Today is my wedding anniversary. Fourteen years ago, my wife and I committed our lives to one another. In sickness and in health. Good smells and bad. Til death do us part.
I am grateful to say that we’re still in love. Every day, scattered among my absent-mindedness and Gabby’s Looks of Mild Disapproval TM, you can find at least one good belly laugh and several sincere hugs. Over time, we notice that the little quirks that used to mystify us have slowly become some of our partner’s most endearing qualities. Like the way I sing to myself in the bathroom. Loudly. Or the way she can remember the tiniest detail about everyone she’s ever met, but still remains baffled by time zone changes (P.S., in case you’re wondering, I just asked Gabby, and the current time in Tacoma, Washington is eleventy-seven o’clock).
While discussing young love with family this past weekend, nieces and nephews were sharing stories about potential mates who didn’t make the cut for one idiosyncrasy or another. Too hand-hold-y. Too friend-y. Too weird-hobby-y.
Then Gabby got into the mix.
“How about one guy I dated who asked to use my bathroom on the first date, then stayed in there for ten minutes to ‘secretly’ do a bunch of push-ups?!”
Our nieces asked, “Why the heck would somebody do that?!”
To which Gabby replied by looking directly at me and asking,
“I don’t know, Scott. Why would you do something like that?”
For some reason, when I first met Gabby, I thought she was a gal with really high standards. As I drove to her house for our first date, this voice inside my head kept saying,
I’m probably not cool enough for her. Or sophisticated enough. Or muscle-y enough. Is my car too cheap? Is my job too boring? Will she think I’m a loser?
Trapped in this never-ending self-talk, panic set in. I have never been a “cool guy.” I couldn’t become more sophisticated over night. Nor could I buy a new car or change my job. But there was one thing I could do.
So I went into her bathroom, stretched out in front of the sink, and did just enough push ups to temporarily bulk up, but not so many that I would break a sweat and kick start my B.O. I also made sure to destroy the evidence of my neuroses by rubbing the handprints out of the bathroom rug. After all, I wouldn’t want her to think I was too desperate or crazy or something.
Several years into our marriage, I confessed this little gem to my wife, and she thought it was hilarious that my anxious thoughts would cause me to do something so silly. As if bulging pectorals was her number one criteria for lifelong commitment.
And she’s right.
But not all the time.
Sometimes that voice in your head starts out as silly. Nothing more than a random thought. But then you feed it with worry. You water it with self-doubt until it breaks through the surface and begins to affect your everyday life. Nourished by the judgment of others it grows like a noxious weed. Unrestricted.
And that’s when things get really bad.
These damaging thoughts multiply, growing into an army of negativity. Each one firing its own special brand of ammunition. Insults. Abuse. Slurs and slights. Sure, these weapons may not have seemed so formidable on the outside, when they were disguised as criticisms from acquaintances or passive-aggressive remarks. But here, confined within the space of your mind, they ricochet off the walls, tearing your soul to pieces bit by bit. And there is no retreat. No escape. So you dive into your foxhole.
Prisoner of War.
Not like those real heroes that sacrificed for freedom. No. You’re just trapped by doubts and fears that no one else can hear, but all of us share.
The following thoughts have echoed through my brain, and maybe they’ve done battle in yours as well.
My skin is pale. My head’s too big. I need a Ph.D. I should be a better spouse. A better parent. A better neighbor. I’m too lazy. Too selfish. Too broken. I’m a push-over. A pretender. A nobody. I’m not good enough. Or smart enough. Or manly enough.
I’m not enough.
I wish I could say that I’m good at fighting myself like this. But I’m not. The battle’s not even close. My negative thoughts are too overpowering. My true self just sits defenseless, absorbing the bullets and body blows without even bothering to turn away. As if the onslaught is deserved.
And maybe you do, too.
It’s truly baffling. We would never sit idly by and allow another person to be attacked with verbal bombs such as these. No, we would readily come to a stranger’s defense, jumping in harm’s way to deflect the explosions, then turning back to offer encouragement and love in an effort to repair any damage that may have been done.
But me? No sir. I’m just a P.O.W. A Prisoner of War. Not the true hero kind, though. I’m locked in a cage of my own making. Leave me be and save yourself.
I’m not worth it.
The trouble is, the more we say these things, the more we start to believe them. All the while, running further away from the One who made us in His image. Making it ever more difficult to hear His voice. The one whispering our name the same way it’s been whispered throughout eternity. If we just bend our ear His direction, we can make out the words, dancing on the breeze. The small, omnipotent voice, saying…
My child, you speak the truth. You are, indeed, a P.O.W.
A Person of Worth.
Have you forgotten the ancient prayer? The one that boasts of how I knit you together in your mother’s womb? The one that declares how you are fearfully and wonderfully made? All of my works are wonderful, and you should know that full well. (Psalm 139: 13-14)
Or what about the words of the most perfect soul to ever walk the earth? The one who reminded you that even two sparrows, worth no more than a penny, are precious to me. So just imagine how valuable you must be! (Matt 10:29-31)
Yes, indeed. A Person of Worth. Each and every one of us.
So my prayer today is this: That when the battle starts to rage in my head, and the most familiar voice I know begins to assault itself with “not’s” and “should’s” and “can’ts” and “coulds”, that I can hear the voice of love. Reminding me that I’ve been created by good…
to bring a bit of Heaven down to Earth.
And, that, my friends, is a battle worth fighting.
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