursday, but four days later, Monday, my 30th birthday – and possibly the longest day I have lived (it was something like 34 hours long) – God blessed me in so many over-the-top ways that I was forced to realize that He did not see my blunders as any barrier to His decision to love me.
Starting at 4:30 in the morning, in an airplane over northern Africa, and spread throughout the day, I received gifts from friends, family, and complete strangers. I received birthday wishes and hugs, was sung to, got to see a new city (beautiful Amsterdam!) on foot and by train (the best ways to see a new city), connected with new people, was spared from two potential car accidents that would have both been my fault, arrived home earlier than expected, got to hug and play with my littles (they’d have been asleep if I’d arrived 20 minutes later), came home to a house cleaned by my in-laws, and two days worth of food, including cheesecake, to eat. It was my best birthday so far, because of the great love that the Father lavished on me.
The only time God has chosen to speak to me in person – by this I mean that one day God showed up in my room and spoke in the big, scary, fall-on-your-face-in-terror voice that the Bible sometimes talks about with the term “angel of the Lord” – was when I was working part-time as a bookkeeper, living with two roommates, was afraid I’d never be able to have kids, and I’d barely started to listen to God at all. And do you know what He told me? That I was in the plan He has for me. Before I saw any potential in myself, and when I even doubted that God had a plan for me because my life was so completely, unutterably boring, God told me in no uncertain terms that I was right where He wanted me. I was terrified. Once I could think anything other than, “Oh my gosh, God is Huge! Oh my gosh, God is Terrifying!” I was blown away by the love that would motivate Him to take time out of His busy life to meet me where I was and answer my question: “Am I even in the plan You have for me?”
Because God does not see as we see, and He does not do as we do, He isn’t limited in His love or plan by our shortcomings or difficulties. Or limited by our sicknesses. Even in the midst of flu symptoms and used tissues, I feel the great love of the Father being lavished on me this week. I feel my value in the eyes of my Savior. I feel His hand reaching out to make my mistakes into His victories. He does not love me because I am great or good or rich or famous. He loves me because He loves me. He considers it worth His time to love me, even though I am nobody.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” 1 John 3:1