I’m the second of four kids. My older sister was consistently the responsible one, the obedient one, and I was anything but those things. I hardly did anything right the first time, and I fell short of people’s expectations over and over again. Irresponsible was the word most used to describe me, and disappointment and I were synonymous.
The burden of falling short clung to me like 5 lb. weights super glued to my body. The more I failed the more weights were cemented onto me. They changed the way I carried myself, changed the way I thought of myself, and changed the way I related to others. Over time I became afraid to do wrong or be wrong because I didn’t want “the look” staring back at me. The look that would roll its eyes at me and say, “You failed again. I mean, what could I have expected? Of course, you did.”
Those weights eventually shaped me into a professional people pleaser. On my good side, I was empathetic, available, willing. I was a good listener, a counselor, the ideal helper to anyone who needed it. I served in my dad’s ministry as a kid, led events and invested in others as a college student, and being an ENFJ (“The Teacher”) on the Myers Briggs and a 2 on the Enneagram (“The Helper”), I eventually became a pastor myself. On paper I was someone who would get an “A” in the subject of church life.
But all brights sides have shadows, and the Enneagram uncomfortably describes mine:
Twos attempt to control their shame by getting other people to like them and to think of them as good people. They also want to convince themselves that they are good, loving people by focusing on their positive feelings for others while repressing their negative feelings (such as anger and resentment at not being appreciated enough). As long as Twos can get positive emotional responses from others, they feel wanted and are able to control feelings of shame.” (From the Enneagram Institute)
Another insight that makes me cringe:
Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing Twos, Threes, and Fours in their inner work is having to face their underlying Center fear of worthlessness. Beneath the surface, all three types fear that they are without value in themselves, and so they must be or do something extraordinary in order to win love and acceptance from others.
Shame. Feeling wanted. Worthlessness. Striving to win love and acceptance from others. Those words are me. They are the root of my brokenness, the motivators for my actions on good days and bad. When the gospel has been twisted this way and that, when I can’t recognize the good news anymore, when people’s approval becomes the only goal in sight, I drown in my worthlessness. I work myself into weariness trying to control how people see me, to make them like me.
But the thing I long for the most is that I want to be approved by God. We use phrases like, “We want to please you, God” and “May this offering be acceptable to you, Lord” at church. They’re said casually yet fervently in prayers and in sermons, but all I hear are the lies whispered behind these words: You are not acceptable just yet. He’s not pleased with you just yet. You need to fulfill these prerequisites, clean yourself up, do these right things, and then maybe, just maybe, you can stand in His presence. As if He is a God who scrutinizes and judges us before He cautiously doles out grace and love. As if He is a Father in front of whom we anxiously stand and wonder if He will stamp our foreheads with FAIL in red ink.
Right after Jesus’ baptism and before he does any healing, teaching, discipling, a loud voice from heaven booms, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” If God the Father had a face, I’d imagine He couldn’t contain His love, His delight, His deep pleasure in His Son at that moment. He wanted Him to know: He is loved, He is loved, He is loved.
This is the truth: He has made me with worth, and nothing can change that or add to it. I can’t do anything more to gain the pleasure, the approval He already has for me in Christ. So on the days when I fear I am worthless- whether it’s from my personality, my childhood wounds, or from a combination of it all- I want to stand still in His presence. I want to tilt my face upward and receive the words He said to Jesus, through Whom He now says to me, “You are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”