I’m not sure how, but I grew up with an inferiority complex. Maybe I was just a moody teenager, but there was some pervasive sense that I was invisible and alone. It didn’t help that I was already pretty reserved and shy. No one really knew who I was or what I was thinking at any given moment, and things were easier that way. It was hard for me to trust anyone, so I didn’t. I kept my head down and tried to avoid conflict and confrontation.
I ran away from home, once - I think I was 17. It was a Friday. My dad had asked me to stop playing my guitar because he needed silence, and I guess there was just a lot of tension and frustration building up over the years. I threw a sleeping bag in the car and drove to my friend’s house, then headed out on a run to try to escape. It was kind of suicidal… it was like mid-30’s outside and the sun was setting and I was just wearing a short sleeve t-shirt and shorts. I pushed it harder and harder so that the emotional pain would give way to the physical.
I got about six miles out, taking 71st street down Garnett to Yale, though I knew the distance was too far for me to have gotten back. It was pretty dark when both of my calves cramped up and I found myself laid out on a sidewalk, screaming in pain. I could barely walk. A stranger in a truck picked me up and dropped me off at a Barnes & Noble, where I called a friend to pick me up.
If you know me now, I hope you’ll see someone very different.
Back then, I was desperately trying to figure out who I was. And I got that self-understanding from people, from their acceptance and met expectations of me (shallow or not, and shallow was safer). A disappointment to you actually proved more painful to me, because my whole world and worth were jeopardized.
Everyone knows this is an unrealistic weight, but I think it’s subtle, something you wouldn’t really know affects you until it breaks you. I felt this absolutely high standard of being good enough - that if I wasn’t the best at something, I would be forgotten. Historically, I only really remember even a handful of people who changed the world, who conquered their fields - and I assumed that would be the basis for my validation as well.
(It didn’t make sense to me to think of things relatively, and it still doesn’t make much sense to me now. Some would say that there is no absolute standard, but just a relative standard, and so I am good enough as long as I try or reach some level of potential. They’d say I won’t be loved by everyone, but I’ll be loved by some small subset of people and that this is enough. I disagree with this as it seems mostly arbitrary and often seems to be coupled with accepting relative truth.)
(There are plenty of different outlets people use to “find themselves,” to figure out their identity or to live for something greater. It gets a little clearer when you step onto a college campus. Everything offers identity, the hope of fitting in and being understood and doing something bigger than yourself. People throw themselves headfirst into Greek life, student life, studies, charitable services, or religious organizations, almost always because they’re in need of a greater context of their life, to make sense of who they are.)
Anyways, back to the story. I was trying to figure out who I was. I wasn’t good enough, so I felt pretty worthless at the time. Even if I could theoretically become or seem good enough, it’d be exhausting to keep it up. It hardly seemed worth it.
This is why I believe in God, the Christian God. I find a stark contrast between the Christian God and any other god, because the Christian God doesn’t require us to be good enough and to follow rules to appease Him, and yet He still matters, He still knows everything and does anything He wants to do. And of all of the things He does, He still chooses to love me and treat me like I matter. I don’t think any other religion or philosophy offers this.
You see, I’m not good enough. I really believe this about myself. From a moral standpoint or a career standpoint or a husband standpoint or really any metric you could ever think up, I’m actually very selfish and clumsy and irresponsible and immature. If we want to talk about what I deserve or what rights I am entitled to enjoying… I know myself too painfully well to think I deserve heaven or my relationship with Suzi or my career/salary or to live in this time and age with the physical and mental faculties that I have. I didn’t work for any of this.
But there is this principle called a “Great Exchange” - a scandal. The scandal is that I deserve hell for such an imperfect life that I live. But God, being rich in mercy, gives me heaven. And before you think He does this at no real cost to Himself… this is actually only possible by immense cost to Himself. Someone needs to bear the cost of brokenness - similar to how I could go to your house and break your lamp, and so I’d either bear the cost of a new lamp or you’d bear the cost of a new lamp (or no lamp).
Jesus came, God in the flesh, and paid the price of my offenses and imperfections. He died the brutal, excruciating death that I should have died, and instead gave me the glorious life that He deserved. A Great Exchange.
This is one of the hugest reasons why I believe what I do, why I agree with Christianity. At the end of the day, after all of the arguments with science and rationale and questions about truth and ethics and culture and thinking God should do things that make sense to us… Jesus is the only One who is able to make me good enough.