Learning to wear my skin

Last night I did something I’ve never done before. It started so innocently. I was watching the Super Bowl in a mixed crowd of couples and singles, men and women from my church. As the crowd dwindled and came to an end, I found myself hanging around after the game watching something I never imagined I would just 24 hours earlier. As the game came to an end, one thing led to another and there, for the first time, I sat with my mom watching the Masked Singer.

I had only ever seen a part of the Asian version of the show, and Ryan Reynolds was dressed as a big fluffy mascot, singing.

As I watched, I was riveted. Mystery, clues, singing, and crazy outfits—how could something this cheesy be so captivating! As one of the characters stepped up to the microphone, they told her story/clues. She spoke of adversity and scandal—of trying to make a name for herself again. Then this costumed character sang exquisitely, afterward sharing that hidden in a ridiculous boxing kangaroo costume seemed to be the only way she felt comfortable to share who she is again.

I thought, how sad.

To be comfortable in our own skin should be a given, but I fear that for most of us, we’re not. Whether introvert or extravert, a 1, 4 or 9 on the Enneagram, or a D, I, S or C, there is an internal struggle to accept and be who we are.

No matter who you are, there are expectations placed upon you. A spouse wants you to be more of what they wish, a parent wants you to follow a particular trajectory when it comes to education and career, or a job expects you to look, live, and speak in a foreign way, continually expectation that we feel we need to live up to—a box we seem to be squeezed into—becomes reality.

As an extraverted introvert, the pressure is real. As one who serves in the public space as a pastor, it’s real. To be comfortable in my skin is a struggle I’ve dealt with my whole life.

Trying to fit in will only work for so long. We have to learn to be comfortable with who we are. We look at our abilities, interests, aptitudes, and we find ourselves in a crowd, viciously trying to stay there. We can also classify others, imprisoning them into the category we’ve created for them in our minds, a life sentence of sorts in the confines of the cell we’ve created, never released unless an appeal is heard and won. We imprison others, and we are imprisoned, sometimes even doing it our self.

While we wrestle with voices from our past and a lack of confidence in ourselves, we try and tackle the question, who are we really? Who are we behind the expectations, interests, social class, possessions, or abilities? To be honest, I find the question extremely hard to answer. What I have found is that it’s the wrong question. It is a great question. However, I believe it is a question we will grapple with for as long as we live. What I have found is that I have found my place in a much richer way in not asking who I am, but whose I am.

In moments of insecurity, I try and keep on the tip of my tongue three crucial scriptures.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

Psalm 139:14

You are not your own; you were bought at a price.

1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a

It reminds me that I was created with intention and purpose and that I have enough value that I can try and fail, search and discover and not worry about what others think, that I don’t have to dress up in the proverbial big fluffy boxing kangaroo costume to be comfortable in my skin. I can trust and know that I have purpose, intention and am loved. I can know that no matter what others think that God ascribes to me great value, so much so that he bought me at a great price. A price so costly that he was willing to give his life and all for you, me, and anybody else in any category they happen to find themselves in. Learning to wear my skin has been a process of learning who gave it to me, learning God’s heart and learning God’s love.

P.S. The kangaroo is SOOOOOO Natalie Imbruglia and the Tiger is Rob Gronkowski.

Photo from: https://www.goldderby.com/article/2020/the-masked-singer-spoilers-who-is-the-kangaroo-natalie-imbruglia/

Don’t Confuse Goals With Purpose

As 2020 approaches, it’s the season to set your New Years’ resolutions. Lose weight, be the real you, go for the career you always wanted, eat less deep-fried wontons—whatever it may be that is going to revolutionize your life, or at least help you to be a better you.

Our goals can be fantastic! I love setting mine. Maybe, at times, I love them too much.

Goals are crucial because they help you have something tangible that shows progress. If my goal is to lose ten pounds, but I have gone through half the year and gained ten, it tells me that there is something that is amiss between how I live and what I say that I want. Of course, they do need to be clear, attainable, and within a time frame.

Though they are important and though they are necessary, it is all too easy for them to become our god. How many people personally and professionally worship at the feet of almighty goals. It’s a god shaped in the form of their self-interest, yet it makes them slaves to a self-imposed expectation that profoundly affects their self-worth.

We morph ourselves from human beings into human doings.

No longer do we live lives of love or hope. We no longer have time for friends and family. We miss the pleasures that everyday life can bring. All too often, I connect with colleagues who are stressed out, overworked, feel like failures, and are spiralling down a staircase of self-doubt, depression and anxiety. The crazy thing about all of it is that much of the stress is self-imposed. It’s because of their goals. If we cannot enjoy the journey of self-improvement (whether we reach that goal or not), what’s the point?

I’m not saying that goals shouldn’t be hard or that sometimes they are not enjoyable. I believe that anything worth doing has a challenge to it. And if there’s a challenge to it there is a chance of failure. As G.K. Chesterton writes,

“Anything worth doing is worth doing wrong.”

When we tie our goals to our purpose and then fail to attain our goals, our “being” that has morphed to “doing” becomes human-failings. I know I have been there. I have felt my being slip away as my goals—some self-gratifying and others Kingdom-oriented—changed me into doing. When everything is going well, it’s…well, going well. Then as soon as there is a slip, the failing creeps in. Instead of learning from failing, we are dragged down into a vortex of self-loathing due to our incompetencies.

Maybe I’m being dramatic. However, I think it’s not far from the truth.

Jesus once said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Matthew 6:24

While in this context, he was referring to money, this statement is also true when applied to anything. The reality is whether your goals are inflating your ego or leaving you wrecked and ragged, both compete with what God has said about us.

I write about this in my book Hidden Faces,

“We turn our lives into commodities. Yet all we’re selling is our accomplishments, whether they be good, bad, amazing, or delusional.”

And point out,

“Our skills, talents, abilities, looks, intellect are all finite. They’re all perishable. The constant that always remains—that endures indefinitely, the one thing that will never fail us, is Christ. When we define ourselves by who Christ declares we are, we cannot help but live in the future that He has prepared for us.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jer 29:11

Don’t confuse goals with purpose. You were created to enjoy the God who made you, the world He’s put you in, and the people that come across your path. God created you to be a being and not a doing.

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When it hurts to dream

Regrets envelop our minds – trapped in a paper cage that is never mailed away. All the I wish I hads, should of beens, if onlys can consume, leaving us crippled.

Have you been there?

I have many dreams, an official bucket list you might say. Some I have accomplished while others await their chance.

Just because you can cross something off the “list” or you reach the goal–it doesn’t happen the way you think it should have. Maybe even though you have accomplished, the result feels empty. We are left wanting. 

Sometimes the dream crumbles beneath us. The dream is realized–things are-a-happening. Then without warning, brick after brick is deconstructed beneath you leaving your hard fought for dream (career, family, riches, experiences) either crumbling to the ground below or teetering back and forth like an upside-down pendulum awaiting imminent impact on the cold hard earth. 

If you have found yourself here, it can be hard to dream again. 

After all, it is much easier to accept a common existence. Why dream for anything more than your present status-quo if this is how it feels?

The dreams hurt.

I’ve been there. If you’re the type of person who is willing to take a chance on a dream, you have probably been there. If not, you will be there. Even the chance takers like Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein have been there.

When we find ourselves in such places, we need to ask ourselves, is my purpose to fulfill the dream or is the dream my purpose?

If our purpose is to fulfill the dream, then a failure of that dream is utter doom. Also, if this is the case, why not only have small attainable dreams where there is little risk of failure, to which I would say, that’s not much of an existence.

Instead, I lean to the latter. I believe we were born to dream. We see pictures of this in the Scriptures. Joseph dreamed of more, Abraham dreamed of lineage, James and John dreamed of glory, and I’m sure Paul dreamed of reaching more.

What this means is that it’s okay to take a chance on a dream and fail. You were made to dream. Success (whatever that is) is the bonus. Jon Acuff writes,

“Forget finding a purpose. It’s a never-ending story that will leave you empty. Live with purpose.”

I believe this is what dreaming does. It helps us live our lives with purpose. We are not seeking to find it in some empty accomplishment they may or may not happen depending on an insurmountable amount of variables that you have no control over. Your purpose is to dream and try.

Do your best. Try hard.

If you fail, that’s okay. At least you tried. 

When others heave judgements from the sidelines, you can sluff them off knowing you are at least in the game.

If you are genuinely taking a chance with your dreams, there will be setbacks. There will be the aforementioned I wish I hads, should of beens, and if onlys. It is a guarantee. It is in these moments you have a choice, you can let the failure define your and end your dreams, or you can do something with it. You can choose to define the failure–use the pain–learn the lesson to either try again or as you move on to the next chapter of your life.

When dreaming hurts, remind yourself, this is what you are made for.

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