We sat at a restaurant table, eating burgers and fries. Rather, he ate. I picked.
“It’s nothing personal.” He talked casually, not knowing how much his words seared me. “It has nothing to do with your performance. You’re great. We just can’t afford to keep doing business the way we have been. We’re losing too much money.”
A noble attempt to reassure, but I couldn’t get past his last words:
“We need to let you go.”
My head told me to take it at face value. I should believe his explanation, understand the business side of these decisions and walk away with head high and heart secure. These things happen, all the time.
But deep down, in a wounded area I couldn’t quite identify, I believed this instead:
If I was good enough, they wouldn’t let me go.
It’s been years since that day. But the experience reinforced a long-held belief. As did the writing rejections. The divorce. The children who rebelled. The friend who walked away. In every case, I held my inadequacy responsible.
If I was enough, they wouldn’t have left.
And so I worked, worked, worked to be the best wife, the best friend, the best writer, the best mother.
You do the same. I heard your words when we spoke after the event in Pennsylvania. I saw the doubt in your eyes even as I stood on the stage speaking in Texas. You lose a friend, and blame yourself. You watch a child struggle, and question your mothering. You take in all life’s rough edges and losses and rejections and assume somehow you are to blame for every. last. one.
But sometimes rejection is more about them than you. And your worth is never, ever tied to your work.
“Do you know how much I love you?” I ask my six-year-old the same question we rehearse nearly every night as I tuck him into bed. He’s desperate to know he matters. Maybe one day he’ll finally understand my answers are rock, not fog.
“So much!” He spreads his arms wide, although I’m certain he doesn’t yet believe in a love that will not leave. There’s been too much evidence to the contrary.
“Yes, so much.” I smile. Then ask another, more telling question: “And will I ever, ever stop?”
“NO!” He announces it, proud, like he can’t quite believe something so good can actually be his.
“You got it, buddy. Never.” I rustle his hair, look him in the eye. “Even when you’re having a bad day. Even when you scream and don’t listen. Even when I get frustrated and put you in time out. I love you. Always.”
I lean down and kiss his forehead, knowing he’ll be smiling long after I turn off the light. Even so, I know we’ll need to go through the questions again tomorrow.
I walk away, wondering when—oh, when?—our reassurances will show fruit. It takes such effort when the words don’t seem to stick. The thought is barely finished before I hear a question, this time asked by Someone other than me:
Do you know how much I love you?
How often I forget, how desperately I need to hear it.
So much. I answer Him. So very much.
And will I ever stop?
He pushes me a little bit further, hoping I hear Him better this time, deeper. Understand—finally—His words are rock, not fog. I remember the missteps and mistakes, the wandering and doubting. How I worked so hard to be enough. Defeated, I put my worth up for sale. Still …
No. You never let me go. Never will.
Worth without work. Love without loss. Rock, not fog.
Chances are, we’ll go through this again tomorrow. He’ll again ask the questions. I’ll again remember.
But this time, today, I smile as I shut my boy’s door.
And something deep inside me rests.
Have you ever equated your worth with work and results?
All the time! It is hard to separate those things sometimes. This was a great post and I’ll be sharing!
Yes, so very hard to separate! There’s nothing wrong with working hard, doing your best. But somewhere along the way value got all tangled up in it. Takes effort to unravel. Whew!
Your post reminded me of many things (for instance, ME!) but it also reminded me of something I taught a teen client yesterday. It’s a tool called The Responsibility Pizza. She was telling me about something that happened that was “all her fault,” and that she “should” have done this and “must” do that next time in order to insure nothing bad would go wrong. I drew a circle on the white board and we talked about all the factors that played into what happened (including the weather!) and gave them percentages. When all was said and done, her responsibility was about 20%…about as big as the pepperoni slices. Sometimes it helps to put it all in perspective by actually assigning percentages and putting blame (if there is any) on the truthful thing. BTW…what you are doing, pouring into that young boy…is heroic, and it will bear much fruit. ((Hugs))
What an excellent exercise, Linda. So wise!
Ugh…this brought me to misty eyes. 🙂 So true….for our kids, our friends….so true for ME!
I love this post. I too have tried to install the belief so deep into my kids that my love for them is not fickle, it is not fog. It is rock – always will be. Although worded differently, the words to your children are the same as mine are to mine. I told them I will love them always, no matter what – I will love them when they make mistakes, when they need to be reassured, I am here for them for and about anything. My words are: “There is nothing you can ever say or do that will ever make me not love you.” I remember my son asking me if I’d still love him even if he did a horrific crime and ended up in jail, and I told him again, “I will love you no matter what.” He seemed content with that. It’s moments like that that you hope get burned into their brains and never ever forget. I wish it more than anyone because I grew up without parental love (the love that God defines as love) and acceptance like that. I swore I’d do my best to love my kids in such a way that they never, ever doubt my love for them. I hope it shows.
In a Christian parenting course I took years ago with my husband, I learned this little treasure: “Children need four things: Time, Attention, Love and Affection.” I think if we give them these first and foremost, we’ll be doing them a great service.
Your story squeezed my heart to tears when being reminded of God’s great love for me – His love for me is the healthy parent love I didn’t get growing up. The things He has done for me and in me can never be repaid – His love is the only love I have never doubted – He adopted me, He made me His and told me He’d never leave me or forsake me and I believe it wholeheartedly. His love is never fog, its a rock. He. is. my. Rock.
And in my children’s lives, by God’s grace, I get to example being a rock for my kids … that they may grow into knowing Him who is The Rock. I hope I don’t disappoint.
I forgot to share too – I grew up being valued for only what I could do and was not valued for just being ‘me.’ I used to value others this way too because I was conditioned to believe that this is what love was (give and take and weighed on a scale) … until I became a Christian; oddly enough though, since becoming a Christian I value others for who they are, faults and all, but still find myself beating myself up when I think I ‘don’t measure up.’ It’s very hard undoing how I was conditioned to believe that I was only as good as what I could do for others and that other than what I can do, I have no value. When something happens where I feel valued – I am always flabbergasted by it.
A few months ago something happened that describes it perfectly. To make a long story short – a phone conversation with my youngest was misinterpreted. My husband believed I was in danger (when I wasn’t) – to make matters worse, I turned off my cell phone. He phoned 911, police were at our house. He even went to our phone provider to try to locate my phone. The man was frantic. After being at the event I was at, I turned on my phone (a few hours later) which is when my husband then got hold of me and was relieved to find I was okay. Point is – I was amazed that I was valued that much, even by him. I was never valued like that as a child – so for someone to show love like that still amazes me!! And knowing God’s love for me is even more intense … well, it blows my mind really.
It is so very hard to undo what you’ve believed or experienced over the course of years, isn’t it? Such a struggle … this makes grace all the more wonderful. We do our best, but know we can rest in His grace even when we fall short. Thanks for sharing your story, Rise.
Just beautiful Michele. I think most women (myself included) fear rejection and abandonment. It’s a message the enemy has worked hard to reinforce through the events in our lives. May God bless you for being the face of Jesus to these children. As they grow, they will have an easier time believing in the steadfastness of their Heavenly Father because of the rock solidness of their parents. Who CHOSE to love them when no one else did. What a beautiful example of the Spirit of adoption.
It seems to be almost universal, this wrestling with rejection and abandonment. Thank you for your insights and encouragement, Amy. You always have a sweet word for us.
Thank-you for the reminder about the significance of our words. We all get dinged by the world and it makes us starved for acceptance. The acceptance hunger also gives each of us incredible opportunity. We can influence our children and almost anyone else who crosses our path. When we offer honest affirmation, we give others a new way to think about themselves. It becomes easier for them to put any rejection in the proper perspective.