‘Potential’ is a loaded word for me. It was used a lot around and about me as a child, always with the implication that I wasn’t living up to it. If I had been, they wouldn’t need to use ‘potential’ at all, they would just be able to say I was doing great. ‘Potential’ says there’s room to be great, to be better, but that you aren’t living into it. The unspoken ‘yet’ at the end of that implies that I will or should, it says I am able, but not exercising that ability. It suggests I am unwilling. Most of all it says I am not enough as I currently am.
That ‘not enough’ is like a spectre hanging over my life, cutting me down in good times and bad, insisting again and again that I should be able to do better, to do more, even attacking my feelings of (poor) self-worth as not good enough. I am well educated in both psychology and faith, I am well-loved and know it, yet it still hangs over me, pressing me down.
God, you wanted me to write about not feeling good enough? Here it is. Here’s me ripping open my chest to find the black seething mass within.
It taints everything, even my attempts to confront it, to shift it. They obviously aren’t good enough either, or it wouldn’t still be here, wrapped tight with sickness around me heart.
I try to tell myself that my worth is not in question, but it doesn’t budge. I try to tell it that I’m the daughter of the King, beloved daughter of the One Who Made the Universe, and it doesn’t flinch, just continues to mock me with its presence. Even looking at my potential in Christ, the possible futures, the freedom, they’re tainted too, because I’m not living into them now, I’m not doing what I know I need to do today to make those tomorrows possible. Today I’m sabotaging any hope I hold for the future, stabbing myself in the foo just in case I might, just may be in pain tomorrow. Avoiding the unknown of living, breathing into my potential, for the comforts of today’s pain and known anguish.
And it’s like self-harm all over again. But not against my body, against my tomorrow, against what I’ll never fully be able to live into, so can never fully feel the pain I’m causing, never fully realise the damage. Being content to live in my broken and breaking today, rather than risk for a better tomorrow.
I have been gifted the word ‘discomfort’, invited to lean in gently. And I find that it is a salve on the burn of ‘potential’, the willing choice to step towards discomfort, to not expect sunshine and rainbows, means I can breathe more easily. Knowing this awkward contortion is not forever, it is just a stepping-stone to something else.
And this discomfort, this twisting, this being tugged against sharp edges, it doesn’t speak to my worth, it doesn’t have a say about who I am, because I’m choosing it, I’m outside of it, allowing it for a time. It is limited, I am still the one in control, I am using it to get somewhere better, it has no power to use me.
I remember watching my daughters learn to walk. It’s not an easy or comfortable process. Sitting still was comfortable, they’d already mastered that, but the desire to move, to get somewhere or something else over-powered the desire for comfort. It didn’t matter if falls happened, because they were just a by-product of the process. With my youngest, I joke that she never really learned to walk, that she went straight to running (and hasn’t stopped since). Her early, stumbling steps would have her leaning, falling forward, so that the only way to stay upright was to keep stepping and keep stepping, faster and faster to keep her legs under her torso. She was leaning in to the motion so far that her legs could barely keep up. She so much wanted to move that it kept her moving, propelled her forward.
I’ve gotten used to the sitting still, too worried about the fall, too shaped by fear, that I’ve forgotten to worry about staying still, about not getting anywhere or anything. My fear of not being enough has paralysed me into not trying, to be content to remain stagnant. But God is calling me out, inviting me to move, to welcome a bit of discomfort. And I do, I want it, the discomfort of change, of shifting from what I know is not enough, that it is beginning to overpower the fear. Embracing the discomfort is taking the question of my worth out of the equation. Leaning in to the discomfort is chosen freely, not motivated by fear. It is an invitation extended in love: “Come, see who you can be. Breathe deep into the expanse that is You.” Breaking open, pushing through the hard shell that has kept me bound for decades is not comfortable, there are sharp edges I have avoided so long I am no longer even aware of them, but the promise of freedom is worth some discomfort, I think.
We’re told that butterflies must squeeze their way out of their cocoons to be able to fly, the process can’t be made easy or it fails. It’s a cliché metaphor, but an enticing one.
Come, see who you can be in my freedom, whispers God. And it can reach my heart, now that I have exposed cracks in my shell. And I breathe in deep, despite the pain of hard edges against tender lungs. This pain has purpose, I can use it to propel myself forwards, to move towards Love and away from fear. One chosen step, one chosen breath, at a time.