He’s loved me through a lot, you know.
When we married 16 years ago—I at 19, he at 20—I was cripplingly insecure. It was as if I’d wrapped a leash around my neck, panting to be led by someone’s opinions.
The quick-and-dirty version of my downward spiral: I’d always been an achiever, loved appreciation; admiration. I was good at it. (Most of us are good at hunting what we crave.) My opinion of God, even, became tightly braided with what others saw and praised.
The summer before my freshman year of high school I intensely realized of this idea of pouring out oneself, of being a servant—still core to how I personally worship God. Unfortunately—still by God’s design—this collided with a “mean girls” experience in high school, complete with braces, those lovely pubescent extra pounds: the works. Though I managed to climb out by my sophomore year—now several pounds lighter—I knew unequivocally which side of the social gauntlet I’d rather be on.
I transformed from outspoken, creative, melodramatic youth—think Anne of Green Gables here—to what I considered a more likable, demure, others-centered Christian servant preferring to divert attention. I refused to wear red, to volunteer opinions. I couldn’t identify what I wanted any longer. At my Christian college, fueled by my passion to wholeheartedly serve God, pleasing Him hinged in my mind on laying down my life for my friends as Jesus did.
But the hurricane of everyone’s opinions began to swallow me. I’d already begun to notice I could at least control the food that went into my body, and thus what others thought of my appearance. By the time I got to college, I closer than I’d like to admit to anorexia. (Psychologically, anorexics tend toward self-criticism, perfectionism, and drivenness to succeed.)
I remember my father uttering, “Just eat!”
I also remember mentally replying, You have no idea what you’re asking of me.
This is about so much more than food.
Jeremiah 2:13 reads,
For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
John Calvin, too, wrote that our hearts are idol-making factories. I completely identify with this, since as I matured in Christ, my sin found more devious and “spiritual” places to hide; to fill its sucking holes.
Idols always begin with a very good desire, usually a God-given one. But that progresses to a demand—something we must have, yet don’t trust God for.
But then, I met a young man with a head-turning degree of confidence and understanding for a college student. A contemplative introvert, he was not the flashiest kid on campus, leading a Bible study or turning heads with his service projects. But he was more comfortable that way. John cared more for learning than grades, authenticity than appearances, loving others than position.
I nearly turned him away. I wanted to be “sold out” for God and available for ministry. Certainly that meant without the distraction of love.
Still, John loved both God and myself straightforwardly. He didn’t fawn over me or my accomplishments or my character in admiration, didn’t play games, didn’t take the bait when I was fishing for a compliment, didn’t accept less-than-forthright answers I crafted in fear of disapproval. He actually disliked the version of me I’d crafted so others would like me more. For incomprehensible reasons, he liked the nerdy girl underneath a whole lot better. He even carried visions of who she could be if she (gasp!) got out.
Which was not gonna happen.
The truth was—and is—I did yearn to truly help people in a lasting, large-scale capacity. But did I want to help them because I thought it made me valuable?
Insecure relationships are always trying to fill a gap. They find a place of steady, secure equilibrium by building up self—building up ego—because they are performance-based. They thrive in a place of superiority, of having something to contribute or admire. (Insecurity’s other alias: pride.) The antidote to insecurity is not, in my mind, “self-esteem”–but humility: Seeing myself exactly as He sees me; no greater, no less. For me, steeped in Christian culture, this looked like being the one to serve, sensitive to everyone’s needs. It’s more blessed to give than to receive, right?
But being the supreme Giver is the role that God Himself holds.
Pride isolated me from vulnerably exposing the portions of my heart that most needed unconditional love in mutual relationships. At the deepest level, it kept me from receiving a display of the Gospel where “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
It was becoming apparent I had two masters—people (that is, indirectly, myself) and God. My adoration of something other than God had robbed me and the people I loved of so much already. It had embezzled my joy, peace, and trust in God’s promises of unswerving love and His ability to be enough.
Fortunately, my true Master is jealous for me. So is my husband. The two of them directed me back to the Living Water. My husband set the tone for the true fellowship of 1 John 1 by being authentic.
He talked honestly about his own sin, creating an environment of safety. He acknowledged our dependence on God’s exclusive perfection. He wrapped me with acceptance: not out of flattery, but out of love despite my gold stars—and despite the ways I crashed and burned. We laughed at and prayed over our glaring weaknesses. His determination to have a marriage in which we were both “naked and unashamed” in every way transformed us. Transformed me.
John praised displays of my God-given uniqueness; my creativity, especially began to creep, blossoming, out of its hiding place as I finally gained courage. And creativity is so much of who God formed me to be. I highly suspect that I would have missed out on many of the good works God created in advance for me to do had He not intervened through John.
God’s re-creation of me from self-made victim to God-created victor is still emerging. Old habits of fear can still threaten the vitality and stability of my faith in God and His undeserved favor. I can fear others’ evaluation any part of myself or my kids. Or I think too highly of myself and my dreams for significance, or I can’t say no to people, so my schedule becomes overburdened. And now, in a dream that I thought I’d never find—Africa—I am tempted to find my identity in my sense of purpose.
Yet rather than to my undying appetites, my service to these incredible people and my family and others is now far more in service of the Bread of Life—in whom I am finally satisfied.
Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…
I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
Do you or someone you love struggle with insecurity? What–or who–has helped you, and how?
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