We all have those embarrassing childhood memories that forever stick in our minds and never really go away. Sure we can laugh about them now, but somewhere, deep inside, there is this small part of us that remembers the emotion we felt in that moment when humiliation struck.
Like that time in grade 3 when my small-town Sunday school class was preparing a song for the Christmas concert. All of us where going to dress up as one of the animals from the manger scene. I was assigned to play the dove, and I was very excited! Of all the messy, stinky barnyard animals I could have been, I was chosen to be the soft and graceful dove. One day at school, one of the other boys from my church was talking about which animal he was dressing up as. I proudly chimed in, informing everyone that I got to be the dove. He looked at me in front of everyone and said sarcastically, “Oh, I thought you were going to be the donkey!”
What a silly little memory. But I have never forgotten that moment. I also remember crying about it in my bed that night, with my mom sitting beside me trying to offer me a little bit of comfort. I wish I had understood that day that my value as a child did not come from whether or not the other kids approved of me. I wish I had been able to confidently stand on the truth that I was, in fact, still going to be the dove. But in that moment, I believed I was nothing but a donkey. A big, ugly, stupid donkey.
I wish I could say that I learned, through that childhood experience or others like it, that it really didn’t matter what other people thought of me. But unfortunately that didn’t happen. I just got older. And the “donkey” moments became more frequent, but less silly. They became more significant and more damaging.
Instead of a little boy calling me a donkey, the media started calling me fat and ugly. Perfectionism informed me that I could never measure up. Boys began to communicate that my worth came from my appearance and the accessibility of my body. My eating disorder started telling me that if I ate that piece of pizza, I would be a failure. Social media enlightened me to the fact that when enough people didn’t like my posts, images, and statuses, I was a nobody.
In a world like this, it’s no wonder so many of us walk through our lives desperate for the approval of others. For me, that desperation turned into a deadly perfectionism that would have taken my life if it had gotten its way. Because what was the point in life if I couldn’t win everyone’s approval? What was the point in life if I was nothing but a big, ugly, stupid donkey? But that’s the thing. I wasn’t a donkey. I had never been a donkey to begin with. I was always the dove. That was never in question—neither before or after the boy at school called me otherwise. We went on to perform the Christmas concert, and I played my part as a dove. But there must have been a tiny little piece of my heart the felt like a phony in my dove costume.
Isn’t that the way so many of us live? We go through life believing that we are worthless. We watch our posts on social media, waiting for the likes to come in and validate our existence (yes, I am guilty of this!). We dress to meet the media’s standard of style, beauty, and professionalism so that we can feel like we have it together as much as the next guy. We scurry from one activity to the next, trying to keep up with the latest Pinterest supermom. Why? Because we have completely lost touch with who we really are. We are convinced that we are donkeys when in actuality we are doves! We spend so much time, and money, and energy trying frantically to become more dove-like and hoping that people will finally approve. And when they don’t approve of all our efforts, panic sets in! Anxiety flourishes and grows, leaving us more and more depleted, and less and less able to see or accept our true selves.
You know, it wouldn’t have mattered if I had played the donkey. I mean really, I have nothing against donkeys. In hindsight, I wish I had been the child who played the donkey and was proud of it. That when the boy pointed at me and called me a donkey, I would have said, “Yeah, that’s right! I’m the donkey! The strong, steady donkey.” Instead, I was the child who allowed my identity to be shaped by what others had to say, rather than what was true. I couldn’t even stand on my conviction that I was a dove when somebody called me a donkey.
I have learned and grown a lot over the years, but this is something I am still working on. I still struggle to know my worth and remember where it comes from. I still struggle to keep my anxiety under control when I’m not sure if others approve. Yesterday I felt anxious wondering if my second blog would be received as well as my first. I battled in my mind over how many likes it would take to validate my effort. But I got through that battle. And today I am stronger and braver than I was before. (Plus I decided to put some clear restrictions on my social media usage for today to help myself conquer the temptation.)
Here’s what I know today. I have a truth in my life that I believe transcends what anyone on planet Earth thinks about me. And that truth is what God thinks about me. I believe that He is the one who created me. And who better to tell me what I’m worth than the creator Himself? Sometimes I still get caught up in watching the ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. Yesterday was one of those days. But my loving God is gracious, even on those days. He is gentle and kind and reminds me that those things don’t matter. He reminds me who I truly am. I am not a failure, I am His child. I am not worthless, I am a precious diamond. I am not a donkey, I am a dove.
What about you? Do you question your value and worth? Do you find it hard to be who you truly are in a world that is telling you to be something else? Leave me a comment below and let me know how you respond to the constant barrage of voices telling you that you are not good enough!