Today I learned about how every experience- every person we encounter, every challenge we overcome or ignore—in other words, all the actual stuff of day-to-day existence—can elicit one of two responses: fear or love. (See the rest of Steve Carter’s message here.) So- the following story captures a journey from fear to love in my own life this week:
A few days ago I stumbled across some student feedback regarding some of the classes I taught last year before maternity leave. For the first time, students were able to provide teachers with their observations through an online survey system, and I actually just figured out how to log-on and see my comments. Long story short—some of the comments were…not positive.
I am not kidding—I thought about those comments at least once an hour for the next three days. I’ve been trying to process why they matter so much to me. And I’ve come to realize—among many other important things– that I am interpreting this experience through the lens of fear rather than love. I first recognized that the comments hurt because they targeted a core part of my identity. For the most part, these were intelligent remarks from intelligent students. And unfortunately, my intelligence is perhaps the number way I determine my self-worth. From a young age, we gravitate toward and cultivate those things in us that elicit praise (and conversely, we dismiss those other gifts in other people as not quite as worthy as ours.) As an uncoordinated, average-looking kid, I quickly learned that intelligence was the way I would make a name for myself. And—right or wrong—the praise I received from others began to define me. I think that’s why I get super shy and nervous around smart people—because their judgment really matters to me. I think most of us get nervous around the people we want to emulate; their critique counts.
It took a lot for me to actually confess (to whoever is going to read this) that smart kids offered kind comments about how I didn’t live up to be the teacher I expected to be. But I’m using this post as a confession now- I’m admitting to all of you that I’ve grown weary of living under this façade of the “intellectual” type. The truth is I’m pretty smart when it comes to a very, very, limited number of things and I’m pretty ignorant when it comes down to most everything else. Like—really stupid. About lots of basic things. Like lots. And most of you probably already knew that, but it’s kind of refreshing to be able to tell you that myself.
Are you living under the pressure of any particular façade? What sort of honest feedback would cut you to the core? What sorts of people do you get nervous around—get nervous because you respect them so much you want to be like them?
I want to remember that my worth is not determined by what I do, but by who I am. Because, you see, when I realize this, I am free to actually listen to those comments that cut me to the core instead of being scarred by them. Instead of saying, “Oh they’re just a bunch of punk kids,” or “they just don’t get what really matters”, I can actually internalize their words without being wounded by them. Because there is a part of me that cannot be touched by the words of men—call it a soul, a spirit, an identity—because that inner part of me is safe and protected by Love.
And so I guess we end with this paradox: you are not what you do, but what you do does spring from who you are. And you are—we all are—children of God. The moment we come to this realization is the moment we will stop having to prove ourselves. I’m captivated by the story of Jesus because he’s constantly saying things that turn the established order of things upside down—crazy stuff like “my power is made perfect in weakness” and “the first shall become last.” It’s crazy, beautiful words like these we should cling to when we’re tired of proving ourselves and keeping up our facades—whatever they may be.