Chronic Illness · Chronic Pain · Grad School · Mental Health · Personal · Recovery · Religious

What if I’m Not a Smashing Example of Success?

I’ve had a rough week or two of my usual symptoms, plus a nasty virus in the last few days that’s knocked me out.

It’s been one of those time periods when I doubt my short-term and long-term health, will, and hence my ability to fulfill my calling in life to be a hospital chaplain (which means that I have the privilege and challenge of being in seminary for 3 years. I’m facing my first set of finals right now, meaning that I’m close to the end of my first of 6 semesters).

I get incredibly nervous in moments like this, and my nerves bring me to places in my mind that I don’t want to go. It goes from short-term worry to long-term worry in a second. I worry that I may not do as well on my finals as I want to. I worry that I may exceed my allotted absences and fail a class. I worry that I may let people down. I just… worry, and soon enough, I’m worrying that I may not complete grad school on time or at all, which would leave me without a clear path for my adult life. Soon enough, I’m worrying about my worthiness. I’m worrying that my image as a (successful) person living with chronic illnesses (successfully) is going to be compromised and that the people in my life will have fewer reasons to love, celebrate, and be in solidarity with me as I face both great successes and great failures.

Guess what, Emmie? That’s ridiculous. Your value isn’t in how perfect your life looks or how nicely things work out. You would have value if all you did each day was breathe. You don’t need to be a smashing example of success to be loved. Your mere existence is enough. When in your life have your closest and most beloved people said, “I’ll only love you if _________”? Or where in the Bible does it say that God loves you only if you fulfill certain expectations (that maybe God didn’t even set – that you set)? There are no “only if”s here:

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5 (NRSV)

You have been crowned with steadfast love and mercy. You have been loved absurdly and abundantly. 

As I’ve written about before, words like those inverse 3 don’t necessarily mean healing in the way we think about it. I don’t know what my healing will look like today or tomorrow. Does anyone truly know what their future looks like, though? That’s a point of common humanity, not separation from others. It’s okay that I don’t, either. I don’t need to be panicked or doubt myself. I don’t have to fulfill a certain image in order to be loved. It’s okay if I’m not always “successful” in the ways that I hope for each day. It’s okay. It’s enough.

So, what happens if I can’t (always or ever) be a smashing example of success? I’ll be a person with flaws – also known as a human being.

So, my friend, live the good news and spread it through your example of living with your arms wide open: You are free. You are loved. You are enough, right now, just as you are. Go. 

[image description: me standing on a bench in a field of sunflowers. I’m smiling and looking up to the sky, arms outstretched. I’m wearing a black shirt, sunflower skirt, and sunglasses].

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