Teacher's pet. Straight-A student. Valedictorian. Commencement speaker. I was all of them and more growing up...from wowing my kindergarten teacher with handwritten stories to shaking hands with the dean of nursing at my college as she offered me a future job. I'm grateful for these opportunities and accomplishments, but there's a dark side to them.
I grew up addicted to achievement. I craved success, perfectionism, and the resulting praise. I unknowingly became a believer in performance-based acceptance.
When I became a young adult post college, life wasn't quite so simple. You could work hard, research and study incessantly, do all the right things...but success didn't always happen. Life got messy. In a span of a year, I had a broken engagement, a diagnosis that could cause infertility, and had moved out on my own as a result of (what felt like) my parents selling my childhood home out from under me.
I was broken. I didn't understand how all of this could have happened to me when I was doing everything right. That season of life was one of the most painful and one of the most growth...but isn't that the way life goes? I learned so much about the false but deep roots of performance-based acceptance. Feeling broken was the best thing that ever happened to me because all of a sudden I really needed God. And needed grace. I was letting go of the perfect and finding peace. I was seeing my imperfections, my messiness, my lack of control, and my inability to orchestrate life. But I was also experiencing deep mercy, joyful freedom, and powerful unconditional love.
I learned that God loved me for who I was, not what I did.
Fast forward a few years or ten. I fall in love again. I get married. We buy a house. All good gifts from above. I'm grateful. We're surrounded by a large faithful community. Life is good. God is good.
But then we have a miscarriage. More diagnoses and treatment. We go on to have two more beautiful (and living) children. Life happens. The house breaks down. Sometimes the marriage breaks down. Daily life is hard and mundane. Motherhood is hard and taxes me physically, emotionally, mentally. Is life still good? Is God still good? Does God still love me when I'm selfish and whiny and ungrateful for my blessings? Yes, yes He does. You learned this years ago, remember?
But maybe the bigger question is do I still love God?
In the hard moments, I wonder why He doesn't fix things that are broken, heal things that are wounded, give things that are desired, take away things that are unwanted. I don't want to love Him until He does.
And then I realize I only learned part of the lesson ten years before.
In the deep parts of my soul, I realize that perhaps I've learned that God loves me for who I am and not what I do...but that I haven't learned to love Him for who He is instead of what He does (or does not).
If my relationship with Him is merely about the things I want fixed, healed, given, and taken...then my relationship with Him is performance-based acceptance. The very thing I tried so hard to get away from.
He is always good. He is always giver. He is always grace. He deserves every part of my heart and every ounce of my love and more-- simply for who He is. Goodness itself. Love itself. When I focus on who He is, there is no need to focus on what He does or does not. He is enough. His love is enough. And then life is enough once again.
Life is beautiful again.