Self-Esteem Through Transformation: My Story

A few days ago I was talking to a Friend (which means Quaker when the "F" is capitalized) on the telephone and she asked me a question I have been thinking about in the back of my mind ever since. (I did talk about it with her too.) It brought to a point some things I have been thinking about lately and I wanted to share them with you. This is a bit of my story.

To paraphrase, she first told me how she experiences ups and downs in her life and in her opinion of herself. The question she put to me was how have I developed a solid self-esteem? The question surprised me as not only had I never considered the answer, but in years past, I would have been one of the last people to ask that of. Starting around my late elementary school years, my self-esteem was in the subbasement of the skyscraper of life. I thought I was a bad child, that I needed the good opinion of others to be worth anything to the world, and I had no boundaries. I tried to fit in early on, it never worked, so I gave up trying. (My mother never really understood that, she never gave up trying to help me fit- God bless her.) I was teased what seems to be A LOT. It's probably what most kids go through but I am not exaggerating when I tell you I had kids in younger elementary grades giving me a hard time on my walk home from school. At times throughout my life, I have wanted to die, repeatedly every few years. I was never actually courageous enough to do it myself, I turned over the responsibility to God and prayed with passionate desperation, "God, please kill me now." And I meant it. I didn't see how life could ever be happy on a regular basis or that I deserved a joy-filled life. Oh, I had my moments. I went to prom, I found some good mentors, sang in several excellent choirs, and had birthday parties like any other kid. But I was sad and I held in a lot of pain.

Changing that around, or growing from it, was never an overnight cure. It started slowly as I can now see. In high school, I had a "best friend" who was a huge blessing in my life. "Sarah eats chicken lips," and "Sharon eats lizard legs," peppered our school notes. In college, I found a good group of young adult Christians and we ate, played, and studied together. I was a part of a group and I loved it. But deep inside, even past my own acknowledgement at times, there was a darkness that ate away at my self-esteem. Whatever good opinion I did have of myself was only a shell covering a self-loathing I couldn't get rid of. I could now see the pain but had yet to go through it.

In my life, the tide truly turned and took full force when I started at George Fox Seminary. I was so excited, a dream had come true and I could hardly wait to begin. However, there are some things the professors and admissions counselor don't tell you when you show up for your first day. For one, they don't tell you that they are going to make you take all the pain you can handle out of your closet and you are going to have to deal with it. They don't tell you that they are not only going to encourage you in your gifts, but they are going to go into the trenches alongside you and guide you in your struggles. They don't tell you that people about to graduate call their time there "spiritual boot camp", that you will never see God, the church, or people, the same way ever again and that they are about to break every box you've got. No, they don't talk about that, yet... But they will and at least for me, they did. And you know what? My time there was one of the richest times in my life because I had to deal with the hard issues. It helped me bond with friends in deeper ways than I had done before, and forced me to see God in a much larger context than I had before dared to believe.

But what does all this have to do with self-esteem and self-confidence? Everything. It's awfully hard to love when you hate at the same time. It's awfully hard to see yourself as worthwhile when you beat yourself up time and time again. I could have had thousands of people telling me I was wonderful but I wouldn't have really believed any of them until I dealt with what was inside. But having those voices of encouragement is important. Having that encouragement from those who I feel love me gave me the courage to stop running from the monsters, to turn around and face the darkness. Having someone in the dark place with me passionately urging me to let go and let the black water of pain pull me under was God's gift to me. By that point, I had enough healthy support around me to break. And oh, I broke. It was the most painful time I have ever experienced and also the time I have felt closest to God. Kahlil Gibran, one of my favorite poets writes of what I feel God did with me:

Thereupon I uprooted the old and strong
tree of my soul.
I severed it from its past and dismantled
it of the memories of a thousand
springs and a thousand autumns.
And I planted the tree of my soul in an-
other place.
I set it in a field far from the roads of time,
and I passed the night in wakefulness
beside it, giving it to drink of my
tears and my blood, and saying,
"There is savour in blood,
and a sweet-ness in tears."

God stayed with me. He held my hand in silence for months as I groped for the thread of hope I was told was in the black water; if I had enough energy to grope at all. He stayed through my tears, my screams, the times when I couldn't pray or speak. I always felt his hand holding mine like a loved one by the side of an unconscious person this side of death. But the strange thing is, the pain didn't kill me. What it did, was take my life down to its barest foundation, to the cement above the dirt, and then I had to answer the question, "Okay, what do you want to build?" I wanted joy and hope. I wanted self-confidence and fun. I really wanted love. So that's what we did. He didn't do it in the way I expected, he didn't do it quickly either. It took time. But board by board and with a lot of windows to let in the light, we rebuilt. This time, we had new plans and they were beautiful. We did take from the old materials and this is important. Everything I was before was not junk. I was a treasure but there were some things deep inside that needed to be corrected and healed and sometimes, things like that can only be fixed by taking everything around it apart. I couldn't throw myself away as much as I wanted to at times. I had to learn that God takes the poop in our lives and makes it into fertilizer. He takes the things we want to chuck and turns them into diamonds around our necks. That's the way it was for me.

As I healed, I started noticing things, little things. It may have been something I said or did, a way I reacted, or a thought I had, but I would stop quite startled and think, "That's different, that's new." Soon, people around me started commenting. One friend told me, "When I first met you, there was a shadow in your eyes. It's not there anymore." But now, as much as hearing these things mean to me, I no longer need to hear them. I now know I am enough and I am proud of who I have become. What is more, I know God loves me and that I am free to explore, there is no set path I have to stay on or be damned, I can roam the countryside and he will be there. I no longer want to listen to the limits of others. Whether they think well or little of me, I know now where I stand and I don't care where they want me to stand. I have God's approval and I have nothing else to loose. I have little fear left, I love trying new things and I don't care if you think I look silly. It's fun and I'm enjoying it.

This walk is not finished though, I still have my struggles, and pain still comes up, but it is no longer the center of my world, the thing I am trying to squelch down. It's on the side, love is now the center. My relationship with God is my core, my love for others and their love for me outflows from the first. And now that I let myself be myself, I am finding I really like that person. She is someone I am enjoying exploring and discovering new things about. I also have kept that community of guidance so when I need to hear the truth, I know these trusted fellow travelers will tell it to me whether I like hearing it or not. They are people to whom I can bring those raw questions I carry deep inside, the one's I have to find words for even as I'm voicing them and they will hold those questions with love and respect, taking their time with me to listen and talk.
I also have boundaries now. I don't take things said about me at face value, I hold them, weigh them, and decide if it just or not. Sometimes, it really helps to see the best of myself through another's eyes and at others, it strangely helps to have my feelings hurt a bit because it is an opportunity to grow a thicker skin and to count more on God and myself. I don't let things define who I am, good or bad. And you know what? It feels really good and I'm getting better at it every day. It's still a struggle, but life is full or growth and struggle, it's a good thing.
Everyone's story is different. Everyone comes at their own answer a different way. Because we are each unique, we can expect God to speak to and heal us in unique ways as well. What I want to get across is don't be afraid of letting the pain take you. It will seem like eternity but it is only for a time. We spend so much of our lives patching up the pain, covering it over, or trying to ignore it, but then pain and self-loathing only grows. We can read all the self-help books we want, but unless they help us walk through the darkness, their use is going to be limited. You have to swim in the black water, you have to turn around and experience your pain. You have to trust God has a hold of you even when you can't feel or see him. It's never as bad as it seems in the end. Fear of something is worse than the thing itself. In the end, my time truly experiencing my pain was an amazing gift. I wouldn't go back to change a thing about it. It gave me time to deal with all the crap I'd held inside and now that I can recognize it for what it is and give myself a lot more grace and understanding about it, I have a higher opinion of myself and a greater respect for who I am and am still growing to be. And let me tell you as someone once told me in response to a desperate question, "Yes, there is life, there is a shore on the other side."

Listen to God. He will help you in your process. His timing is perfect. It may not be the time for you to go through this right now, or the time may be right. Only you and God can know that. For me, it unfolded without me knowing it. I was in it before I knew it had begun. God knew I was ready. I had grown in strength and could endure what I had to face. And when you come to that place, you will be ready too. Find people you can be gut wrenchingly honest with who will support you in your journey.

Ask God to bring these kinds of people into your life and develop trust with them. I will be eternally grateful for the people he brought into mine. To paraphrase a song, they are like the handprints on my heart, they each left a deep mark and have been the touch of God. Good guides will not just help you find the way, but they will help you find and acknowledge the wisdom within yourself, your own strength and power. They will help you know that all you need is within you.

So many of us struggle with self-esteem issues and we try to find ways to fix it. However, I have learned that you can't "fix" self-esteem. It's not an isolated problem. Self-esteem is a sympton of a greater pain below and only by facing that pain can you see what you are truly worth. You can't run away from what is inside of you and learn to love what is inside of you at the same time. You can only love what you are willing to see. And I know it's hard. It will be one of the hardest things you will ever do. I promise you that. But it will also be one of the most beautiful, one of the most transforming experiences of your life.

Ask God to speak to you about this. Be open to the process. Be open to how he answers you and trust yourself to hear him. It takes great courage to turn around and walk through the pain but you can do it and he will help you. He carried me, I know he'll carry you.

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Walking the Sea: Self-Esteem Through Transformation: My Story

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Self-Esteem Through Transformation: My Story

A few days ago I was talking to a Friend (which means Quaker when the "F" is capitalized) on the telephone and she asked me a question I have been thinking about in the back of my mind ever since. (I did talk about it with her too.) It brought to a point some things I have been thinking about lately and I wanted to share them with you. This is a bit of my story.

To paraphrase, she first told me how she experiences ups and downs in her life and in her opinion of herself. The question she put to me was how have I developed a solid self-esteem? The question surprised me as not only had I never considered the answer, but in years past, I would have been one of the last people to ask that of. Starting around my late elementary school years, my self-esteem was in the subbasement of the skyscraper of life. I thought I was a bad child, that I needed the good opinion of others to be worth anything to the world, and I had no boundaries. I tried to fit in early on, it never worked, so I gave up trying. (My mother never really understood that, she never gave up trying to help me fit- God bless her.) I was teased what seems to be A LOT. It's probably what most kids go through but I am not exaggerating when I tell you I had kids in younger elementary grades giving me a hard time on my walk home from school. At times throughout my life, I have wanted to die, repeatedly every few years. I was never actually courageous enough to do it myself, I turned over the responsibility to God and prayed with passionate desperation, "God, please kill me now." And I meant it. I didn't see how life could ever be happy on a regular basis or that I deserved a joy-filled life. Oh, I had my moments. I went to prom, I found some good mentors, sang in several excellent choirs, and had birthday parties like any other kid. But I was sad and I held in a lot of pain.

Changing that around, or growing from it, was never an overnight cure. It started slowly as I can now see. In high school, I had a "best friend" who was a huge blessing in my life. "Sarah eats chicken lips," and "Sharon eats lizard legs," peppered our school notes. In college, I found a good group of young adult Christians and we ate, played, and studied together. I was a part of a group and I loved it. But deep inside, even past my own acknowledgement at times, there was a darkness that ate away at my self-esteem. Whatever good opinion I did have of myself was only a shell covering a self-loathing I couldn't get rid of. I could now see the pain but had yet to go through it.

In my life, the tide truly turned and took full force when I started at George Fox Seminary. I was so excited, a dream had come true and I could hardly wait to begin. However, there are some things the professors and admissions counselor don't tell you when you show up for your first day. For one, they don't tell you that they are going to make you take all the pain you can handle out of your closet and you are going to have to deal with it. They don't tell you that they are not only going to encourage you in your gifts, but they are going to go into the trenches alongside you and guide you in your struggles. They don't tell you that people about to graduate call their time there "spiritual boot camp", that you will never see God, the church, or people, the same way ever again and that they are about to break every box you've got. No, they don't talk about that, yet... But they will and at least for me, they did. And you know what? My time there was one of the richest times in my life because I had to deal with the hard issues. It helped me bond with friends in deeper ways than I had done before, and forced me to see God in a much larger context than I had before dared to believe.

But what does all this have to do with self-esteem and self-confidence? Everything. It's awfully hard to love when you hate at the same time. It's awfully hard to see yourself as worthwhile when you beat yourself up time and time again. I could have had thousands of people telling me I was wonderful but I wouldn't have really believed any of them until I dealt with what was inside. But having those voices of encouragement is important. Having that encouragement from those who I feel love me gave me the courage to stop running from the monsters, to turn around and face the darkness. Having someone in the dark place with me passionately urging me to let go and let the black water of pain pull me under was God's gift to me. By that point, I had enough healthy support around me to break. And oh, I broke. It was the most painful time I have ever experienced and also the time I have felt closest to God. Kahlil Gibran, one of my favorite poets writes of what I feel God did with me:

Thereupon I uprooted the old and strong
tree of my soul.
I severed it from its past and dismantled
it of the memories of a thousand
springs and a thousand autumns.
And I planted the tree of my soul in an-
other place.
I set it in a field far from the roads of time,
and I passed the night in wakefulness
beside it, giving it to drink of my
tears and my blood, and saying,
"There is savour in blood,
and a sweet-ness in tears."

God stayed with me. He held my hand in silence for months as I groped for the thread of hope I was told was in the black water; if I had enough energy to grope at all. He stayed through my tears, my screams, the times when I couldn't pray or speak. I always felt his hand holding mine like a loved one by the side of an unconscious person this side of death. But the strange thing is, the pain didn't kill me. What it did, was take my life down to its barest foundation, to the cement above the dirt, and then I had to answer the question, "Okay, what do you want to build?" I wanted joy and hope. I wanted self-confidence and fun. I really wanted love. So that's what we did. He didn't do it in the way I expected, he didn't do it quickly either. It took time. But board by board and with a lot of windows to let in the light, we rebuilt. This time, we had new plans and they were beautiful. We did take from the old materials and this is important. Everything I was before was not junk. I was a treasure but there were some things deep inside that needed to be corrected and healed and sometimes, things like that can only be fixed by taking everything around it apart. I couldn't throw myself away as much as I wanted to at times. I had to learn that God takes the poop in our lives and makes it into fertilizer. He takes the things we want to chuck and turns them into diamonds around our necks. That's the way it was for me.

As I healed, I started noticing things, little things. It may have been something I said or did, a way I reacted, or a thought I had, but I would stop quite startled and think, "That's different, that's new." Soon, people around me started commenting. One friend told me, "When I first met you, there was a shadow in your eyes. It's not there anymore." But now, as much as hearing these things mean to me, I no longer need to hear them. I now know I am enough and I am proud of who I have become. What is more, I know God loves me and that I am free to explore, there is no set path I have to stay on or be damned, I can roam the countryside and he will be there. I no longer want to listen to the limits of others. Whether they think well or little of me, I know now where I stand and I don't care where they want me to stand. I have God's approval and I have nothing else to loose. I have little fear left, I love trying new things and I don't care if you think I look silly. It's fun and I'm enjoying it.

This walk is not finished though, I still have my struggles, and pain still comes up, but it is no longer the center of my world, the thing I am trying to squelch down. It's on the side, love is now the center. My relationship with God is my core, my love for others and their love for me outflows from the first. And now that I let myself be myself, I am finding I really like that person. She is someone I am enjoying exploring and discovering new things about. I also have kept that community of guidance so when I need to hear the truth, I know these trusted fellow travelers will tell it to me whether I like hearing it or not. They are people to whom I can bring those raw questions I carry deep inside, the one's I have to find words for even as I'm voicing them and they will hold those questions with love and respect, taking their time with me to listen and talk.
I also have boundaries now. I don't take things said about me at face value, I hold them, weigh them, and decide if it just or not. Sometimes, it really helps to see the best of myself through another's eyes and at others, it strangely helps to have my feelings hurt a bit because it is an opportunity to grow a thicker skin and to count more on God and myself. I don't let things define who I am, good or bad. And you know what? It feels really good and I'm getting better at it every day. It's still a struggle, but life is full or growth and struggle, it's a good thing.
Everyone's story is different. Everyone comes at their own answer a different way. Because we are each unique, we can expect God to speak to and heal us in unique ways as well. What I want to get across is don't be afraid of letting the pain take you. It will seem like eternity but it is only for a time. We spend so much of our lives patching up the pain, covering it over, or trying to ignore it, but then pain and self-loathing only grows. We can read all the self-help books we want, but unless they help us walk through the darkness, their use is going to be limited. You have to swim in the black water, you have to turn around and experience your pain. You have to trust God has a hold of you even when you can't feel or see him. It's never as bad as it seems in the end. Fear of something is worse than the thing itself. In the end, my time truly experiencing my pain was an amazing gift. I wouldn't go back to change a thing about it. It gave me time to deal with all the crap I'd held inside and now that I can recognize it for what it is and give myself a lot more grace and understanding about it, I have a higher opinion of myself and a greater respect for who I am and am still growing to be. And let me tell you as someone once told me in response to a desperate question, "Yes, there is life, there is a shore on the other side."

Listen to God. He will help you in your process. His timing is perfect. It may not be the time for you to go through this right now, or the time may be right. Only you and God can know that. For me, it unfolded without me knowing it. I was in it before I knew it had begun. God knew I was ready. I had grown in strength and could endure what I had to face. And when you come to that place, you will be ready too. Find people you can be gut wrenchingly honest with who will support you in your journey.

Ask God to bring these kinds of people into your life and develop trust with them. I will be eternally grateful for the people he brought into mine. To paraphrase a song, they are like the handprints on my heart, they each left a deep mark and have been the touch of God. Good guides will not just help you find the way, but they will help you find and acknowledge the wisdom within yourself, your own strength and power. They will help you know that all you need is within you.

So many of us struggle with self-esteem issues and we try to find ways to fix it. However, I have learned that you can't "fix" self-esteem. It's not an isolated problem. Self-esteem is a sympton of a greater pain below and only by facing that pain can you see what you are truly worth. You can't run away from what is inside of you and learn to love what is inside of you at the same time. You can only love what you are willing to see. And I know it's hard. It will be one of the hardest things you will ever do. I promise you that. But it will also be one of the most beautiful, one of the most transforming experiences of your life.

Ask God to speak to you about this. Be open to the process. Be open to how he answers you and trust yourself to hear him. It takes great courage to turn around and walk through the pain but you can do it and he will help you. He carried me, I know he'll carry you.

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1 Comments:

At August 13, 2008 at 9:05 AM , Anonymous Paula said...

Very inspiring post. I agree with you. Working in increasing our self-esteem is not that easy. It is a process that usually takes time. If you want to increase your self-esteem, you have to be serious about it and be motivated enough to do so because giving up is very easy and tempting.

 

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