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All my life I’ve run the hamster wheel of achievement and acceptance; a headstrong, Type-A control freak, looking for love. As a child I earned love by working hard to fit in. At church I earned love by memorizing verses. At school I earned love by pleasing teachers. Looking back, I see a girl in pigtails, acceptance her end game. In kindergarten, I repeated the sinner’s prayer before I could write complete sentences, the fear of eternal fire motivation enough. I memorized King James verses with words like sanctification, edification, and fornication. I regurgitated the definition of justification - “just-as-if-I-hadn’t-sinned” - even though I didn’t understand what the words meant. I absorbed all this burdensome religion like a six-, seven-, and eight-year-old sponge, and furthermore, I believed it must be true, all of it.
In school, I served on the patrol squad, an honor given to the eldest and wisest of Elementaryland. I pinned a silver safety badge to my orange plastic vest and shoved the matching orange hard hat over my blonde curls, my chest puffed out with pride. (This began my affection for hats; I’m sure of it!) Taking very seriously our directive to enforce the school rules, I and the rest of the patrol squad would count to five as each subordinate took his or her turn at the water fountain. We carried the great responsibility of the opening and closing car doors at pickup, impressing parents with the safety of their fledglings, encouraging them with our Have-a-nice-days.
Around that time, I picked up the trumpet. I wanted to play flute or clarinet like my girlfriends in elementary band, but my older brother was already renting a trumpet as a sophomore in high school. My parents informed me that if I wanted to play an instrument, I would have to share his. There was no financial margin for two rentals. And so, I picked up that shiny brass instrument, and standing in front of my mama’s full-length bedroom mirror, I blew my heart out, squawking like a dying blue heron. Would I ever make that thing sing?
The trumpet became my ticket to being somebody, to being relevant or important. By seventh grade I attended band camp in North Carolina and played “How Great Thou Art” solo in front of a few hundred kids. As a sophomore, I sat first chair in trumpet, ahead of thirteen boys. As a junior and senior, I marched my way into competitions around the country, earning trophies as the drum major for our high school marching band, the Royal Ambassadors.
A good girl in church, I continued to memorize Bible verses, played my heart out on the trumpet in the church orchestra, and only cussed with the cool kids at the back of the fourth grade playground. A chameleon of sorts, I adjusted my behavior to align with my environment throughout my tweens, with popularity as my goal. By high school I could ready any social situation from a mile away. I was voted onto the homecoming court each year. Being liked was top priority; it made me feel important.
Donning ballet flats or Doc Martens, singing along to Amy Grant or The Cure, dating football players or percussionists, I worked to fit in with whoever surrounded me: athletes, musicians, cheerleaders, honor society members, student government members, brainiacs, teachers’ kids, and doctors’ kids. I kept my cool, grasping for permission to be fully known, and in spite of that, fully loved. Whether as a student government officer, honor society member, or drum major of the marching band, I joined in the performing. It was addicting, but I was good at the game.
...If someone had asked me in my youth. Why all the striving? I wouldn’t have had an answer. It took decades to peel back the layers of bondage. At the time, I held relational intimacy at arm’s length.
Come, but not too close; share, but not too much; live, but not too freely.
These were the mantras of my youth. I accepted the unspoken family, church, and social rule: Keep up or suffer shame. This message drove me to hustle for my worth at all costs. Quitting meant failure.
Strive to please; avoid shame; rinse and repeat.
Whenever I felt rejected or insecure, I buckled down with strategies to be more confident, more accepted, and more loved. I watched what others were doing and adopted their games. But the more I learned, the more fraudulent it all appeared. The cooler the person, the more fractured the heart.
Every now and then, someone I knew would be honest about their struggles, and I’d breathe a sigh of relief. Finally! Someone was admitting life was hard, giving me permission to do the same. But this glimpse of vulnerability was always fleeting and never took place from a stage, especially in church.
I read freedom in the pages of Scripture, but it felt elusive and temporary. I belted out the hymn “Victory in Jesus” loud and often, although I couldn’t find tangible victory myself. God’s truth never changed or went away; I simply couldn’t hear it over the clamor of religion. I couldn’t hear God’s voice when my head was down, when I was pursuing my own agenda or working to please others. I wore myself ragged trying to be enough, and it wore me out. I longed to be free.
The above article is an excerpt from chapter one of You Are Free by Rebekah Lyons. In You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons invites you to take action towards a life of freedom—Overcome...., Release..., Find..., Throw Off..., Discover... Christ doesn't say you can be or may be or will be free. He says you are free. Dare you believe it? "Choosing the approval of others over the freedom God offered, I hustled and chased life by the tail, desperate to keep up. Here's the thing: we weren't made to keep up. We were made to be free. To be who we already are." —Rebekah Lyons
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