Silently, I work my way through a Peanut-Butter- Stuffed Chocolate Rabbit and listen to the sounds of car engines and clock ticks and chirping birds. With each reverberation my devastation mounts, and I’m faced with a very real, demanding question:
Have I failed?
I’m not speaking in terms of school grades. I’m speaking in the raw terms of humanity, the expectations we have for ourselves and for others. There’s an inner struggle in all of us that begs the question of good enough and if we’re meeting it. There’s a standard for work. There’s a standard for family. School, relationships, self. Have I accomplished enough? Have I accomplished anything at all?
If I measured myself by the person I was just a few years ago, the answer is no. As an independent, accomplished woman, I measured myself by my accolades. Honors. 4.0s. Academic Achievements. Race medals. Selected for competitive jobs, scholarships, and special study abroad trips. I was blessed of course- but I figured that it was MY hard work and MY dedication and MY positive attitude that got me where I wanted to be. Back then I could look in the mirror and be okay with myself because I had pieces of paper that claimed I was an “exceptional” person. My family was so proud of me- and since I respected them more than anyone in the world, they had to be right, right?
Now, the papers are gone. I can’t look at them without feeling sickening disappointment, like a burnout football player who threw an interception to lose the State finals. No one will talk to me about work unless it’s a passing comment about how I’m “doing something anyone can do” and I “wasted money on a college education” because I stay home with my son and sub part time. My exceptional reflection has faded and I don’t know what I see when I look at myself.
I do know, however, that no matter how badly I want to be defined by Earthly accomplishments, self-esteem will never be that easy. People (like me) hold fast to the belief that money and power and accomplishments bring you satisfaction in life, but if you can’t bear existence as the person you are, you cannot be happy in the realm of consciousness known as your heart. The very core of me wants to hold on to something that tells me I have a worthwhile reality. I want so badly to know I am good enough because someone says that I am. That kind of security cannot come from any degree of award or exceptional label. I should be able to love my life without having to be acknowledged as worthy by somebody else.
Yet the struggle continues. My theory is that the self-acceptance I long for comes from God alone. I will never be good enough for Him; He loves me unceasingly anyway. Jesus died for me before I served inner city children or won a scholarship- He believed that humanity was worthwhile (though we can never truly be worthy). A priest told me a few weeks ago that “There is no Best. There is Okay and there is Better. Don’t let Best ruin your Better.” It’s clear that by placing my self-worth into the hands of society or even family members I become a slave to the unattainable Best. It kills my ability to love my life, my circumstances, and myself. It makes what should be a curve in the road become a deadly car wreck, leaving me unable to move on after I have “failed” at something.
I am an expert in nothing (except perhaps the ingestion of chocolate peanut-butter animals). I only know that I can’t be happy with my life OR my accomplishments if I’m doing them to feel good about myself in some way. Life’s successes are fleeting, leading us constantly on the search for more and leaving us empty when we come up short. I believe the purpose of our lives is serving Christ. In seeing ourselves the way He sees us we can do so knowing that both our triumphs and our seemed failures are being used for His glory. If we love Jesus and we’re glorifying Him constantly- how could we be unhappy?