All I wanted to do was impress her.
She was my hero at the time. I can picture her in my mind—polished, professional, charismatic, beautiful. When she walked into the room, there was a tangible shift—everyone knew she was there, everyone adjusted. People clamored for her magical touch, her validation, her encouragement. She knew how to pull the best from people and no one, least of all me, wanted to disappoint her. She made each person feel like they had a special bond, tying loose ends of relationships together neatly into cohesive groups. I would have done anything for her. In fact, for a time, I did.
We drove three hours to get there late. From what they knew, we weren’t going to be there at all. When weighing the price, it ought not have been paid—we bailed on a much higher priority to scramble to the event. I look back now and see the chains I was carrying, a wounded pride trying to find balm in a grand gesture. Grasping at straws to win approval. Failure—wearing a mask, camouflaged in sequins to deflect the truth.
All I wanted to do was impress her. I wanted to buy the real estate of respect by exaggerating my commitment. (Done well, I could play it off casually, magnanimously—reaping not only copious amounts of dignity but maybe even acceptance and respect?)
It was drizzling when we pulled up, wearing the rumpled business suits we had carted around all day in luggage bags. There were hundreds of cars and we parked at the back of the huge lot. Skirt, hose and heels for me, dodging rain drops and lugging my impotent briefcase. We scurried in the door and there she was–with a few other women I revered. Game time.
I remember walking up to the ticket table and there she was. I remember her expensive ivory suit jacket as though it were glowing. I was careful to be detached and genial as we approached, as though my soul wasn’t screaming for her validation and laud.
But it all happened too quickly. She did notice, surprised we were there, excited to see us—but then someone pulled her aside, because she was needed and important. And someone else behind us needed tickets—and just like that, the moment was over. I don’t remember a single moment from the rest of that night, except that I did not gain the fresh esteem I had gambled for.
I am naturally predisposed to a certain amount of calculated behavior. I run a constant tab in my mind, entirely without effort, in which my column always seems to be hovering haphazardly negative when measured against the merits of others. I know when my account is low and there is nothing more awful—nothing—then when I have exhausted the options to gain attention and approval. Grand gestures, like the story I just shared, were my ace in the hole for a time. In time, a nasty side effect emerged, in which the extraneous one-time effort became the ever-increasing measurement by which my daily motions were measured. Suddenly I was competing with myself, betting against myself.
It’s funny how difficult these crippled behaviors are to uproot. I have many, many of them. As I mature, many of my old ways are being brought to light. In my spirit, as they are dragged forward, I just stare at them, conspicuously aware of how it feels to have life caress a place that was dead. I am astounded and grateful—so loved—so convicted and sure that I am loved–that I can let them go. These reflexes, these survival techniques, my tricks, are weak coping mechanisms that were adopted during a time of tremendous pain. During those days, I heard no voices louder than failure, disapproval, performance, and rejection—and for a time, the Lord allowed them to break me. I needed that season and He was with me there. I can think of those difficult days and sincerely be crippled over in my thankfulness for that time.
It was Love to me. It was His loyalty to me. Jesus, be praised, for You waste nothing.
Then He took me through the time of refinement. As I set my eyes on Him, it was so clear that this behavior was contrary to His fingerprint in me. It was a weapon in my arsenal that I itched to use, like a dieter longs for Cheetos. When I felt overlooked or forgotten, or when I needed someone to validate me, I felt myself reach for that tired old tool—and time and again, I put it back on the shelf, crying but determined. I realized He permitted my needs so to drive me to maturity. I felt His hands help me stand up intentionally under that burning, under the stretching void of bewilderment. There was very little satisfaction for the gaping holes I could no longer manufacture counterfeit solutions for.
It was Love to me. It was His loyalty to me. Jesus, be praised, for You are trustworthy.
He has been showing me that His purpose for me in this isn’t to teach me a new behavior. As I stand up under the onslaught of old instincts, I am forced to reach into His character for my strength. I am built up, into Him, with strength that does not fade. I am driven into honest relationships and transparent communication with my brothers, where my needs meet their generosity. My movements take on His life and bring freedom and courage to those around me. I am mobilized to understand and bolster those who are in the midst of their own retraining. As I stand, I earn a swaggered confidence that His grace truly is sufficient and made perfect in my weakness. When my weakness is laid humbly at the feet of my brothers, when I admit I need, it is a galvanizing power to the body in which others are needed.
He is so loyal to us! He is so generous and lavish in His love for us, that He goes to such extravagance, such patience, to restore us to wholeness. Jesus, I am undone tonight by your beautiful commitment to me. I give you my grand gesture, my whole love. You don’t waste me or forget about me. Let my worship of You—I Am—be a grand gesture of my heart.
Jesus…with my whole heart…be praised!