I mentioned earlier in this series that I was just about to enter my junior year in college when I came face to face with a truth about my lifelong faith: I didn’t really understand it in a personal way. One of the most true and heartfelt prayers that I’d ever uttered up to that point came out: “God, please teach me my need for Jesus and for grace.”
This took me on a very long journey.
Through the reading of that book and the realization that I really didn’t get what grace really was, I started to examine so much about my life — the way I felt, the way I thought, the way I acted, and what was underneath all of that feeling and thinking and acting.
I became quite overwhelmed with the realities I encountered inside of me. For about two years, I went deep inside myself to learn what was there. And what I learned — which I’d not really grappled with before — was how much everything I did was rooted in perfectionism and performance. Everything — and I mean everything — was tied to an urgent need to do things perfectly, to shine, and to be loved in all that shininess.
This bled into my life with God, too.
Once I saw that my life with others and with God was based so wholistically on performance, I put on the brakes. I stopped doing. I stopped performing. I stopped going, going, going. I barely went to church. I stopped connecting to God in the usual ways I’d always done. I let myself curse out loud for the first time in my adult life, and I contemplated what it would be like to take up smoking. (This may sound silly, but it’s true.)
All of this was part of a lived prayer: God, show me that you love me beyond my performance. Teach me what it means to be unconditionally loved by you.
Two years into this journey, I graduated college and started working full-time. Pretty quickly out of the gate, I was working two jobs — one full-time and one part-time — and I came face to face with the reality of my anxiety struggle.
I think I was made acutely aware of my anxiety struggle at that time because I’d spent the previous two years realizing how performance-based my entire life had been. I was in the midst of trying to learn God’s unconditional love for me instead — how to be loved beyond my functions and accomplishments — but was suddenly working 60+ hours every week and trying to learn how to be a professional for the very first time.
Cue anxiety and struggle and pain and turmoil and fear. Every. Single. Day.
One night, I spent an evening with a group of female college students. They were enrolled in the honors program for which I was the adjunct faculty director of the writing program. They were hosting a discussion night with all the female faculty of the program, and each of the faculty were invited to bring one of our favorite books around which to host a small group discussion with the female students.
At the time, my favorite book was Denise Levertov’s collection, The Stream and the Sapphire, so I photocopied a few of my favorite poems from the collection and headed to the event. The female population of the program were milling about, chatting with each other and the other faculty, and I could feel the anxiety in me begin heighten. (I really am no good at small talk events.)
Then, shortly before the event was set to begin, one of the student coordinators approached me and asked if I would be willing to share my discussion group with another faculty member’s group, as only one person had signed up for my group.
Ouch. That was a humbling moment.
Another humbling moment came in the midst of the actual discussion group. The other faculty member had been able to generate with seeming ease quite a bit of discussion around the book she’d brought, even though no one in the group had read it before, but the discussion of the poems I had brought, despite having brought several for us to look at together, seemed to fall flat.
I left the event feeling so much shame.
On my drive home down the 5 freeway, I cried so hard.
I yelled at God: “What do you want from me? How do I do this? You say that you love me unconditionally, but I don’t know what that means. All I feel is failure and embarrassment. I don’t feel like I’ll ever be good enough. I don’t know how to get outside of this performance struggle.”
And somehow in the midst of all those tears and verbal explosions, something new happened.
I can’t explain how it happened, but suddenly I was in the middle of an invitation to consider all the ways that God had made me — unique and creative and particular-to-me ways of being.
My care for people.
My ability to listen well.
My love of writing.
My enjoyment of sushi.
My fear of spiders.
All of these particularities about myself started coming to mind, and I realized consciously for the first time: God made me this way, and all these particulars — no matter how big or small in size — delight him to no end. They’re what make me uniquely Christianne.
When I exited the freeway, I pulled into a fast-food parking lot, dried my eyes, and marveled at this new realization. God loves me for who I am.
Scripture tells us that Jesus is the origin of all creation. It says that everything came into being through him and that nothing came into existence without him (see John 1:3 and Colossians 1:15-18).
We were created by and through Jesus. And what he created in us — who we simply are — delights him endlessly.