I’m told that when I was little, I’d either hide behind my mother’s sari pleats or race to crouch in a storeroom by the kitchen whenever a new face showed up at the door.
I wish I could say that, as an adult, I am now perfectly confident in myself and would undoubtedly be viewed as the life of a party. Yet, the reality is that I sometimes still struggle with this innate desire to find a storeroom to run into, and it’s easy to feel like a wallflower in a gathering.
While some of these feelings simply stem from my shy and introverted nature, I can’t deny that these feelings are also fuelled by two insecurities I battle with. The debilitating insecurities of identity and self-worth. And the struggle is a daily one.
One of the most common ways in which these twin insecurities raise their ugly heads is in my people-pleasing attitude. If you need a refresher on what people-pleasers like me look like, here you go.
First, we say yes to everything and everybody even when everything in us is screaming “Noo!!!” Second, we overthink and over analyse every situation, facial expression and intonation in a way that could make a conspiracy-hatching celebrity journalist squirm. Third, we are so non-confrontational we would rather get killed by people than tell them to stop unfairly throwing us under the bus. Finally, when people validate us, we feel like we’ve won an Oscar; and when people criticise us, we feel like “Nobody loves us”. And if the criticism is particularly bad, then our feelings can move from “Nobody loves us” to “I’m so useless, what’s the point of life?”
And since people-pleasing attitudes are so all-consuming, then sooner or later, life can easily autopilot itself in performance or pretense mode.
Growing up, this unique combination was a matter of sheer frustration to me. I think the biggest struggle was a resigned hopelessness that nothing could break me free from the shackles of performance and pretense.
I’d always thought of my identity and worth in terms of having a perfect image of myself; not just in the eyes of the world, but also in my own mind. So there could be no room for flaws and mistakes. The best version of myself was something that I would be pleased to pat myself on the back for. I had to be the model daughter, a Proverbs 31 wife, an adored mother, a superwoman who managed an excellent career and found time to keep an “Instagrammable” house. I simply had to put my very best out there. I couldn’t afford to drop the ball.
It was tiring and not always the full and real picture. Being vulnerable enough to let somebody see me as flawed was indigestible, and I wanted to control life so as to never let that happen. Sadly, not only was I basing my worth on a bunch of standards of external perfection, but even judging others based on a standard I couldn’t keep.
Mercifully, God has been teaching me that liberation from insecurity is not found in tiring efforts to fix or fake my identity but by living in the daily reality of a whole new identity. That through Christ, God is deeply satisfied with me. And that God is satisfied with me not because he simply ignores my mess but because Christ has met the ultimate standard of perfection on my behalf. My pride is broken as I begin to see how futile my standards of perfection are. My confidence is built when I rest in a far greater standard of perfection.
God’s abounding grace has been drawing me close to believing and experiencing this Gospel love that takes me in just as I am and loves me in spite of who I am. It loves me for everything I desire to be but know I am not. And as that love began to get hold of my life, I realised it’s perfectly fine to stop trying so hard to fix myself. All that I needed to do was to simply believe and rest in this love of God.
I will admit that even as simple as the words sound – believe and rest -- I often find myself straining hard just to do that. All my instincts seem to constantly want to go back to ‘working my way out’ or ‘fixing myself’. However, over the last several years, here's what has been helping me to root my identity in Jesus.
I wish I could say that this struggle is a thing of the past. In fact, it is a battle that I face every day. Even as I write this post, my heart is tempted to write in such a way that I would get rave reviews and which would strike all the right notes with everyone.
Yet, mercifully and relentlessly, God’s transforming love is daily empowering me to break free from my struggle with identity by performing and pretending. The journey is slow, long and even painful, but the transformation is real. For our transformation lies not in trying harder but by believing more in a love that will transform us as we rest in the deep satisfaction of it.