The smell of warm, steaming Chinese food filled the air as my family and I sat down to eat. At the end of the meal, as we always do, we read our fortunes out loud to each other. Though we don’t believe in them, we usually get a good giggle from the reading. As I cracked open my cookie, carefully unfolding the slip of paper inside, I smiled in anticipation and read: “A man who trims himself to suit everybody will soon whittle himself away.”
I couldn’t giggle at that, probably because I understand the quote too well. I’ve been that person. I’ve tried to accommodate, to please and to change key pieces of who I am to fit into someone else’s mold of who they thought I should be. I’ve even allowed that to be done to me in the name of God.
I’m not talking about character flaws here. If I struggle with being disciplined, I certainly hope to grow in it! If I tend to put my foot in my mouth, you can bet I’ll work on learning to tame my words. These are qualities that can hurt me and hurt others. Instead, I’m talking about the beautiful, unique qualities that make up who I am, and are part of how God has made me to be, the areas He’s calling me to shine in.
I used to think of those qualities as special pairs of shoes, each beautiful and unique. My laughter, my joy, my energy, my drive, my humor (it’s quirky!), my passion, my thoughts and the way I can get lost in them, for better or worse – these are pieces of who I am. Each quality, though universal, is unique in how it’s expressed in me – and in you. They are the pieces that allow each of us to dance through life to a tune God has uniquely written for each one of us alone.
Finding someone who admires and appreciates our dance brings great joy and connection. Sometimes, though, I’ve met people who seem to appreciate who I am, only to ask me to be something different, something I’m not. It starts off slowly at first, seemingly innocent. “Could you not take out your humor with me? I don’t appreciate it.”
I think, No worries! I have friends who love and get my humor, and others who don’t. I’ll just hold that back whenever we’re together. So I carefully place that box on a shelf in my closet, saving those shoes for a different occasion.
“Could you not use all the words you love? It makes me feel insecure.”
Again, my first thought is, Sure. I know not everyone loves words the way I do. I don’t mind simplifying my word choice around anyone. After all, I would hate to make them feel bad! So away that pair of shoes goes, high on that shelf in my closet.
And sometimes, before I know it, those statements can morph into, “Could you not smile so much? It’s irritating,” or, “Could you be a little less positive? Life is never that good,” or, “Could you not be more driven than me? Or take care of yourself physically? Or work on growing in who you are? It makes me feel less.”
If I’m not careful, before long I can look up and notice my closet is full of beautiful shoes I’m not wearing, all in an effort to please someone I originally thought admired my life’s dance. I can get so caught up in pleasing someone else, I lose sight of who I am. I’m like that frog you hear about. Put a frog in boiling water and it will immediately jump out. Put a frog in normal water and very slowly heat it up, and the frog will boil to its death. It happens so gradually, the frog no longer senses the danger.
Sadly, I’ve been there. I’m unhappy, listless. I feel lost and deeply insecure, questioning everything about who I am and how God has made me to be. I begin to feel defective, unworthy, unlovable and needy. I miss my shoes, my own unique dance God has called me embrace, but I begin to question even that, to wonder if I’m crazy, if there is something fundamentally wrong with me after all. I’ve allowed someone to whittle away at my sense of worth until all that’s left is a pile of sawdust in my heart and mind. The closet doors are closed, and all that is unique and special about me sits in darkness.
When you’re a pleaser, like I am, it’s hard to walk away. You start to think, If I could just make this person understand this, or embrace that, or, If I can just say things in exactly the right way each time, this person will like my dance again; they will like me. The water is boiling, and I even know it, but I keep thinking if I can wait just a bit longer, the heat will turn off and the water will go back to normal. It never does. I exit far later than God would want for me, burned and scarred from the experience.
Thankfully, God doesn’t forget who I am even when I’ve lost sight of it. He opens the closet doors wide, reminding me of who He’s made me to be. He gently and lovingly heals the burns, teaching me how to avoid them in the future. He picks me up from the dust, and makes me into something even more beautiful than before. And He helps me put my beautiful shoes back on, ready to dance before Him once again.