Thursday, April 13, 2017

Convinced that you're only succeeding at failing? Here's how break free.


Several encouraging things have happened to me recently.  I was selected to be my department's Faculty Marshal for the upcoming graduation.  I was able to speak into a student's life in a profound way.  I've had significant conversations with each of my children, and during these moments we've connected, really connected, because I listened more than I talked, which, I'm finding, is one of the hardest and wisest things for a parent to do as kids grow up.

Even more, a man who's relatively new to our town approached me at church and shared that his wife received a message from her friend in another state.  (North Carolina?  Wisconsin?  Florida?  The details have grown fuzzy.)  Her friend recommended that she read a blog, and when she visited the recommended blog, it was my blog.  She had paused, thinking, "Wait, I know this woman.  I just met her.  She brought us a meal."

My primary take-away from this exchange?  I have at least one reader who isn't personally related to me.  (Thank you, dear out-of-state, unrelated-to-me reader.)

Good things, all around.

On the flip side, I've been chronically exhausted lately.  Even when I get absurdly large quantities of sleep, like a nearly eleven-hour coma that spanned last Friday evening until Saturday morning, I wake feeling like I could immediately return to bed.  I'm not sure whether I'm suffering from mono, anemia, Lyme Disease, or some other energy-draining illness, or whether it's merely the cumulative fatigue of working, parenting, and going, going, going all the time.

In this exhausted state, even with several lovely things happening in my life, I hit a dark place one night last week.  It happened easily enough: this depleted version of myself was placed in the worst possible context (late evening, all alone), and I was armed with my own weapon of self-destruction (all forms of social media in one hand-held device: my phone).

The early stages were relatively benign.  I scrolled through pictures of celebrities, which is a default time-sucking endeavor when I'm especially listless, but then my searches hit closer to home: I scoured other author's blogs.  That's when the jungle drums began to pound and the comparisons began to surface.

The more sites I visited, the worse I felt.  Every blog looked more professional and popular than mine. (Better design! More comments! More followers!)  Every blogger seemed to be a master at SEO and social media marketing.

As I skimmed their posts, the words on the screen didn't fully register.  I was too occupied reciting a more powerful and harmful sub-text message: These people?  These other bloggers? They're the real deal.  You're an amateur.  You still don't know what you're doing with the technical side of blogging, even after doing it for years.

That inner voice, emboldened by how easily I swallowed these critiques, began to speak more pointedly.  Robin, your efforts aren't meaningful, noticed, or effective.  Your work isn't appreciated  or enough.  Nothing you write matters.  Nobody really cares.  Nobody comments.  You're failing.  

You're a failure.

It escalates quickly, doesn't it?  In these moments of isolation and weariness, it's easy to agree with harsh self-criticism.  It seems so valid, so true, after all.

Except that it isn't.  It isn't valid or true.  After spending nearly an hour languishing under this weight, I started to examine the words I was feeding myself and say, enough.  No, I will not accept these accusations.  No, I will not spiral downward.  No, I will not agree with the accuser speaking lies over me.

Enough.  My voice does matter.

Enough.  There's more significance to life than blogging metrics.

Enough.  I am not a failure.  (I have an out-of-state, unrelated reader, after all.)

It takes effort to re-write the scripts we speak over ourselves.  Sometimes it's easier to agree with criticism, to rehearse our weaknesses, to believe the worst.  But I'm convinced that this goes against the very nature of God, who is described as singing over us in delight, whose banner over us is love.

I've noticed two things about the internal accusations that subtly play in our heads and hearts.  First, they tend to target areas of life we care about deeply, those places where we have a desire for significance.  They might target our closest relationships, raising doubts about our capacity to be a good parent, spouse, or friend.  They may target our deepest dreams where we hope to make an impact and leave our mark.  (For me, it recently focused on my writing; for you, it might manifest in a different way.)

Second, accusations surface when we're most vulnerable.  They hit hardest when we're worn, alone, weak, distracted, or otherwise compromised.

This is by design, given that they're leveraged against us by the accuser, the father of lies, who feeds us falsehoods when we're susceptible.  Too often, we take the bait without question.  We already feel miserable, so we might as well perpetuate the misery.

I don't want to do this anymore.

Not that it's easy, and not that I'm without struggle (exhibit A: this post), but I refuse to side with the enemy.  I choose to partner with God and accept what He says about me -- that I'm loved, that I'm favored, that I'm designed for a purpose, that I'm called to do good works -- even when I don't feel these truths.  Especially when I don't feel these truths.

I want you to reach a place where you'll agree with what God says about you, too.  If your inner dialogue ever is fraught with accusations about your worth or your shortcomings, here are three concrete actions that will help:

Don't grow isolated.  Ever watch a PBS documentary and grow nervous for that singular gazelle who strays from the herd?  Don't do it, gazelle!  Don't wander to the watering hole by yourself!  Our anxiety spikes because we realize that prey are easier to attack when they're alone.  The same goes for us.  If Satan walks about like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour, then we'd be wise to partner up.  Time and again, when I share with a friend that I'm under siege, she speaks life into me until I'm able to believe it.  We're safer and stronger in community.

Identify (and avoid) your triggers.  I'm infinitely more prone to spiral into depressing thoughts when I'm tired and when it's late at night, which happen to go hand in hand.  I rarely interact with social media in a healthy state of mind in the evening.  Fortunately, this is preventable.  I can monitor and limit my usage to times when I'm less prone to mind-numbingly scroll myself into trouble.  

Speak life, not death, over yourself.  We need to create new patterns of thought and speech about ourselves, patterns that align with God's perspective.  I never have had anyone else die for me because He didn't want to live without me.  But that's what Jesus did.  His love transcends understanding -- it's given lavishly in full knowledge of our many screw-ups. 

God delights in us.  Because of this, we can think well of ourselves.  We can be at ease in our own skin.  We can label ourselves as lovable.  We can believe -- with security, not vanity or superiority -- that we're valued.  When we speak these truths over ourselves, we short-circuit the negative patterns of criticism that too often dominate the soundtracks of our lives.

Friends, we tend to believe the things we speak about ourselves.  Let's speak good things.

Stay connected.  Avoid your personal triggers.  Speak life.

I'm working on this.  To combat my recent bout of insecurity, I recalled a refreshing explanation of how God created the world, and upon its creation, he rested.  He didn't strive, check for approval, tweet about his work, or worry whether people liked it.  He created, he called it good, and he rested.

So, today, I'm applying that wisdom to this post.  I write, and once I hit "publish," I release that writing into the world.  I call it good.  And then I rest because God is looking at me, with kindness and gentleness, and saying, Yes, child, it's good.  You're good.  You're mine.

Let that be the soundtrack we all hear -- and repeat -- in our heads and hearts today.

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8 comments:

  1. Robin, you are a strong woman and I admire how you put your thoughts and feelings out there for others to read and contemplate. I have certainly felt much of the self-judging that you describe...often...perhaps even tonight. It's powerful force that does take will and practice to overcome.

    I'm glad that you find comfort in your faith. My views on faith and religion have changed drastically over the years. Ultimately, I found that the external locus of control that my church taught me (I'm valued because of God, spiritual warfare is what is causing my internal strife, etc.) was detrimental to me. At one point in my life, I even twisted it into a strange logic for suicide. I ultimately had to work to develop a stronger internal locus of control...through many years of therapy.

    I share this not to personally challenge your faith, but as perhaps a small attempt to put my own thoughts and feelings out there (although strategically anonymous...baby steps). I have a lot of wounds from my days devoted to the work of the church that I, clearly, still struggle with.

    I will, however, leave you with a phrase that seems too be attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but I am familiar with it because it is tattooed on the arm of one of my favorite singer/songwriters:

    "Comparison is the thief of joy."

    I have one of their tour t-shirt with this phrase on the front. It is so true, but so easy to forget...especially in the age of social media where we often put only our shiny parts forward.

    I wish you peace and comfort. I wish you focus on those wonderful things that are happening in your life. You are loved and valuable. Thank you for being bold enough to put your thoughts and feelings out there.

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    1. Hi Anonymous. What a heartfelt comment -- thank you for your brave candor.

      Where to start? First, I'm so sorry that your earlier church experiences caused more wounds than healing, more hurt than uplifting. Sadly, you're not the only one to experience this, and it's not right. I can't speak to your exact situation, but I'd like to apologize, as a "church person," for how you've been hurt. Tragically, the "church" sometimes does a poor job of demonstrating the love of God and loving people right where they are.

      As you continue to grapple with your beliefs and healing (it's a process!), my sincere hope is that you find deep peace with your past experiences, with those who most directly hurt you, within your own emotions, and with God. Bless you in ever way.

      Second, I love the "comparison is the thief of joy" quote. (I don't have any tattoos, but that wouldn't be a bad mantra to plaster on a prominent place to serve as a frequent reminder.) ;)

      I really appreciate that you opened up here, dear Anonymous, and whoever/wherever you are, please know that I'm thinking of you today.

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  2. Oh Robin, how I love this.

    I often catch myself striving instead of thriving... particularly when it comes to blogging. There is always someone better, bigger, making loads of money.

    I need to remind myself that my purpose in this blogging thing might not be to make loads of money and have many followers... my purpose may be to reach a handful of people for the kingdom of God. It feels like I hit these walls on a regular basis and I've come to a point where I don't resist it and can recognize my thought patterns faster.

    You are enough. I am enough. We are enough because of HIM who lives in us.

    Sending you love and continued encouragement.
    xoxo

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    1. Jennifer, I like how you wrote that we hit these walls on a regular basis. So true. I run into the same walls repeatedly, which (to look on the bright side) I'll view as an opportunity to "retest" and do better this time around, rather than a sign that I'm perpetually screwing up. ;) Ahhhh, life. We're always dealing with stuff, eh?

      Your blog is so exceptionally well done, by the way. I marvel at your technical acumen! Seriously!

      By the way, I still like the idea of both of us making loads of money... :)

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  3. Robin! I wrote a long response to your post the other day but it didn't publish so...I'm back! :)

    First of all, you are not a failure and you are enough. I know you know that but it helps to hear it from other people too. You are enough.

    I haven't blogged in years and just starting up again has reminded me how vulnerable it really is. I press "publish" and I hold my breath every time. I think blogging is like life - you never truly know the impact you have on people. They might not comment on, like, or share your post but they might be thinking about it or talking about it with other people. You have no idea what you spur in other people and most times you don't get to know. It's scary!

    I love it - let's speak good things about ourselves. I'm working on that but it is something I have to consciously work on every day.

    -Courtney

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    1. Courtney, thank you for your comment, and a double thanks for painstakingly re-submitting it when it disappeared out into the ether! (Sorry that happened!)

      I'm so glad we're all in this together. Solidarity in our humanness. ;)

      Your comment about blogging being like life makes me want to tell others -- out loud, not just in my head -- how much I appreciate them. We can speak good over ourselves, and we can speak good over others.

      Thanks for your words kindly spoken over me! They mean a lot. :)

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  4. Robin, just wanted to let you know that you have at least two out-of-state, unrelated-to-you readers! I started reading "Pink Dryer Lint" when I was pregnant with my daughter - she turned 5 in January and will be starting kindergarten in the fall.

    I clung to several blogs during those terrifying months of pregnancy and first-time motherhood, but yours is the only one that is still around. You should be incredibly proud of that.

    Thanks for years of uplifting, thought-provoking, and/or hilarious posts.

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    1. Kristen, would it be weird to screen shot your comment, print it, laminate it, and then carry it around with me like a happy reminder? (Just a little weird, perhaps?)

      I love that my blog has spanned your daughter's life.

      On an unrelated note, I always think that parents should be wholeheartedly congratulated on making it to the kindergarten marker. While you still have a few more months of 24-7 parenting responsibilities before your sweet one steps onto the school bus for the first time, let me issue you a heartfelt "YOU DID IT: you have parented through the littlest years!"

      To put this in context, that's over 1,800 days of on-the-job, learn-as-you-go, sleep-deprived, periodically-get-peed-on investment in the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual care of your child. No small feat!

      I'm so glad you wrote, Kristen. It's an honor that you're reading.

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