(Originally published on Sheology.co)
From as early as I can remember, I have wanted to be important – like celebrity grade important. The best way to achieve this, of course, was to become a popstar; and what better way to understand the inner workings of the popstar world than being the president of your very own New Kids on the Block fan club? (Full disclosure, there were only two of us in the club, and yes, I took the attendance register each meeting).
I know that being famous is probably every second kid’s dream, but for me it signified something deeper and more painful. I really did think that I needed to do something to achieve significance. Despite my parents doing the very best that they could, I never felt very important in my childhood years, and this led me to believe that if I could only minimise any negative feedback by being as good as possible, and maximise any positive feedback by doing what I thought others would praise, then finally I would feel like I was noteworthy.
The desire to be important became a major driver in so much of what I ended up doing. As a teenager and in my early-20s I had a group of friends that were like family, and we spent years together doing youth ministry. Every six months or so, a new hobby would take a hold of the group, and a bunch of people would suddenly be into touch-rugby, tennis, Settlers of Catan, 500, etc. In an effort to tick all the right boxes I ended up doing things that, upon reflection, were just desperate attempts to feel significant; things like, running, for example. Marathon running had become the flavour of the day, and despite my janky knees and near-death feelings when I run, I started training for a race (I made it to 10ks before sanity finally took hold). I also bought a half-set of ladies’ golf clubs and starting ‘playing’ golf, purchased a tennis racket despite my obvious lack of talent in this area, joined a gym and became an aerobics instructor, feigned an interest in music that I really didn’t like, and no matter how awkward, I also tried to wrangle invites to social events, because being seen as significant mattered that much to me.
On top of this, I became a pro at recognising what spiritual attributes would be most lauded in the church I was part of. Read the bible in year? Sure, I’ll read it four years in a row. Go to the early morning prayer meeting (at an hour so ungodly I don’t think even Jesus was up yet)? I’ll be there smiling and radiant. Attend church morning and night? I wouldn’t skip it for anything (except perhaps a ‘both ends went in the night’ situation).
As I left school, my drive for significance followed me everywhere I went. When I was at bible college, I had a part-time job in the office at our church preschool. It was the perfect job for me. I loved every minute of it; my cosy corner office, the best boss in the whole world, admin tasks that filled my love of order, treasured co-workers, and the glorious background noise of playing children, made even better by the fact I was not responsible for a single one of them or their poopy nappies. But when I finished bible college and was asked to be the Worship Pastor, I decided that it really would be best if I went full-time at the church, despite the fact I could easily have filled the role in three days per week. Because it was surely more important to be in full-time ministry. I have thought about that job and regretted that decision so much more than I can convey.
Fast-forward through a wedding, a counselling degree, and a change of cities, I found myself pregnant, and determined that I would work from home once the baby arrived. Except he arrived with health difficulties and literally couldn’t nap without being bounced…which meant that my hands were only ever free for long enough to stuff some food in my face, or push the pram for endless hours around the streets of Christchurch.
Then, once we had emigrated to the States, I developed chronic migraine during my second pregnancy, which continues to this day, and it meant that I spent the better part of two years in bed, yelling at my kids, using the TV as a babysitter, and trying somehow to convey to my friends that if I went out for an evening, I would pay for it by spending the next two weeks bedridden.
It was over this five-year period that my drive for significance began to unravel. It’s really difficult to prove your worth when your hands are constantly occupied by a screaming infant, or when you’re a useless lump of pain languishing in a dark room with an ice pack strapped to your head. It’s not easy to use your body to signify to the world at large that you’re disciplined with food and exercise, when you take a drug that gives you the gift of an extra 20lbs that doesn’t budge.
I will never forget one night, lying in my bed in between sessions of throwing up and howling at the moon, racked with pain and feeling desperately low, when I suddenly became aware of the unmistakable presence of love in the room. I was, by all objective measures, the most useless I’d ever been since I was a toddler, but the richness of love, the colour of scarlet, filled my room, and for the first time, I began to understand that my value is not based on my performance.
It took some really, really hard life circumstances for me to begin to understand this message. And I wish I could say that it’s a fait accompli, lesson learned, doneskies. But I can bet you that I’ll be 95, living in a rest-home, and finding a way to let Ethel and Bob know that I can still make it onto the loo by myself. The deepest and longest held beliefs are the most likely to be lifelong lessons, but I am so relieved to find myself somewhat freed from this strife for importance. My current job, for example, is writing for a counselling app, where every day, thousands of people read the words I have written, but nobody knows it’s me that wrote them – and it brings me so much joy!
I am slowly learning that my innate value cannot be judged, or measured, or earned, or rewarded. My worth was a gift that was sown into the fabric of my being when I was created.
Love you friends,
PS. The irony of writing a published blog about wanting to be important is not lost on me, so you know, feel free to comment, or share, or wait…..no, maybe not….