Several years ago I went to a counselor for the first time because I had been struggling with depression for over a year. It took me awhile to admit I needed to see someone and it was only when things got really bad that I finally made the call. I remember clearly the first session in this nice woman’s office. I cried for quite awhile and then I said the only thing that I could say that would free me to share with her my struggles:
I just need you to know that I’m going to feel really bad about coming in here and talking about myself and not asking once about you. But I know I’m suppose to do that because I’m paying you for this time but I just need you to know that I do care about you and I hope that you are doing okay and that you have someone to go to, too.
Those were literally my first words to my counselor. She didn’t have to dig too much to discover my issues. At first blush, some might think I’m incredibly selfless and thoughtful. But the more telling piece is that I clearly have issues with boundaries and I’ll give you one guess as to what may have been a significant contributor to my emotional exhaustion as a minister.
I am a peace-maker by nature. I show love to others by creating “peace” in their lives. I’m supportive, encouraging, loving, your biggest champion, your strongest advocate – whatever is needed to help you feel peace. That is how I love. I’m a visual person and I often just see myself taking your heart in my hands to tenderly protect it, to heal it. (Really, it isn’t as freaky as it sounds. Okay – maybe slightly freaky.) If you leave an interaction with me feeling peaceful, I feel like I loved you well. If I created stress or didn’t help you experience calm or peace, then I feel like I failed loving you well.
This is an unhealthy way to determine whether I’ve loved well and there is no way I can keep it up. So, when I wear out, I struggle to love others well which makes me feel bad and then it is a vicious cycle. The other, perhaps, bigger part of it is that I’ve come to believe over the years that I am loved because of how I love. If I can’t love you well, will you still love me? Will you even like me? If my worth is in my ability to love others, then am I worthless when I fail to love well? Some people create an impostor self of being the life of the party; my impostor is the love of the party.
As is often the case, our relationships with others mirror our relationship with God. I often hold my hands up to God and say, “Don’t worry about me. You have so much on your plate. I can do it. Please don’t let me burden you. I got this, God.” In my heart, I feel like I’m showing God the greatest love because I’m trying to ease His burdens. I can’t stand the idea of causing Someone I love stress or pain.
But I’ve realized over the years that I believe God will love me more if I don’t burden Him. It isn’t just how I show my love. It’s how I think I earn love. Could anything be further from the Gospel?
John Eagen wrote, “We judge ourselves unworthy servants, and that judgment becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We deem ourselves too inconsiderable to be used even by a God capable of miracles with no more than mud and spit. And thus our false humility shackles an otherwise omnipotent God.”
What is most ironic, I think, is that the kind of peace that I devote myself to creating and protecting in the lives of others and myself is a false peace. It is a subjective feeling of peace, a shallow peace, it is a ‘strings attached’ peace. My need to create peace keeps true Peace at bay.
God continues to teach me about His love for me and His desire to be the One that holds and comforts me. He’s also teaching me that as I trust His love for me, I will be free to love others better – with no expectations or co-dependency. Some days I believe this, other days I forget and relapse. But the relapses are part of the healing process.
A final thought from author Shauna Niequist which speaks to me each day and perhaps it will encourage you today to remember where your true worth comes from:
“When I begin the day drenched in God’s love, that centering awareness of my worth and connection to God, the day is different. I don’t have to scramble or hustle. Fear dissipates, and what I’m left with is warmth, creativity, generosity. I can make and connect and create and tell the truth, because my worth isn’t on the line at every moment.”