My emotional and mental struggles were a bit too convoluted to solve on my own, so I started seeing a therapist several months ago. I see him almost weekly because of the depths of entanglement within me. His evidence-based approach is refreshing, as he uses science, physiology of the brain and brain chemistry, and research-based methods from years of experience and studies to give useful solutions. There are reasons, there are answers, and there are tools to help solve them.
And you know what comes up Every. Single. Week? “This comes from your strict religious upbringing that there is always a right and a wrong, a black and a white, that you are always either passing or failing. There is always a person (god) to whom you must answer. Nothing you ever do is just for yourself, you must always be selfless in serving another.” –There are several themes mentioned there, but one remains: Religion has completely messed me up.
This week, we talked about the following:
My constant need to be busy is a control mechanism I implement as a means to try to relieve my overarching anxiety in my life. An anxiety that stems from the fact that my sense of self-worth is always, always in flux. Why??? Because of Jesus.
I have to be constantly performing, everything I’m doing is seen as a pass/fail (usually ending up failing) because my ultimate worth IS NOT INHERENT, but is rather a result of my productivity. Another reason I turn to productivity, always needing to fill every single moment of my day to be as busy as possible… because at the end of the day, if I wasn’t productive and intentional, I failed.
What’s interesting about this concept is that even as a Christian, I knew the upper layers of modern theology that contradicted this feeling. Do you know how many times we got preached to (and even in deep, personal conversations with fellow Christians!) that we are enough, that God loves us no matter what, that his grace is sufficient, that nothing we could ever do would wipe away his love for us, etc. One visual metaphor has still stuck with me: My friend Melissa told me, “You know Teal, even if you just sat in a corn field for the rest of your life and did absolutely nothing, God would still love you?”
That imagery still moves me and actually brings tears to my eyes. But not because I believe in god, but because it is a message that hadn’t really ever sunk in — my worth is inherent and unwavering.
So why the contradiction? Was I just totally off-the-wall as a Christian, in the extremes of self-loathing while everyone else lived in this magical world of grace? Was I an anomaly, and outlier?
I don’t think so. I think that my story rang true with the vast majority, if not every, Christian, because it is a story that runs deep in the blood and theology of Christianity. Why else do Christians fall on their knees at the altar, at the “feet of Christ” sobbing with sorrow for sin and then the joy of forgiveness they receive? What the hell is with that sorrow? And how is that joy only something that comes from something outside themselves (Jesus)? It IS Christianity.
Grace and infallible worth came as a modern response to the self-depreciation that original sin and atonement brought. There is no Christianity without the idea of original sin and atonement. THAT is it’s founding principle.
The idea of grace is a superficial one and is an absolute contradiction. “God loves you so much DESPITE your nasty sinful self that he sent his perfect son to be slaughtered FOR YOU. So no, you don’t HAVE to do ANYTHING because he was already TORTURED and KILLED for you, so yeah, his blood is ON YOU.” So much grace. Thank you for slaughtering this innocent human to cover up all my horrible self. I was born horrible. And I will die horrible, without his blood.
THAT IS NOT SELF WORTH. That is completely, COMPLETELY the opposite. I am ONLY valuable because someone else was freaking SLAUGHTERED for me. Otherwise I would burn in hell. But thank GOD that I can sit in a cornfield now and be loved. (WTH loved?????) while I have the image of a tortured human bleeding on me. That makes me feel soooooo much better.
“You suck. But god loves you in spite of or even because of (which is even more messed up) your suckiness.”
The worth of a Christian is not defined by his or herself. It is ONLY defined through the sacrifice of another person. I am not enough. Not on my own. Only with Jesus. It. Is. The. Opposite. Of. Grace.
And now I’m spending $75 per week on a therapist to try to convince me I am worth it, just myself. That I don’t have to be anxious 100% of the time and depressed 50% of the time. That I can be happy and free, because I can sit in a cornfield and have worth. Not because of anyone else. Not for anyone else. Just because. And that is the HARDEST truth for me to believe.