Because I am a slow learner, often God has to repeat a message to me over and over in multiple places for me to get it. Recently, that message to me has been “Stop thinking you have to be better than everyone else and achieve remarkable things. Just be faithful to what I am asking of you and you will find the joy you seek.”
I recently read in Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck that if we accept that our actions don’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things and that most of our lives will be boring and this is okay and normal, then we will be freed of anxiety and the need to prove ourselves, and this acceptance will “actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgement or lofty expectations.” We can be paralyzed by the pressure to achieve greatness and never do anything, or we can believe we are so great already that we don’t need to strive to get better. Either way, we will not achieve anything great this way. He teaches a backward way to success and happiness.
Another encounter with this idea I had recently was in the really helpful book called the War of Art written by Steven Pressfield. He writes that professionals don’t overidentify with their jobs, but that the amateur does. “He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.”
I suppose these things stood out to me because I have not done many risky things in my life–risky in the sense that someone could see and judge the real me based on it. I have instead hidden in fear and shame because I needed to be loved and accepted and I feared that if they could see the real me, they will not love me.
In my subconscious, I preferred the fear of not being loved to the actuality of not being loved even if it meant not living the kind of life I wanted. If I were going to risk creating something, I would need to be very certain I would be among the best at it, or I would be too petrified to do it–this is why I only dance if I have steps to follow. The reason I am writing this blog is because I believe this is what God has called me to do right now. It is scary and I am only (hopefully) adequate at it, but the writing and sharing is a form of therapy–overcoming fears and creating in the face of mediocrity is empowering, and I hope I may improve in the future. But if I don’t get very good at this, and no one reads or I get lots of hateful comments, I still feel peace about doing what God has called me to do and He can be in charge of how He uses it.
If you are trying to create or accomplish something, you can’t be afraid to take risks and you have to shut the internal critic up long enough to get it out. The pressure of being the best and fear of criticism will shut down the process of creating something worthwhile and original. If we want to be happy and fulfilled humans, we have to be who we were created to be. If you were meant to, say, make pots, and you desperately need to be one of the best pot makers before you even begin so you can be loved and never criticized, you may never try to make pots, so you won’t improve with practice and will never become the great pot maker you want to be. But if you believe that God wants you to create pots, you could go ahead and make the pots even if they are not the best. You would know that God will do with the pots what He will–perhaps God wants you to learn something about life, or maybe be an example to someone, or it could be that making pots was a first step toward something else. The thing is that the potter should just do the work and leave the results up to God. If they are great and praised, wonderful. If they are not so great and no one cares or even if they scoff, at least you know you are doing what God has asked you to do.
When we do it for God and not for ourselves, we can relax and just do the work, knowing we are equally loved whether or not we succeed or look like fools. People who are on a religious mission often find themselves doing things they never thought they were capable of because it had to be done and they were the only one around who could be called upon to do it (think St. Peter, St. John Bosco, etc…). Because they were doing it for love of God and His people, they risked failure and embarrassment and achieved great things. It was about God and building up His Kingdom, not about themselves. So why are you doing what you do? Or why are you not doing what you really want to do? One day I will take my last breath in this body, and I want to know that I have been true to who I am and done everything my heart called me to do. I want to want to offer the fruits of my labor to God. Still working on this…