The phone call came. I had just finished feeding our newborn son. My brother tells me, “Dad’s dead. You need to come.” I was certain I had mis-heard him. Dad was fine yesterday. He had been to my house three days prior for our son’s baptism. My brother reiterated that dad didn’t wake up, he needed to get off the phone, and I needed to get on the road.
A week prior to this, I had received a letter from the University informing me that I had one year to complete my doctorate or I wouldn’t have a degree. I had completed all of my coursework, my written and oral exams but couldn’t seem to finish my dissertation (research). You might think that this was an easy, “Yes, I’ll finish.” Instead, it was incredibly difficult.
I felt like a failure and a fraud. I would have a dialogue similar to his in my head, “Who am I kidding? Maybe the person I dreamed of being is out of reach. Maybe I’m not smart enough to finish this. Maybe I have hit my ceiling. Maybe this isn’t what God is calling me to. What happens if I don’t finish? What do I tell my son? What happens if I do finish? What if I really can’t do this?” This tape was paying on repeat since the letter arrived.
Recently, I have been reading Brene Brown’s Rising Strong (2015). This is what she would describe as a face down moment. A moment when failure has a hold on you. What she forced me to do was rumble with the emotions stirring inside me in this face down moment. It wasn’t a moment I thought needed further reflection. I had climbed out of that pit. I declared to my husband, Curt, in that difficult car ride that I wanted to finish my research. He said, “You know your dad was proud of you?” I responded, “Yes, I do, but finishing was important to him. He asked me about it regularly, and how do I explain to our son, years from now, that I quit?” Curt said, “Then do it.” He gave me his full support. So, on paper it looks like all was a success.
What I learned as I decided to dig into that moment was a lifetime of striving to be better than I believed I was. Let me unpack this. From my earliest school memories, I was always trying to prove to others that I was smart and worthy of their attention. I wanted others to be proud of me. I longed for approval. I held this image of a confident, professional woman in my mind. Someone I wanted to be, but who was completely different then the person living deep inside me. I spent my life striving to get the grades and degrees that would make me that person in my imagination. It was that face down moment that taught me that during those years of emotional struggle, I was forgetting God’s view of me.
One of my favorite sections of scripture has always been Psalm 139. Now, I know why. It is more than the awesomeness of God. It is more than God’s incredible attention to detail and creativity. God was telling me how He sees me. I had always focused on the first half of this Psalm neglecting these verses.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you. (Psalm 139 NIV).
I have spent decades trying to be this image of the perfect person I carried in my mind. I have spent a countless amount of time striving for the degree, the job, the title that says I have value. I have longed to hear Dad say, “Proud of you.” When all this time, God has been trying to tell me how precious his thoughts are toward me. It has been 16 years since Dad’s death. I still miss him, but maybe it’s time for me to start focusing on my heavenly dad’s words towards me rather than longing for my earthly dad’s.
What are you striving for? Are you missing the inner story? How is God trying to breathe life and bring hope through your striving? Share your story here and we can encourage each other.