I haven’t written here in months, not because I have no desire to, but because focusing and penning my thoughts down both on paper and digitally has been a great challenge for me. Apart from random observations that come in spurts and vague descriptions [see posts from the past], writing properly about my life experiences is suddenly new and foreign. I find myself forgetting snippets of my life because I was often without extended rest or reflection. Moments and days and months flew by too quickly.
I have an accumulation of pictures yet to be posted and captured by this particular blog. The everyday instances of beauty and friendship all saved up in my hard drive. One day, I keep telling myself, I’ll be able to find the time. But there are always things I want to do and complete and I never get to accomplishing them (thus far).
Which brings me to the biggest (old) lesson learnt in the past 7 months or so (since the second semester of my third year in university started); that I am eager to be a certain kind of ideal, or a certain image of perfection. That includes doing too much, taking on too many responsibilities, not knowing how to weigh my options and say a hard ‘no’ to invitations to participate, and in a plain and simple manner of describing things—overcommitting myself.
I do more than I should in order to overcompensate (this might sound vague now but I’ll explain).
I learned this recently at the Young Methodist Evangelical Free Leader’s Conference 2016 (YMEFLC; sorry that was probably a mouthful)—that we often focus on the outside (our facades and the way that people perceive us) and tend to neglect the inside (who we are with God, who we are when no one is able to see us, our hearts, etc).
Prioritising my responsibilities, obligations and doing doing doing meant that a lot of the rest I needed—both physical, emotional and spiritual—was often compromised. This could be due to the fact that I did not fully grasp God’s love for me or the way that He sees me. In my head, I could understand God’s love: that His love is unconditional and is not based on my merits or lack thereof. I knew intellectually that doing more and taking up more responsibilities did not mean God would love me more. But my heart was disconnected from my head. So I overloaded my modules in university, thinking ‘I am doing a double major—I am supposed to be able to handle taking on extra modules in school and excelling in them’. In other commitments, both church and Cru, I pressured myself to bring lofty ideas to life and took it upon myself to do more because ‘I am supposed to handle it’.
Writing about this now brings new insight into the inner motivations of my thinking… That there is a lot of pride and vanity in thinking that it is “up to me”. I don’t deny that I have a part to play in doing my best and being responsible about the commitments in my life. But the motivations behind the way I responded if someone asked me to take up a role, to do something for them, in my academics and being around the people I had to be around, was more often than not motivated by this thought. That it is “up to me” to do well, to be in this committee, to help, to be more than what I can be in the commitments that surrounded me. And that, in many occasions, defeated me.
Though I was going through a hard and difficult period where God humbled me through trials of many kind (various relational conflicts, confusion, personal failings, disappointments, uncertainty about the future), I also constantly see how humility in this area of learning how to not overcommit is a hard lesson I have to learn for myself to live this life. In my studies, I had to admit that I was unable to handle the amount of work that I took on last semester. Often guilty of ambition and, like I mentioned above, lofty ideas, the image of an ever-diligent and scholarly Charlotte never fails to come to mind when I think about the modules I take every semester. But the reality deviates extremely from this expectation. I very much wanted to complete my university education in 4 years, graduate with the rest of my friends, and do extremely well. To be known as an all-rounder, a woman that can do everything (lol see the pride and vanity there) and also be able to glorify God.
I’m coming to terms with my own limitations—with the fact that it is okay to do less and to do the few things I commit myself to well. I can’t, to be very honest, do everything. I can’t. I’m not supposed to give of myself in 10 areas of responsibility and expect myself to give my 100% to every single one. It is something I am still learning as God is allowing me to see a fuller and whole-r picture of humility.
Given ample time, I see more so now than then, how I did not ask God for help in the manner that best gives Him the glory or acknowledgment. Two verses come to mind: “He must increase, I must decrease” and “His power is made perfect in weakness” (you can guess to test your bible knowledge aha). There is a book about the topic of ‘self-forgetfulness’ that Tim Keller writes on. And a quote about how humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. All these things focus on the same theme, that it is about God, not about me. The ‘I’, ‘Me’, ‘My’ isn’t supposed to dominate, but He is. My power isn’t supposed to be made perfect, but rather, all of His is. I even ponder about it now and the prayers that I would pray are completely different from the beginning of 2016. Instead of focusing on me initiating the doing, I would ask God “do you want me to?” / instead of conceiving my own ideas and plans of how my life is to be lived (example: academics) and pressuring myself to do more, now I’ll ask “would pressuring myself in this way impede my worship of God?”
I think the most astonishing thing is that true humility and true dependence upon God, and the growing increase of God’s glorification, does not occur in the way that we conceive an image of a pompous self-aggrandising dictator; God knows we need Him, He desires relationship with us because He cares for our hearts and loves us. Though in the process of being humbled my ego decreases, I become more of who I am made to be in His sight, as I enjoy Him more, as I appreciate more of His beauty and attributes, and as I see His power and grace real in my life and others as well.
I was talking to Phyllis about my struggles in overcommitting/perfectionism, and she told me to read up about “jars of clay”. We often think about how God is the potter and we are the clay and focus on the transformational aspect of that metaphor (which is important!). But there is a deeper meaning to being a jar of clay. I shall quote this beautiful article here in parts:
On one hand, clay jars are refined by fire. There are several steps to making them, culminating with the kiln. This furnace carries the clay from an unfinished product to a household amenity. But once completed, the slightest nudge on the corner table could send a jar plummeting to its demise. The durability is deceiving. The thick porcelain is more delicate than it appears. No wonder the Bible often describes people as jars of clay. We are like potter’s vessels, waiting to be broken into millions of tiny pieces (Psalm 31:12,Isaiah 30:14). We are weak. We get tired and weary. We grow old and frail.
What if I instead embraced the fact that I’m a clay jar? What if I didn’t ignore the fact that as a human I really do get tired sometimes? What if I gained a biblical understanding of what it means to be weak? It was recently said, “In God’s economy, our weakness is one of our greatest assets.” But isn’t this hard to believe? It’s hard to believe that weakness can be an asset — that it’s for our good. But what weakness does — like nothing else can — is draw our attention to the One who never grows tired or weary (Isaiah 40:28).
Trying harder in our own power doesn’t solve our weakness. If anything, it exposes more of our weakness. My self-exertion typically leaves me depleted and lacking joy. Jonathan Parnell writes, “Embracing weakness brings more peace because we realize afresh that God loves us by his grace, not because we are strong. Our joy doesn’t rest in our ability, but in the approval God gives us in Christ, the one in whom he chose us before the ages began according to his own purpose and grace (2 Timothy 1:9).”
My heart is growing softer. My eyes are more aware of my shortcomings and how, with my own efforts, I am unable to fix myself. I see the parts of me that remain fragile. But I am growing to understand that my frailty is no longer a cause for worry or despair. It is not something I find I need to rectify in order to reach perfection.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
I am weak and delicate—but that’s a-okay.