There have been times in my life when I felt like I didn’t know who I was. I think I largely defined myself based on what I could do instead of who I was. This was great when I was winning high jump or scoring an A on an essay. I felt good about myself and like I was winning some invisible contest. The problem is that type of perceived self-worth is fleeting and changes as quickly as circumstances do. I heard a beloved relative say she never would have had any self-esteem if it weren’t for her cooking and baking skills. But if that's the case then what happens when her buns don’t rise or her casserole burns? Does her worth deflate as quickly as a ruined soufflé? Certainly not in God’s eyes. So where do these lies come from?
As an adult I was lucky enough to find a job that fulfilled me from the inside out. I wanted to be a fitness instructor since as young as I can remember and I certified as soon as I was old enough at eighteen. I couldn’t believe that I got paid to do something everyday that I would’ve done for free. I planned to teach fitness for the rest of my life, staying healthy and inspiring others to do so too. I truly felt like I found my calling in life and thanked God for giving me the skills to work at something I loved. I had big goals to become an international fitness presenter and take my passion as far as I could. My identity was so wrapped up in what I could do with exercise but it felt fantastic because I was good at it.
Two years into teaching my chronic pain started. It started in my knees and ten years later, I have pain in all my joints. I found out I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder where my body makes faulty collagen and causes a whole lot of problems. Throughout those years, I taught less and less and recently just quit altogether because my body was done. When I first started to realize that I wouldn’t be able to teach fitness the way I wanted to I went through a full-blown identity crisis. I had very little idea who I was or what I should do next. I felt like a huge part of my life’s purpose was gone. People with chronic illness often struggle not to define themselves by their disease and I lost that battle for a long time. I just didn’t feel good enough without that talent I had worked so hard for.
Those painful years brought me to an understanding that could only be reached through painful trial and repeatedly begging God for help. I learned the only way to truly find oneself is to find Jesus. He is the lighthouse in our storm of self-discovery. He can point us in the right direction when we thought we should be heading the other way. He can bring us to safety in a storming ocean of lies that threaten to destroy our hope and potential. He has infinite knowledge about our life’s path while we can only see the waves crashing in front of us.
I learned that my true worth was not dependent upon what I could do but who I could become through The Dependable One. He is the source of truth that forgives a repentant soul and enables us to become something better. He fills our hearts with peace, humility and motivation toward righteous goals. When we go to Him, we can see ourselves through His eyes and our worth suddenly becomes endless and unshakable. He will softly remind us of our divine nature when lies threaten to shame us into believing our worth depends upon the world’s standards.
I remember a time when I felt really left out. As I prayed to feel some relief from my big feelings, I received an answer that changed me forever. God hadn’t made me to fit in for reason. I was to look around for those who also felt left out and befriend them. The pain vanished and I realized my flaws could be transformed into an asset I never knew I had. I won’t say that I’ve become a master of befriending. Not even close. But I did learn that Christ can teach us more about ourselves than we could ever know on our own. It has become something I work on and when I do, I feel so close to Him. I feel like myself when I follow that prompting. But it’s the kind of self that can’t be touched by the world. It’s infinite and Holy and true. It’s lasting and joyful, regardless of my broken and fragmented pieces.