“You are great at forgiving others who have hurt you,” my spiritual coach said. “But you are terrible at forgiving yourself. You don’t understand the concept of self-forgiveness.”
Those words hung in the air after she spoke them. Terrible at forgiving myself? I thought, almost defensively.
“I know you are an achiever who likes to help people, but you will not be able to help anyone unless you dig deep and figure out why you are still so hard on yourself,” she offered.
Maybe that is exactly why I continue to make decisions that are not in my best interest, even though I try to justify them as “good” I whispered, perhaps to myself more than my coach.
Effective decision-making stems from knowing who you are. You cannot make good decisions if you are constantly at war with yourself, or living under the heavy burdens of guilt and shame. In order to show up consistently in your life, you must practice radical self-love. Oftentimes, the first place to start is by forgiving yourself.
A close second is realizing that you are enough already, and piling more things on your plate will not make you more loved.
Performance Based Acceptance
“Maybe he or she will love me more” more if I just do more. This formula never holds true. It becomes a transactional relationship when you think like this, a way to maintain a false semblance of control. Very often, this way of thinking begins in the church. If I just don’t sin (as much), then God will love me.
We could camp here for years. That is how long it took me to unravel and deconstruct an incredibly damaging sense of both my self-worth and an unconditionally loving Creator. It also took me a good number of years to forgive the church (lower case c) and the humans leading it when I was younger.
We would do well to accept that we neither have the power, control, or ability to change anyone else nor how much God loves us. Literally, no matter what we do or don’t do, no matter what we’ve done or haven’t done, and no matter how terrible of a person you think (or others have told you) you are—it doesn’t matter. God is stubborn like that. He chooses to love you anyway. He chooses to forgive you fully each time you ask. Our God is unconditionally loving.
Those of us who have suffered the consequences of performance-based acceptance realize it manifests itself in one main way: workaholism.
Workaholism is an addiction, and like all addictions, it stops us from being our authentic selves. It stops us from showing up in the world and living like we were meant to do. It is the ultimate distraction—one masked as “but I’m doing good works!”
There is no goodness in systematically distracting actions.
The fear-based desire to distract our fierce flow of authenticity and momentum is the chief reason for most addictions. If people are filling their days with ongoing tasks and endless To Do Lists, they are probably too busy to hear the voice of their Inner Being, let alone God’s still small voice. The workaholic jams any authentic signals with self-induced busyness static. I did it for years – especially when I lived in a state of perpetual unforgiveness.
Workaholism as an Addiction
Workaholism has only recently been recognized as an addiction, but unfortunately, it still receives a great deal of “attaboy” support in our society. The phrases I’m working or I have so much going on that I am trying to get done right now have a certain demonstrable air of duty and achievement to them. The truth is, we are very often working to avoid ourselves, our partners, and our real feelings.
In the business of authenticity recovery, non-structured time can make a workaholic very nervous. Unwinding and not producing immediate results is scary. I was the queen of that mindset—that choice to be busy—from the time I recovered from my Bone Marrow Transplant to roughly, last year. While yes, I am made that way and God created me to have a passion for moving and talking and extroversion, I also chose to keep piling more on my plate. That came at a price.
Any time friends, family, or colleagues asked me, “Why are you so busy? Is it so you don’t have to deal with the ‘other stuff’ in your life?” I would inevitably clap back – responding in defensive, unloving tones. But I knew they were right. I kept going, going, going— and all too easily justified it under the heading of “performance-based acceptance.” If I keep working . . . then I will have value and worth and not get left again by someone who once said they loved me.
Recovering a sense of choice and subsequent contentedness comes from connection, not disconnection. You must choose to maintain a connected relationship with God and investing in those around you, whom, I would argue, God has placed in your path in the first place. Yes, even the people with whom you are presently in a shaky relationship or those from whom you’ve been divorced or otherwise excommunicated. We learn and grow and transform into the people God created us to be not only in spite of those relationships, but precisely because of them. Further, when we ask for forgiveness from others as well as forgive ourselves for any culpability within those relationships, healing can begin.
Choose Real Relationship
I’ve learned through the school of hard knocks that without God, no matter how busy we try to keep ourselves, there is no true and lasting happiness. There is no real contentment—only moments of fleeting pleasant feelings. We all know by now that when we leave the concept of happiness to the world and all its external expectations and definitions, we pretty much end up a giant trash heap of a mess. You might be able to leap over that giant heap and reach your goals—but you’ll do so with the same emptiness inside. And most probably, with no one you’re really deeply connected to beside you.
Instead, when we begin to choose and define our true selves by our own standards according to God’s will for us in who he created us to be, we give ourselves a break! We realize that things don’t have to be constantly busy (or, perfect) in order for us to be content. On our rediscovery and recovery road, we must recognize that if we want to become closer to who we truly are, we have to choose to be close to God.
Hear me when I say this: without that relational choice, you will never fully tap into the full you. To be close to God requires the same things that are necessary in our meaningful relationships with other people: focused time and attention. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be scary and it certainly isn’t unattainable.
When we distract ourselves and become over the top busy, there’s no room left and our important relationships slide. “It can wait,” we say.
Really? Can the real you wait any longer?
We cannot earn God’s love, other people’s love, or our own self-love. Comparison is the greatest thief of joy; thus, comparing ourselves to not only others but our “doer” selves is self-destructive. Instead, we must learn to shift our perspective so that we see workaholism and other distractions as a roadblock to our authentic rediscovery. Work abuse, as well as other addictive abuses, creates in our Inner Beings a Wonder Woman complex. We are dreaming of piloting the invisible jet and always choosing to stay grounded.
There is a clear difference between spirited work toward a worthwhile, cherished goal and workaholism. Much like the old adage of ‘quality over quantity,’ the difference lies more in the emotional (authentic) quality of the hours spent, rather than the number of total hours.
Becoming the real you takes time. It takes intentionality and unwavering forgiveness. It is an ongoing process and one that cannot be rushed. When I rushed God’s timing and plan for me, my mistakes, terrible decision-making and self-worth looked the same for far too many years.
Growth and change take time. True transformation and trusting relationships take even longer, especially for a bond meant to truly last for eternity. It took me more than a decade into adulthood and a barrage of bitter life lemons to not only see myself differently, but to see GOD differently.
I encourage you to start seeing yourself how God sees you: unconditionally forgiven, loved and accepted.
- Thinking About God “Simply”: Beth Fisher on C.S. Lewis - August 9, 2021
- Showing Up: Beth Fisher on Hope and Relationships - July 5, 2021
- Living Authentically: Beth Fisher on Forgiveness and Decision-Making - June 15, 2021