Mary Grace and I are in my Ford Escape driving on 700 E, I think heading home from dinner at Ben and Rachel’s on a Monday night, I can’t quite remember.
MG snags my phone and the aux cable like she always does when we’re in my car. She says she has a new song to show me. It’s by Jon Bellion, her favorite artist, who had come out with a new album a few days prior. I like that she likes Jon Bellion, too. Some people crap on Jon Bellion.
What if who I hoped to be was always me?
And the love I fought to feel was always free?
What if all the things I've done
Were just attempts at earning love?
'Cause the hole inside my heart is stupid deep
The song mostly repeats these phrases for three minutes. It’s dark out, so neither of us notice the other has tears in her eyes until it ends. The rest of the drive, we talk about the ways we’ve been striving, the things we’ve been trying to fill our stupid deep, God-shaped hearts with lately.
I think the tears come because the lines are freeing “what if’s.” In this season in particular, they are words that embraced me with a hug I didn’t know I needed.
I’ve long waffled between extreme pride and extreme self-deprecation. Pride when I succeed. Self-deprecation when I fail. Either way, I’m my own worst enemy who will never be fully satisfied with my performance. I am imperfect and designed to stumble – so why would I stake my life on my own merit and ability? Why should I continue to strive, knowing that I will never realize my futile idea of perfection? What if who I am at this moment is all that is required of me?
What if who I hoped to be was always me?
And why measure my worth based on other people, whose approval will ultimately fail me, too? Their opinions – good or bad – are fleeting, fall short of my expectations, breed a reliance on the words and actions of others towards me. Be it praise from the attorneys I work for. My family’s approval of my decision-making. A test score. A double tap.
I think I’ve spent most of my life focused on these two things: what I think of myself and what others think of me. Which is weird, because if you had asked me four months ago if I consider myself a people pleaser I would come back with an “Absolutely not.” I’ve taken pride (there it is again) in being independent in thought, word, action. Those types of girls don’t need your opinion. They didn’t ask you.
But I care more than I let on. Most people care more than they let on.
The gross reality I’m learning is that trying to maintain appearances, trying to maintain perfectionism, is incredibly self-centered. Because it’s entirely focused on ways I can glorify myself, not glorify the God I claim to serve. The God who says His power is made perfect in weakness, not strength. The God who says his grace is sufficient for me.
What if the love I fought to feel was always free?
In his essay “The Weight of Glory,” which I read for this first time this month, C.S. Lewis speculates what the believer’s first moments in eternity might look like, when the only approval that truly matters is finally gained:
“...What may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him who she was created to please. There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that is her doing with no taint of what we should now call self-approval. She will most innocently rejoice in the thing God has made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferior complex forever will also drown her pride.”
Inferiority and pride, healed and drowned. Freedom from self-promotion, self-protection, self-involvement. Approval from the One who loves me simply because I am His daughter. Because I am created in the image of the Maker of the Universe, not because of any exceptionality of my own.
This is altogether different from the messages of the world that tell us, “You haven’t done enough. You are not enough.” Our God tells us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
There’s a lot about my decision to move to Utah – to join a program many don’t understand, to be a follower of Jesus in Salt Lake, to choose to work a part-time job rather than secure a full-time gig like many of my recently-graduated friends, to take a risk in submitting law school applications for next fall – where I have worried about what the world thinks of me, how I measure up.
There a few more lines in Bellion’s song that particularly struck me in the midst of this:
What if where I've tried to go was always here?
And the path I've tried to cut was always clear?
I think the “here” I’m arriving at is a fuller understanding of Who I should be seeking approval from and, by extension, what I devote my life to: seeking to know God more, following Him in joyful obedience, being a good steward of my time and gifts, loving others well, enjoying the things He has created with thanksgiving.
I’m thankful the “here” God is using to draw me closer to His heart is SLC. And I’m thankful His path is always clearer and freer than the one we pave ourselves.