Check-List Rehab

Don’t get so caught up in accomplishing things, that you forget to have experiences. I think that was the thing that fucked me up so badly after I graduated university. After four years of deadlines to meet, events to plan, assignments to manage, and activities to organize, I had begun to measure my self-worth by the things I could “get done” in a day. I had my school-issued planner meticulously mapped out with important due dates, club meetings, campus events, mid-term and final exams, and all sorts of important “to do’s”, and the satisfaction, no, the high, that I would get from marking items off my lists became the yardstick for whether or not I had had a good day. It was as though I was on a speeding train; each item I checked-off was a checkpoint that I sped past, barely stopping to admire the scenery. And then came graduation, and my train suddenly stopped, only it didn’t just stop, more like it veered off a cliff and crash-landed in a fiery blaze.

I can see now that it was simply my way of coping with the stress, which was always bubbling just under the surface, and in a way, it was simply a changeable trait that I had to develop to adapt to college life. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that it was not something I needed to carryover into other realms of my life. What I didn’t realize (and had to learn the hard way), was that that method of measuring my self-worth and defining my identity was entirely flawed. It was built on a checklist. My whole personhood had become a breakdown of items on some imaginary, metaphysical rubric; like life was an assignment, and if didn’t have the certain boxes checked in, somehow, i had failed. I failed because as soon as I graduated, I ran out of boxes to check. I had no more important meetings to attend, tests to study for, or papers to write. Everything suddenly stopped, and I think that destroyed me a little.

Unlike some of my peers, I didn’t have a job or grad school lined up after graduating, and that perhaps can be seen as my first problem. I would completely understand if some people out there would “tsk tsk” at that and say that if I had only made sure to do the responsible thing and have either of those options in place, then the train never would have stopped, and the checklist never would have ended, and I never would have had to crash and burn in pitiful self-loathing. In a way, those people would have been completely right. Would it have been better for me to have just immediately found a job or continue my studies after graduation? I don’t know. Would it have hurt less? Maybe, although it certainly would have had it’s own set of trials. But I don’t think it would have done me a lot of good in the long run because there was lesson I needed to learn there. My eyes needed to be opened to the damage I had caused my self-image with the life rubric mentality. I needed to see what went wrong, and I needed to learn how to make it right.

I had anchored my self-worth in my accomplishments, so that when there were suddenly no more things to accomplish I began to fall apart. As months went by with no job despite my efforts, I felt myself deteriorate little by little. This went on for over a year; during that time, I struggled with anger, bitterness, and depression, and found myself in a desert place spiritually. Looking back on that time, I can see why God needed to have me broken, because when I decreased, God increased. When I began to doubt my purpose because I felt like a jobless loser, Christ reminded me that I was destined for glory not because of my own works, but because of God’s love.

So I hope that’s something you’ll remember when you find yourself in a desert place: your identity does not rest in what you “do” or what you “accomplish.” The longer you try to measure yourself against the metaphysical life rubric, the more you will find yourself falling short, and the harder it will be for you to accept your own shortcomings. The problem with the life rubric, is that it leaves no room for the work of grace; the work of Christ is halted when we try to find our worth in worldly things which will inevitably pass away. The “to-do” lists will eventually stop, the rush and pressure to meet deadlines will someday fade, even the will to accomplish great feats will ebb as we age and grow weary, but Christ didn’t call us to build faceless corporations, or fancy businesses. We are called to further the Kingdom of God, which is built on an economy of faith, mercy, grace, and love.

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