It's report card time at my boys' school - our first in the public school system (having homeschooled for the past 3 years...). Results to be posted online next week, the billboard outside our school announced. What a flood of memories washed over me as I read that sign's bold black letters! When I was in school (how many years ago now?), I lived for report cards, parent/teacher interviews, assignments and tests - anything and everything that would validate my existence even a little bit. I figured out school at quite a young age and was able to successfully navigate those rough waters with relative ease; high grades and good behaviour combined with just the right amount of helpfulness (read: sucking up) produced a plethora of ego-boosting comments and compliments throughout the years. How I hounded my parents for information after a P/T conference; I had to hear every word, every expression, every positive utterance - preferably more than once! (My poor dear parents, they were always so patient - I appreciate them so much now, remembering just what I was...) I would read and re-read comments scribbled in the margins of my tests and papers, basking in the warm glow of approval.
I have always been a people-pleaser. I have always suffered from low self-esteem. And I have always gravitated to that which I could do very well, fairly easily. (For more details, see other posts on this blog.) I think it's those three issues that come together to produce the phenomenon I mentioned above. I must admit here and now that, while I have grown and matured in many ways over the years, this has not changed in the slightest. Now, I live for likes on my face book status or comments on this very blog; in my mind, I replay over and over any kind or encouraging word; I cherish cards or notes or messages that compliment me ever so slightly and reread them again and again...I guess you could say that my love language is "words of affirmation" (see Gary Chapman's "The 5 Love Languages"), and that's fine, but who am I really out to please, anyway? How often do I fixate on God's words of love to me, His endless gifts, His miraculous provision - a thousand things every day that give me everything a bruised and battered image needs to clearly see its' true worth? Because, you see, all the positive reinforcement I've ever received (and craved) has been for the outward, the obvious, the public, for-the-world-to-see stuff. How much do I care about that which only God sees, the real Joy? A quote I read recently by Oswald Chambers really got me thinking about all this: "We are only what we are in the dark; all the rest is reputation. What God looks at is what we are in the dark—the imaginations of our minds; the thoughts of our heart; the habits of our bodies; these are the things that mark us in God’s sight." (Oswald Chambers, in The Love of God from the Quotable Oswald Chambers)
And so I'm feeling the need to start shifting my focus a bit...While encouragement from others is certainly sanctioned by God and meant to be a beautiful blessing, it should never take the place in my self-image of what my Father thinks of me. And while my outward behaviour/reputation serves as a witness to my God, it's my true, inner, authentic self that also merits constant examination and evaluation. Ah, this chasing after real joy - it's a never-ending digging, exposing, admitting, confessing...not comfortable, but valuable. If you can relate to anything I've said here, I'd love to know (not [just] to stroke my ego, but to see how God might be using these words of mine). May you know real joy!