“I saw a child crying;
amidst every drop was a shimmer of hope.”
Each Thursday, I like to listen to a podcast called, “On Being.” A few weeks ago, I heard featured guest Maria Popova talk about her philosophy of life. In her discussion with the interviewer, Maria compared the process of living to that of an old attic. The attic is a place we fill with keepsakes, collectables, junk of any variety, treasures, weathered photographs, and anything else of the like. The point she was getting at was that our lives mimic attics: each person’s life is filled with the things most relevant to his/her existence at different moments in life. The process of living is then to consistently go through the “replacement struggle” – to clean out our life’s attics and remove the old things which, in a metaphorical sense may include old relationships, bad habits, unhealthy diets – no longer relevant to the here-and-now – and replace them with the parts of our lives we want to be relevant.
Recently, I did my own “attic cleaning” of sorts – and by this I mean the physical type of cleaning where I went through every crevice of my bedroom and threw out all the items I no longer wanted to keep. In doing this, an ironic thing happened: I went through old family photos and realized how much truth there is to the cliche, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Looking at a picture from my 9th birthday definitely brought that cliche ringing with resounding clarity to the forefront of my mind. I gasped with delight at the hilarious expression on my 9 year-old face, and thought to myself, “Surely, I haven’t changed at all!” A similar thought arose in me when I looked through old journals I had written in as a teen. Flipping through those pages from my high school years left me with a somber feeling, specifically around the area of self-worth. I read page after page of moments where I criticized and even hated myself for the mistakes I made day to day. That was when I thought, “Oh my God… I really haven’t changed.”
On dark days in my life, it is my nature to think back over all the mistakes I’ve made. Thinking of my weak moments in life makes me furious with myself. It is then hard to ward off thoughts like, “When will I get things right?” And I find myself placing my self-worth on my inability to be perfect, essentially to never make mistakes or make the same mistakes. Sometimes, in dark instances such as these, I am able to realize usually through the comfort of close friends and family, that just like everyone else in the world, part of me is broken. This is the part of myself that I will refer to as my “wounded inner child.”
Part of the reason why I am so hard on myself stems from being bullied as a kid by other black kids, for the darkness of my skin color. Internalizing people’s remarks about the way I look made me hate myself and left me wondering most of the time, what I could do to please people so they would stop making fun of me. As an adult, I still carry this sense of questioning and am not always entirely aware that I am questioning my self-worth. It is only after making mistakes in my life, specifically with relationships with other people, that I realize I have rationed part of myself off to another person because deep-down, my wounded inner child is asking herself what she has to do to be “good enough.”
It is hard for me to love my wounded inner child, the part of me that craves love and acceptance from other people. This is because being aware of my inner child makes me feel incredibly vulnerable and weak. And, although I know I posses some self-strength, I do not want to admit that I am not as strong as I want to be or believe myself to be. In reality, none of us are. This idea of weakness makes myself and countless others feel uncomfortable, because how can we love the part of ourselves that is so weak?
What, then is the resolve?
The resolve is then to have a foundation that we constantly refer to in moments of weakness. This foundation has to be solid, rooted in something greater than ourselves, that doesn’t rely on our own talents, aspirations, or the approval of others to prove that we are indeed worth-filled individuals. My foundation is in Jesus Christ.
As a follower of Jesus, a christian, making Christ the foundation for my worth as a person is tremendously difficult, mostly because of my innate human desire to “be my own god.” But, when I endeavor to find my worth in Christ, it means that I try to see myself the way my Creator sees me. It turns out that Jesus doesn’t hate me for my mistakes (or what christians refer to as sin). In fact, through careful study of the bible, I’ve learned that Jesus loves the sinner – me the mistake-maker – even though he knows all of the things that I’ve done wrong in my life – the dreadful things. The idea that he would love me, is a hard thing to grasp. If you know me personally you might be wondering, “Danyealah, what could you have done in your life that was so awful?” My answer to you is that it is not what I have done, per say, but my inability to “not do” – essentially my inability to not do things right all the time.
Finding my self-worth in Christ is a daily struggle and it is an intimate exchange in which I admit to Him that I am powerless to change on my own, and that by my own standards, I would continue to beat myself up for not being able to stop beating myself up (confusing, I know). Learning to love myself, comes a bit easier when I reference Psalm 139, a chapter in the bible where King David of Israel speaks of the intimacy of knowing God personally. David doesn’t talk about how God hates the fact that David “never gets things right” – this is not God’s character. Instead, David reveals that God loves him deeply, knowing every single thing that David has ever done, and how God fully accepts the person that David is. I am learning that this is how God sees me also. Shuffling through the attic of my own life means doing away with my modus operandi of beating myself up when I make mistakes, or from a christian perspective, when I sin. As I shuffle out of that old way of thinking, I place into my life’s attic a new way of loving myself and learning to trust my foundation in Christ Jesus.
My invitation to you as my reader is to go through a “cleaning” of your own life’s attic. Go through the skeletons, the dust, and dig deeply into your own pain, your history of struggle. Ask yourself, “What is my foundation?” If this is an idea you are wrestling with, then as you shufffle through it, rest soundly assured that there is nothing you could ever do to make God stop loving you – even if you’re not a beliver. If you are a christian, my invitation to you is the same: find your self-worth in Christ and rest soundly assured that this is where your personhood, your identity is found.