“I think you need some Jesus time,” my partner told me more than once this week. When someone who usually rolls her eyes affectionately when you start chattering on about Jesus again says a thing like that, you know it’s true.
Earlier I wrote about my struggles with what I’ve been calling approval addiction, and several people followed up with me to say, “Wow, I really identify with this, and I really like that prayer you posted.” It’s something I’m really glad I brought into the light because it seemed freeing to people to have someone else admit they were wrestling with a similar problem. And in that spirit, I have to tell you, fellow members of Approval Addicts Anonymous, that I fell off the wagon big time this week.
I prayed at the end of Lent, Oh Jesus, grant that I may desire that others be chosen and I be set aside. And recently, I got a chance to test that out. Right before Ash Wednesday I’d sent in my application to go back to school to study Biblical languages. Nerdy, I know. And nerd that I am, I was also hoping to win a big merit scholarship so I wouldn’t have to completely mortgage my family’s future to pursue my dream of being a Bible scholar.
I got accepted, but last week I found out I didn’t get the scholarship I’d hoped for. Someone else was chosen.
Now, regardless of the practical implications of this (and I’m still not sure whether I’ll decide to go back to school or not), there’s a spiritual component as well. I’m so tempted to succumb to the pain of having failed at something I wanted so much and tried so hard to get and to let that pain justify dejection and destructive behavior. I’ve been struggling with that, and am still struggling. More than anything else, it’s a struggle to see my life as it really is. A struggle to see myself as worthy, as beloved, no matter whether I get awards or ego strokes. Here in the middle of my story there is much darkness and uncertainty, but I have the ultimate spoiler alert: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Just before Easter, I checked out the first book I’d ever read by Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging. Here is a man who knew exactly what the addictive cycle was about, who dedicated his life to trying to get out and help others get out. He called his inner addict the “impostor,” and his works candidly detail his own attempts to find freedom from addiction, both to alcohol and to adulation. The point of all his writings was this: if we can’t accept ourselves for who we really are, we can’t really be ourselves with God, and we can’t really accept the love God has for us.
A lot of us Western Christians seem to have problems with this. Henri Nouwen wrote, “Being the Beloved is the core truth of our spiritual existence.” Donald Miller wrote in Blue Like Jazz that one of the things he prays the most for his friends is that they will be able to “receive love.” It’s what I pray for too, a lot: “that [we], being rooted and established in love,may have power… to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).
I mean, wouldn’t that solve my insecurities once and for all – if I really knew, felt, experienced the radical truth of that love? Sometimes it’s easier to feel beloved than other times, but it’s true every day. And when I can be vulnerable with other people and with God, God’s strength fits perfectly into my weakness. They were made for each other.
It’s one thing to write these words and know that they’re true, and it’s something else entirely to remember them when I’m trying to breathe through that pervasive feeling of failure that somehow also hurts physically, that seems so much more real, concrete, and immediate. But when it comes to the spiritual life, that’s where rubber meets road. I have to learn to carry these truths with me, to cling to the reality of the risen Christ for dear life, to count everything else as worthless alongside the unbelievable truth of how he has loved me.
Thank God for my partner, who sees the worst sides of me at times like this but can still laugh and encourage me to do so too. She put a picture on our computer desktop of a long-haired, bearded man answering the phone, with the caption: “Moshi moshi – Jesus desu” (translated: Hello, it’s Jesus). And seeing it, I smile and breathe a little deeper and try to remember to listen for that call, the call to drop whatever I thought was so important and follow him.