“What degree are you going after, your MRS degree?”
I gave the elderly man a disgusted look and told him no. Part of me wanted to smack him for making such a chauvinistic remark, but another part knew something I wasn’t willing to admit: I wasn’t happy unless I had a man in the picture.
Was I in college to meet my future husband? No, that wasn’t my goal. But it would be an added perk.
You see, for much of my life, I made an idol out of an invisible checklist.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but this list made its appearance in all of my major decisions. I thought for sure, once I checked of all the items on it, I would be content.
So I met the love of my life and got married. Check. A year later, we had our first child. Double check. We bought our first house together and talked about our dreams and plans.
But no matter how many milestones I reached and how many things I checked off, there were always more to attain. It was like scaling a steep mountain on a ladder and thinking I saw the top, only to find another one attached to it.
A sense of deep longing kept me awake at night and left me with a restless spirit.
After having my first child, I struggled with postpartum depression. My days went by in a blur and I fought to survive from one day to the next. This checklist I used to determine success was gone and the items I thought determined my worth vanished with it. A paycheck, a set schedule, and a set of clear expectations outlined by my superior- none of these things were available to me anymore.
In the midst of search for something stable, I sent a simple cry out to God. “Help.”
And through steady strokes of grace, he saved me. A friend reached out. A sermon at our home church reached me at just the right time. He opened my eyes to the fact that I was centering my identity on this list, but he wanted me to give the list to him. To be my identity and my completion.
He set a fire in me and set me on a new path. Each day brought an eager expectation of what he would do and what new truth he’d reveal about himself. I was thirsty, and I’m sure even obnoxious to some people.
But sometimes, old habits resurface. They may show up in different ways or different patterns, but at their core, they’re the same.
Over time, my focus in serving shifted from God to myself. Did this person like me or see me? Why was this person recognized and I wasn’t? And while being liked and or recognized aren’t wrong, I became consumed with a need to receive recognition. My checklist turned from one of milestones in life to nods of approval.
Part of my Bible reading last week was from Revelation, and the beginning of chapter two struck me. Jesus is speaking directly to his church, and he sees everything they’ve done. All the hard work, perseverance, and spreading the news of the gospel. None of it has gone unnoticed.
But there’s one thing he holds against them.
“You have persevered and endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”
These were not people who didn’t know God. They had made the decision to follow him and begin a new life. But over time, their love turned from God to the service itself. From Creator to created. Even those in the early church were prone to wander. And they did. They forgot the heart of their message and the reason why they left their old lives behind.
When I’m not watchful of my own heart, I can fall into the same trap.
Perhaps you’ve been there too? Friend, we all need a healthy dose of encouragement sometimes. Lord knows, I wouldn’t be here without the support of those who’ve given me a push when I needed it most.
But here’s what I also know- seeking approval from others will always leave me dry and empty. I will run in circles until I become dizzy, and then wonder why they never seem satisfied.
When my focus shifts to God and his love for me, my path realigns.
Every act of service pours out the core of my identity instead of an identity that changes with others opinions. This is when I can be my true self. This is when I can rely on him for my joy instead of my checklist.
And freedom awaits.