Several years ago, I went to a counselor for the first time because I had been struggling with depression for over a year or so. 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 the 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 contributed to my depression 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 protect and make it strong. (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 get centered, 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, then 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. And thus, 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 have an image of holding God in my arms like a baby, rocking Him back and forth and telling Him, “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 Him stress or pain.
But the thing I’ve realized the past few months is that I think 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 farther 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, not true Peace. My need to create peace keeps true Peace at bay.
God is teaching me so much right now 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 rest in His love for me despite any of my efforts, I will also be able to love others better and trust their love for me despite my efforts. Some days I believe this, other days I forget and relapse. But the relapses are part of the healing process.
A final thought from John Eagen which speaks to me each day and perhaps it will encourage you today to remember where your true worth comes from:
The heart of it is this: to make the Lord and his immense love for you constitutive of your personal worth. Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth. Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life.