Driving to church last night, I gave myself a pep talk. You know, Jill, if the classroom isn’t full, that doesn’t mean you failed. You know that, right? Have you been obedient in what you feel the Lord is leading you to teach? Yes, I replied to myself. Have you loved the women in your class? Yes, to the best of my ability. Then you’ve done what’s expected of you. Walk in obedience; leave the rest to the Lord.
The pep talk allayed my anxiety for a total of about 5 minutes. Then at church my mind was racing again. In the classroom I began to get nervous as only a few of my friends came in. The five that were there I love and adore. I’m so grateful for them and I tried my best to present the lesson in a posture of ministry, to serve them.
But on the inside I was gripped with insecurity. On a good day we have 3-4 times that many women. The drop in attendance over the past few months had caused me much anxiety already, and I had just changed the lessons – writing my own Bible study for the class – hoping for a fresh start.
“Where is everyone?” I said as nonchalantly as I could. I hoped my voice wasn’t cracking at the burden I was feeling.
You see, I’ve realized recently that I tend to put too much faith in my performance, both for God and for people. All my life I’ve been an achiever. I put my mind to my studies and was valedictorian in high school and graduated from college summa cum laude. I put my mind to my work and became a department manager at age 23, a job I loved and excelled at for almost a decade.
So because I subconsciously tie everything I set out to do directly to my ability to carry out my goal, clearly the attendance at the class I teach is a direct result of how well I’ve performed, either as a teacher or as a friend. Or both. The empty chairs testified that I was failing somehow.
I happened to read this today that pretty much sums me up:
We observe and interpret reactions through our own messed-up filters so that whatever is going on with others ultimately comes back around to us.” —Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life
I began to teach my lesson not in the confidence in the Word I was presenting or in the message I had imperfectly crafted. I taught it with trembling. I worried with every word I spoke that I was saying something wrong (or worse, that I actually was wrong), or that my words would be analyzed and criticized silently. (Which is ridiculous because the women in that class are amazing and loving. Even if I taught that the world was flat they would smile and nod and know my heart and love me anyway.)
I left church as quickly as I could, feeling completely defeated. The chorus of voices began clamoring in my head like a 3-year-old with cymbals. I began wondering what this person thought of my lesson, wondering why that person didn’t come, wondering if I had failed to love or failed to create a good enough lesson.
I even in desperation texted a close friend who was absent telling her how much I missed her. Immediately after hitting “send,” I felt guilty because while I had missed her, my text at that moment wasn’t about her; it was about me. In my text I was begging, “Please make me feel better about myself here. Please validate me.” What a horrible friend I was in that moment.
And then the condemning voices started. How self-absorbed are you, Jill, that you even think these things. As if everything is about you. Have you thought about thinking outside yourself for once?
Can you tell I was an absolute mess?
I picked up my phone after giving the kids a bath, hoping to see a return text. I stared at the blank screen, and God’s Spirit quietly spoke, You know I’m not going to let her text you back tonight, right?
Like a mischievous puppy returning to her master with her tail between her legs, I replied, “Yeah, I know, because I’m looking for her approval and clearly I have not learned that your approval is all I need.”
We’re back to the same old enemy I’ve battled all my life. When will it be conquered already?
Through the clutter of my condemning thoughts, I heard the Spirit whisper again, Jill, I’m not going to fill that classroom until you learn to be content to seek my approval alone. I want you to be just as faithful leading 5 as leading 15 or 500. (Yes, I have big dreams and He knows them full well.)
This back and forth discourse continued much of the evening between my condemning thoughts and the truth of the Spirit.
One of the most beautiful moments – and the sole reason I’m daring to even admit all of this – came out of the most ugly. I was so aware at that moment what a mess I am. How weak I am. How sinful I am.
“But while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you.” The verse came out of nowhere.
I had memorized this verse – Romans 5:8 – as a child. Most of us who grew up in church are so familiar with it that its meaning has lost its punch over the years. But last night, punch me it did. Walking in the middle of my bedroom it brought me to a complete halt.
God showed his love for me by loving me – by sending Christ to die for me – when I had nothing to offer. When I could do nothing to perform for him. When I was dead in my sins (Ephesians 2:5).
God loves me as I am, mess and all! I don’t have to earn his approval. I don’t have to perform for his grace. I don’t have to check all the boxes of righteousness to get an “attagirl.” He loves me just the way I am, even (perhaps especially) on days when I feel like I am the worst of sinners. Even when I can’t see the light past my own issues.
And he loved me enough not to let me get one piece of outside validation while he met me in my mess. He was drawing me to himself. He still is.
This afternoon tears flowed uncontrollably in the aisle of Hobby Lobby. I was gathering supplies for Drew’s Valentine’s Day box and I received a sweet reply text from my friend that I had texted last night. She had meant to text me the night before.
My tears weren’t because of her words, as sweet as they were. My tears flowed because I knew God had stepped in and prevented her from texting me last night. My heart was full from a love so great that he pursues me and steps into the tiniest of details.
My road is far from over, but in the last 24 hours I’ve watched as my Father has disciplined me with love. It hurt. Gosh, it hurt. And the growing pains aren’t over I’m certain. But I can see more clearly the path He is taking me on. It’s a path where my motivation springs from my relationship with Christ and my approval rests in the hands of Him who has already approved me – as is – but loves me too much to let me stay that way.
For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NLT)
I hope my transparency in this post doesn’t make you think I’m a complete nutcase. I guess if you do you would be partly right. 🙂 But if you appreciated my honesty and don’t already receive my posts via email, click here to have 1-2 delivered each week. I’d love for you to join me in my journey, as imperfect and messed up as it is.