In this season of learning how to be a little girl, something else has come to my attention. I can’t think of being a little girl in the same way I think of being an athlete. That is, I can be both a little girl and an athlete but how I become one versus the other is different. How I learn to be a little girl is different than how I have cultivated being an athlete. There is so much good and value in having an athlete mindset, but it does not set me up well to understand all things. Like how to truly be a little girl. Athletes live and die on proving themselves. Well, maybe I should say athletes who are serious about improving and getting better. This is what I have done, at least. Of course, we all have those moments on the playground, where we could truly care less about what anyone else thinks. Honestly, in those moments, no one else really exists. No coaches, no fans, not even the other team. All fade out of view. It is the game, my teammates, and I, just having fun and letting the game be totally free. Fatigue or frustration don’t come into play either. Not because we aren’t competing hard, though. In reality, these are the times we compete the hardest. It’s out of pure love and joy for the game, which is an unlimited energizing source.
Unfortunately, this flow is not always how things go. Undoubtably, it seems the need to prove myself creeps in and becomes the lens through which I look at my game. I guess this might be the nature of the business world in some regards as well. I won’t go there, though, I can only speak of my experience in athletics. Looking through the lens of having to prove myself, I see joy hanging on praise for my performance from coaches, rather than from solely playing, from being at the playground and loving the game. It is totally a necessary thing as a player to ask and listen for feedback from coaches. They are coaches for a reason. There are many factors, of course, playing into how much value and regard I have and ought to have for their feedback. Exploring those is for another time. The danger is not desiring to receive this feedback but letting this feedback alone feed my desire to perform well.
I have found the same structure of thinking in how I always approached academics. Grades were a way to prove my intellectual ability. Getting good grades proved to the teacher I had great intellectual ability. I wasn’t finding joy just in having intellectual ability. It wasn’t enough. I had to have a product or a witness. And not only that but one I deemed worthy of giving the product or being the witness. I am not sure praise from a professor I didn’t think very highly of holds the same weight as praise from a professor I did think very highly of. So there is some credibility attached to the one I was looking to prove myself to. The challenge isn’t as great to prove myself to someone who is easily proven to. If I see a professor praising almost every classmate’s work, I might feel as though I am wasting my time proving myself to this professor because it is too easy, and their standards are lack. Their praise, by my measurement, is not desirable.
It is the professor everyone says is impossible to get a good grade off of that I truly desire praise from. It is the esteemed coach who I truly want to get feedback from. These are the sort of people I want to see me because there is something qualifying them and separating them from all the rest. They have the expertise and authority to say whether my performance is worthy of praise and recognition or not. They have achieved some status telling the world their opinion should be most highly regarded. Their eye for ability and talent in the subject or sport is the best.
I am often reminded by mom and other people just how proud of me you were, dad. This sounds good, and of course, is well-intended. Not only well-intended but the truth. I know you were proud of me, and I am very grateful for the reminders, especially now that you are gone. I hope to do the same for other people as well. Honestly, though, hearing it never made me feel like I thought it should. I know, or think at least, it ought to make me feel loved. When I tell someone I am proud of them, I want to express how cherished they are. I want to acknowledge the awesome things they have done and let them know how cool those things are, but above all, how awesome and cool they are, their being, not just their doing.
The twisted and sick thing is, though, I don’t think I hold you being proud of me with much weight. I think this is why hearing it doesn’t always make me feel the way it should. Just as the praise from the easily impressed professor or the semi-decent coach isn’t enough. Is too easy. My standard of measure is in expertise and status because this is how I measure myself. I wanted to be the best soccer player. You never played or coached. I wanted to be the fittest and most athletic. You were handicapped and your body was withering away. I was concerned with only being independent. You were utterly dependent. Gosh I actually can’t stand it. I hate writing this right now. I’m so sorry, dad. But it must be said. It must be brought into the light, all of the junk and shit harboring in the depths of my heart. I must listen. I wanted to be a physical therapist. You never studied anatomy. I wanted to know Scripture inside and out. You were no theologian. What status or expertise did you have? What does you being proud of me say about me to increase my status? What grade or feedback could you give me to confirm or reject my ability? None.
None, because you were my father, not my coach or professor. Proving my merit or ability does nothing for you. I can desire to do well in sport and school to make you proud, but there is no earning or measuring involved because above all, it is about who I am, your daughter, your little girl, not what I do or how well or poorly I do it. Unfortunately, some fathers do do this. They only see their kids when they do perform well. And I am very sad for them. I find I am in the same boat for a different reason. They deem their father someone to desire to be seen and praised by. I did not. I desired, and still desire, to be seen and recognized by those with status and expertise, those I deem worthy of giving me value by what I can do. Thus, in a sense, we are both trying to prove ourselves to those most difficult to prove ourselves to.
This is the twisted predicament I find myself in learning to be a little girl. I am trying to fit letting myself be loved solely by who I am through the lens of proving myself by what I can do. It doesn’t fit. There is nothing I can do to prove myself to my Father. It doesn’t make sense to. He is a Father. This is such an amazing thing, a life-saving thing, but truthfully, I am having a hard time wanting it. It is absurd, but nonetheless, if I am real with myself, it is the truth. Obviously, God is God. He has all the expertise and status there is. King of kings. Creator of the Universe. YHWH.
Excuse my language, but it is truly damned nonsense* for me not to want God’s approval and love above all else. I get hung up because He extends it to everyone. He wants everyone to have it. This, then, says nothing about my ability or merit. And graciously and thankfully so! Because I have none on my own, but, of course, I don’t always remember this. Selfishly and pridefully, I think I have lots of merit, and it ought to be recognized and praised, more than my brothers and sisters. Or jeez, even less. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter I just want the grade, so I can go on to get better and prove myself again. I foolishly want God to be the tough professor and esteemed coach. Praise the Lord He is not because I would be left in a very much worse predicament than I find myself in currently. I would most definitely be damned, through and through, if it were this way.
This isn’t even all of it. The evil of proving myself has not only maimed how I understand being loved but also loving. The kindling of my desire for a man, dating and marriage is a beautiful thing. One only God could have sparked and nurtured. I have gone and spoiled it. Loving someone is not proving myself to him. Not doing things, good and kind things mind you, to show him my merit and what I can do. I do not suppose my heart will ever be fully selflessly postured. However, I know it well enough to tell when it is looking for a grade or feedback or attention more so than being moved by real care and charity, by a burning desire for his goodness. There is a distinct difference, in my mind, between showing someone who you are versus what you can do. The heart is, indeed, deceitful, but I think if you pay attention, you can learn its ways. This being through unceasing prayer most likely. Please, God, I do not want my loving to be merit-based. I do not want to measure one of Your sons by his status or expertise. Please help me love him and cherish him for all of who he is. First and foremost, Your child.
I was so blessed to have you as my father, dad. You were an incredible model of how a man should love his wife. You were there and eager to tell me how proud you were of me. I didn’t even have to go looking for it. And this was the catch. For some reason, I wanted to have to go looking for it. Wanted the difficulty and challenge. But being a little girl would not be being a little girl if this was required or involved at all. For the very nature of being little and a child is not being able to prove anything. Not having ability period. Not even knowing to prove anything to anyone. Not having to and still having everything, being loved no matter what.
Lord, I know I am essential to You and loved by You, just as and just not as, all people are essential and loved by You. Let me be reminded You are a Father, my Father, not a professor or coach. Let me be reminded being a little girl, being loved and loving is not about proving myself. Let that be not only enough, but much more than enough, much more than I truly deserve. Let it be the inconceivable grace and love I long for above all.
PS- *Saying “damned nonsense” was not meant to be lightweight. It means “Nonsense under the curse of God and will lead (apart from God’s grace) those who believe it to eternal death.” [Mere Christianity]