He walked into the kitchen early Friday evening, a couple hours before friends were coming over for dinner. The kitchen was the usual 5:30 pm wreck.
Even though company was coming soon, the house didn’t look it. Rooms not organized, counters not clean, toys not picked up, dinner just getting started.
Justin didn’t expect that of me—having it all together. But I wanted him to.
The first time we talked about our future together, we were two twenty year-olds from California on the vast green lawn of the mall in Washington D.C., where we first met. Justin was interested in politics and wore a suit and tie everyday that summer, as he interned at the White House. I wore t-shirts and shorts and had a job in the late afternoons at TCBY after my internship as a teacher’s aide with at-risk kids, trying to figure out if I wanted to be a teacher after graduation.
I’m not sure we were interested in changing the world then. We were too stuck on ourselves and what we could do in it, how we could get ahead, be successful, achieve.
I grew up in an almond orchard in Northern California, in a small town of farmers, who drove tractors and pickups, and many moms, who mostly didn’t work outside the home. I wasn’t going to stay. I wasn’t going to stay there in that tiny town where everyone knew me too well and knew my family too well and were afraid to drive over bridges or go to the big city and do something different on weekends other than drive into the foothills with six-packs of Budweiser and Coors Light. It was all I knew and a part of me loved it, and a part of me was frustrated by it, too.
The words tumbled out once, a few years ago, in a counselor’s office, surprising me. “I lived in a mobile home in the middle of an orchard and my grandfather was the town doctor and my dad was a farmer and then the school janitor and I wanted to get out and be different and escape. I felt trapped—afraid of failure, afraid I wasn’t enough, afraid I wasn’t going to make it out of that town and do something big and exciting and different—something to prove I was smart and I had what it takes to be successful in this world.”
Despite having parents who loved me and who supported me and believed in me, I didn’t believe I was good enough. Each decision I made, in high school and in college, was for the purpose of proving to myself, and to others, that I was worthy, I was special, I was smart and I was going to go places someday.
The last thing I was going to do was live near home. I was going to go to a great college. I was going to be a writer—not because I had something to say, but because I wanted to see my name on the cover of a magazine. So I did everything I could to prove to everyone that I was good enough to leave. Get good grades. Do the Academic Decathlon. Work hard in sports. Edit the school newspaper. Enter the local beauty pageant. Go to church. Date the tall basketball player. Don’t tell a soul when I got pregnant at 16 and had an abortion. Keep looking good and making it look like I was good, too. Good enough. Good enough to get out.
On the mall in Washington D.C., Justin and I talked about living in a big house someday, he pursuing a job in politics and me working as a teacher. Never would I not work. Never would I stay at home and just be a mom and take care of children. What would I be able to show for all of that kind of hard work? How would I be able to measure up if there was nothing tangible to show for it?
(Believe me, it is so hard to write this now . . . I know how horrible all this all sounds . . .)
When Justin and I got married, we lived on the East Coast for a while, and then we moved back to his hometown, in the California Bay Area. I worked hard to fit in. Our solution to me making friends was joining the Junior League, the local chapter of the philanthropic group for women. I was going to be able to do some fun charitable work while going to meetings with a Kate Spade purse on my arm and toes that were perfectly pedicured. I worked at the best local high school, in one of the most affluent areas in California. We rented a house beyond our means and we didn’t save a dime and we knew, we just knew, we were going to get ahead. Looking good was important. Going to church was important. Being in a small group of other couples was important. Fitting in was important.
And when I got pregnant with our first child, I was resolute that I would go back to work after my maternity leave ended. Staying home, where my success couldn’t be measured in a pay grade, an accolade from my boss, a cute outfit, a class of awesome students, just wasn’t going to work for me.
I feared not mattering. I feared not being seen. I had yet to make close friendships, since moving back to California, and I feared that being at home with my baby would mean that the life I had fought for for so long—a teacher, a writer, a leader—wasn’t going to be possible. I wanted it all—and I thought having it all meant being married and living in a nice part of town and having cool friends and having awesome kids and working full time and being noticed for doing significant things.
And when our baby, Jackson, was born, I realized I just didn’t have it in me to do all the things I wanted to do. I realized that I couldn’t live the life I so wanted to live. I couldn’t work the same as I could before. I couldn’t keep on top of things and think clear thoughts and have time to try to do impressive things, like I’d tried to do before. I was going to have to lay down the identity I’d fought for, for so long. And I didn’t like it. And I felt like a failure.
We, as the Holy Entangled, must learn to reject what the world is constantly trying to tell us about what defines success, what defines failure, what defines our worth. We must learn to embrace, instead, what God says. We are his beloved. He delights in us. We are His masterpieces. When the world tries to tell us that we can prove our worth by others means, it’s a lie straight from hell—a lie we must give to the God who loves us, who created us, who knows us and adores us and never turns away.
Let us remember how God loves His children, as we read His words to Israel:
I have loved you with an everlasting love: I have drawn you with unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3).
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you, in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).
And then when Paul reminds the Ephesians:
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago (Ephesians 2:10).
Not only do we need to surrender the lies we are believing about ourselves, and about what constitutes success, but we also need to encourage our spouses to do the same.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).
Justin, for years, stuck by me as I struggled to recognize that I was believing lies about my identity. And when I finally recognized those lies for what they were, he stuck by me as I struggled to lay them down. It can be a long road, for sure, but, Holy Entangled, don’t give up on the free life God has for you. Let’s stop chasing a life of lies. Rather, let’s pursue the full life granted us only by Christ.
It’s worth it.
Even if we scramble to get the house ready when friends come over for dinner.
How do you define success? What is God nudging you to lay down?\
photo credit: picjumbo