I hate myself.
Not always, but it’s there. It creeps up on me on days like these, when the week’s been long and left me weary. I find myself alone and it creeps out of my bones like a long-dormant virus. Saps me of my strength. Robs me of my joy.
Every time I find myself this lonely, there’s an awful little thought that creeps in and whispers like a nemesis, “It’s because nobody wants you. It’s because you aren’t good enough. You never will be.”
Far back as I can recall, I’ve never been the best at anything. Never been the strongest; nor the fastest; nor the funniest; not the smartest. I’ve always felt a few steps behind. I grew up knowing that, feeling its sting everyday. Felt it slow me down, hold me back. All my life, I’ve hesitated to try anything new, especially in front of other people, mostly because I’m scared. I’m scared of the pain and shame and ridicule. I’m scared of failing. I’m scared it won’t be perfect, won’t be good enough. I live my life in the quiet conviction that there’s always someone who could do what I do better. I’ve written a novel (a novel!) and I’ve constantly wondered how much better it’d be if my brother Robert wrote it instead.
“He was always the creative one. Sharp and brilliant. Funny too,” my nemesis whispers. “He’d have done it better. Faster too! You’re not like him. You’re not that good.”
These lonely nights, I sit and wait and ache for something I can’t even explain. I hit up facebook like a crack pipe and see all the fun everyone else is having, without me.
“See? They don’t really want you around. You’re only a burden. You’re just not good enough, Joe.”
Then I find a mirror and see a 28-year-old man, confused and balding before he understood the value of a good head of hair. I run through this list of things I want, but have never had: a sense of belonging, a place to call my own, a pair of arms to hold me.
“And you never will…”
When I’m tired and alone, I don’t have the strength to fight of the demons and keep the doubts at bay. They emerge, from whence I do not know, and they whisper, “You’re not good enough, Joe. Never have been. Never will be.”
I live my life expecting rejection. Expecting people to get close and past my guard, realize I’m just faking it. Realize there’s a reason I’m always alone. And they’ll leave me too. Because, if we’re gonna be honest, rejection hurts. Doesn’t matter where it’s found. Brothers, sisters, girlfriends, parents, teachers, preachers, peers, or friends. Take your pick. Rejection cuts deep.
Without ever knowing I chose it, I let rejection define me. I don’t see the things I’ve done; I only see what I haven’t. I’ve never lived completely self-sufficiently. I’ve never kissed a girl. I’ve never felt like I fit in. I’ve never learned to drive a stick shift. I’ve never climbed Mt. Everest (though I think I’d prefer Kilimanjaro). Legitimate or ridiculous, it doesn’t matter; all I see is what I haven’t done. I defined myself by negation.
Is it any wonder that, a few months ago, when my younger brother told me how proud he was of me for writing my book, I held on to that idea and savored it with all the joy of clutching a hot coal? Is it any wonder that the person who has the most trouble accepting me is me?
“You’re not good enough,” my nemesis whispers. “No one loves you. They’re all ashamed of you. You’re nothing but a burden.”
Shane Koyczan said, “When we were kids, we were told to stand up for ourselves. That’s hard to do if you don’t know who you are.”1
Like Koyczan,2 I defined myself by what others said of me. Sure, children are cruel, but let’s be honest for moment. Some of our deepest wounds came from people who had our best interests at heart, but didn’t know enough about our hearts to know how to nurture them. I’ve defined myself by my limitations and comparisons and all those rejections. I’ve focused on my scars for so long the scars are all I see.
That’s rough, but (thank God!) that’s not Biblical.
Koyczan rightly said, “If you can’t see anything good about yourself, get a better mirror.”
But where can I find such a mirror? All my life I’ve been ashamed that I wasn’t good enough. How can I see past that and find something in me worth loving?
For weeks, one passage has been stuck in my mind. I had no idea why until this morning.
For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the Founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
“I will tell of Your Name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise….”
“Behold, I and the children God has given Me.” — Heb. 2:10-13
Folks, that’s our mirror.
He came. God Himself came down, took on our flesh, and suffered as we suffer. They called Him Mary’s bastard. They called Him possessed of the devil. His own family rejected Him. His disciples abandoned Him. They lashed Him. They beat Him. They plucked His beard. They murdered Him.
Don’t tell me He doesn’t know my pain. Don’t tell me He doesn’t know yours.
But He didn’t stop there. He didn’t suffer a little and call it quits. See, it’s easy to forget that He did it all willingly. Ps. 115:3 says, “Our God is in His heavens and He does all that He pleases.”
No one coerced Jesus to go to that Cross. No one forced Him. If He does everything He pleases, then it pleased Him to die. For you. For me.
I don’t know about you, but I know part of me3 is pretty sure He went to the Cross because He had to. Because He really wanted the cool people with Him in heaven, but had to offer salvation to everybody, because He had to be fair. So, He got stuck with me. Bummer.
However, that is not the picture Hebrews paints. Jesus hasn’t been saddled with me. He doesn’t see me as a burden. He’s not embarrassed to be seen with me.
No, He is not ashamed to call me His brother. If He was, why would He seek my presence to sing His Father’s praise? When you find something beautiful, do you want to share it with people you despise? No! You find the people you love and share it with them.
Or have we thought Him the reluctant father? “Well, here I am… and here are all the bloody kids…”
No! He’s more like Abraham than any man we’ve ever known: a man condemned to die without offspring, without a future. And then Isaac is born!
“Here I am!” He cries. “And look! Look at all My beautiful children!”
My Father is no deadbeat dad. My Savior is no beast of burden. So what better mirror can I find than His eyes, that weep because they know my suffering, that are windows to His heartbreak because my heart is broken, that burn and flash with joy unspeakable because I am His child and He loves me?
Do I understand that love, that affection, that acceptance? No. Do I deserve it? No. But I don’t deserve the breath in my lungs any more than I understand the pulmonary system. So who cares?! Why let my comeuppance and understandings get in the way?
All my life, I listened to a nemesis that rises up from my own bones and whispers, “You’re not good enough, Joe. They don’t love you. They never will.”
I have lived my life ashamed, embarrassed to live in my own skin. But the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, His death, His very flesh and blood are proud and conclusive proclamations that He wants my company. That He loves me. That He loves you. That He is not ashamed to call us His own.
It’s time for us to listen. To look in His eyes again. To let those mirrors change us. To shun the voice of our nemeses and hear Him whisper:
“Child, you are good
enough. It pleased Me to suffer for you. I love you, through and through.”
1 Shane Koyczan is a poet. He’s brilliant. His TED talk sparked this post. You can see it here. (Though I have to warn you, he drops the F-bomb once. You’ve been warned.)
2 Don’t ask me to pronounce that. I can’t.
3 The lying part.