You know that part in the Hunger Games when Katniss spins around and her dress lights up in flames? It reminds me of those push up spin toys I had as a kid. Mine was a peacock and when untouched, the feathers covered the bird entirely, but when you push the side, the feathers spin around and open revealing a beautiful bird inside.
I love that image. I want that image.
I want to spin around so fast that any unwelcome layers of life are flung off revealing my true self. To shed the years of built up fears, of people pleasing, of shape-shifting. To shake off the opinions of others, of self-judgment and anything else that is diluting the real me.
What would that look like? What does it mean to be comfortable in your own skin? To be the me from concentrate?
When I think of people that are comfortable in their own skin, my 4 year old instantly comes to mind. This girl doesn’t care about the opinions of others just yet. So much so that she has worn the same dress for 17 days in a row. 17. Days 3-10, I tried arguing with her, hiding the dress, pleading, even bribing her with shopping. And I hate shopping.
“But mom! I’m getting married and princesses wear dresses when they get married!”
Side note: princesses that are getting married apparently don’t wear pants or coats. Even in the arctic that is Chicago. Clearly, I have to pick my battles. She won the dress and I won pants and a coat.
I’m told that I was just like Mia as a child. And I can see that. She’s got an independent spirit but she’s also a pleaser. Loves to do the right thing. And that scares me because I think that’s what got me into trouble. I took that one step too far. And unfortunately, that one step was right off a cliff into the valley of the Behavior Gospel.
I grew up in the church. Thankfully, it was a church that taught about Grace. About Love. About Serving. I learned that the whole point of the Bible is a free gift of Grace. And like with any gift, all I needed to do was accept it.
But for me, the overachiever (at the time), that was too simple. Or maybe too hard. It was much more appealing to having a list of things to do and things not to do. Something I could check off as being ‘good enough’.
I was drawn to The Behavior Gospel: how a good Christian girl should act.
My bff in junior high and I were all about this behavior gospel. And we nailed it. Faith was comprised of having a definitive moment, or in my case moments, of asking Jesus into your heart. It was making oaths not to do the worst possible sins in the world which were swearing and pre-marital sex, of course. Those 2 things would send you on the fast track to hell. Smoking and drinking were a close second. There was a time we called cigarettes ‘scope’ because just the word itself was too bad. We read every Christy Miller book. 4 times. We dreamed about meeting our own surfer super-Christian Todd. We went to Amy Grant concerts and had posters of Michael W. Smith while our friends listened to NKOTB and had pictures from Seventeen magazine on their walls. I challenged my biology teacher in high school when he taught evolution as the only possible way. We were at See you at the Pole every September and gave money to a child from Ecuador. We joke that we are responsible for her demise because we stopped supporting her. It’s really not something to joke about but just proves that we were motivated by obligation, not love, at the age of 13. Plus our babysitting money wasn’t covering the monthly gift required.
When I think back to that time, it’s almost cute. But then I think of how dangerous that kind of blind naivety actually is, and it’s not so cute anymore. As our black and white world started turning into way more than 50 shades of gray (though a lot less fun from what I hear), things started to get confusing.
And the definition of ‘good enough’ changed based on what I wanted it to mean. Based on what I thought it should mean. I didn’t miss the point of Grace. Of the free gift of unearned favor. I got it. And I still get it. But I created all these rules to SHOW that I got it.
And it worked. Until it didn’t. Until I became skeptical. Until I had daughters.
Because here’s the thing; it’s not the church teachings, it wasn’t the way I was brought up. It was me. My personality. And when I see Mia have that same personality, it scares me that she will go down the same path. At age 4 it doesn’t matter. At age 9 it doesn’t matter. At age 16 and 19 and 23, it matters. And I am hesitant to tell her to be nice because I know how I took that simple phrase to the extreme – to the cost of myself many a time. I hesitate to correct her when she explodes because I don’t want her to learn that being angry is bad.
But I can’t quite guide her down the right path until I figure it out myself. And that starts with removing, with shedding, with burning off if necessary, the beliefs, the self-created lies, the inconsistencies that have made up my every decision. Is there anything more annoying than learning your dissatisfaction is actually your own fault? And has been within your power to change all these years? I don’t know about you but I prefer to have someone or something else to blame.
Like all the lies in the Bible.
Ok, so the lies aren’t actually in the Bible; I just interpreted them wrong. I’ve been living by certain values that have turned out to be not so valuable after all. Like always be nice. And never be angry.
And so I have started to spin. So that the layers come off, one by one, until it reveals who I really am. Is it someone bright and beautiful? Full of life and vibrancy? Or is it someone dull and gray and all the layers that would be shed are what makes me who I am today? I don’t know. I get dizzy just thinking about it so I slow down and take it one layer at a time.
And just like a dress that lights on fire, it’s painful to tear off layers of deeply ingrained behavior and the beliefs behind them. Guilt and doubt immediately ooze into the place where the self-imposed rules have lived for so long. Is it really ok not to be nice all the time? So I won’t get struck by lightning if I get pissed off and actually admit that I’m pissed off? That’s where Grace comes in. Like a healing salve to crowd out the doubts.
I was late on paying Mia’s preschool tuition and her teacher took me aside to ask if we needed financial help this month – no doubt because my daughter has been wearing the same, tired, too small dress for the last 3 weeks. Embarrassing as that was, I sit here wearing the same yoga pants 5 days in a row and I realize the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
And that’s why this journey to become authentic, scandalous as it may be, is so important.
Because behavior, no matter how good, will never be good enough.