It was in that Bible study that I realized I was not free.
We were eight couples, all of us fresh into our time as expats in Singapore, struggling to find our footing in what we jokingly called “Fantasy Island.” That group was a lifeline in the midst of our turbulent transition to a new country, yet I often walked away from times with them feeling insecure and unsettled. Why?
I was imprisoned by trying to prove my value to them.
For nine years I had been in full-time ministry, defining myself as one of the brave ones, the faithful ones, willing to go and do whatever God asked. It led us to the other side of the world where I was a missionary girl raising kids, tackling another culture and language, reaching the world, the “how does she do it” kind of wife and mom.
Then God uprooted us and planted us in a strange new land, a place where parenting went to a whole new, unfamiliar level and my ministry outside the home dissolved, leaving me with the title, “Erik’s wife” among our fellow missionaries.
There, God blessed us with this collection of amazing, godly business people. I had never been in a community with people outside of ministry. I was fully prepared for them to be impressed with our sacrificial, missionary lifestyle.
Instead, I found myself swirling in a losing battle of comparison. The yardstick that had always placed me on par, or above my peers, starting measuring me short.
I compared my missionary status to the guy in our group who was a missionary kid. He had lived his whole life with missionary cred.
I might be learning how to master homeschooling my two kids, but there was that other mom who homeschooled four.
I lead a Bible study at church, but that other woman from our group, well, she led the whole women’s ministry.
These people were just as spiritual. They pursued God with the same passion, maybe more. They had more. They did more.
I did not know what to do with that.
Who was I in comparison to these people? What now defined my life? What made me valuable when everything I did they did better?
That yardstick became a ball and chain, tying my value to an uncertain existence.
All the wrong questions, keeping me imprisoned in insecurity, making me believe that my value was found out there somewhere and it was my job to hunt it down and keep it safe. In the words of Brene Brown, I was in bondage to “hustling for my worthiness.” Suddenly, all my hustling was not enough.
What a gift.
My spiritual companions those days were Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning. I drank in their words like honey for my soul, words that told me who I am and what He thinks of me. Words that called me Beloved child, called me valuable apart from what I do, called me to a solid place away from the voices of the world.
I grabbed those words and captured them in a journal, one place where I could soak them in again and again. Some days I would come home with my unsettled soul and spend hours reading those truths over and over until it finally soaked in. “This is who you are. This is who you are. This is who you are.”
The words called me to drop the yardstick and walk freely.
As Henri Nouwen told me, it was “the change from living life as a painful test to prove that you deserve to be loved, to living it as an unceasing ‘Yes’ to the truth of that Belovedness.”
The temptation is always there, to pick up the yardstick again. Every time I lay claim to my worth in Him, I cast the yardstick aside and know that freedom lies in resting, believing, grounding myself in my established worth.