Last weekend, I went to a friend’s wedding, and as a few friends and I were taking our seats at the ceremony, I had this sinking realization: “every single man here is wearing a blazer except for me!”
Don’t laugh . . . Ok fine, go ahead and laugh.
But honestly, I felt so self-conscious as I imagined how my other male and female friends dressed to the nines might think judgmental thoughts about my wardrobe deficiency (cuz other people always care just as much as us, right?). The only thing that took my mind off the feelings of inadequacy was seeing that there was one other poor bloke missing this key outergarment.
Sheesh! How easily I feel like my manhood is on the line under societal norms and pressures.
This experience wasn’t as bad as the time in Middle School (you know it’s gonna be good) when I felt very regretful being the only one who showed up to “pajama day” wearing normal school uniform, a slightly traumatizing experience for a 12 year old just wanting to fit in, but it differed only in degree, not in kind. The same message of shame ran through my head: “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you figure it out?”
Maybe you can relate to this.
So why is this story important and relevant for my faith? Because it deals with inadequacy and what makes me feel “enough” as a person and whether I feel a sense of belonging and connection with others. The thing is, I already have belonging, acceptance, and adequacy with God. “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:5 NASB). Not feeling my worth in Christ holds me back from loving others out of a sense of abundance and gratefulness to God.
I need to preach to myself daily that Jesus has transformed the way God sees me by exchanging his perfect adequacy and righteousness for my shame and guilt. Though I may not struggle as much with feeling forgiven, I do struggle with feeling enough - feeling shame. You break the cycle of shame by admitting to God and others that you don’t have it all together, and that you’re done with hiding weaknesses. I’ve recently been practicing vulnerability by sharing with people in my life - my roommate, my freshman small group, my community group from church - experiencing spiritual numbness from letting busyness and distractions (i.e. my phone and the internet) crowd out slowing down to surrender my day to God and remember that he loves me. It might sound simplistic or obvious, but I actually believe there’s a direct correlation between spending quality time with God and the health of your soul, the very core of your livelihood.
I have seen that vulnerability with God and with community - saying you need them and relying on them - actually increases and enriches your connection with them. Why? Mainly because it reinforces the reality that you’re not alone. Because let’s face it, everyone experiences shame to some degree, and the less you talk about it, the more power it has over you. For some, shame may be not feeling like we measure up to the social standards of others, or comparing ourselves to the performance of others and feeling inadequate and maybe a disappointment to family and friends. At the end of the day, God already knows everything about us still loves us anyway. I also think it’s important that we not overidentify with our insecurities, but learn to have a good sense of humor about it and not take ourselves too seriously. The more we grow into our identity in Christ, the more fully we are free to become our true selves.
What would it look like if we didn’t take blows to our self-worth based on our performance or fitting in, but practiced gratitude to God and vulnerability with each other, and reminded ourselves of our adequacy in Christ? I think we would be more at peace with ourselves, more freed up and empowered to love others well, and more joyful in God’s unchanging character. Let us grow in both acceptance and love of ourselves because of God’s acceptance of us, and also be safe and accepting people for our friends to share their struggles with us.