Recently, I researched what makes a good name for an organization or brand. In the process, I thought about the virtue of Imago Dei Community Church’s name. Pondering it was unexpectedly convicting. It made me aware of the distorted lens I’ve been viewing myself through.
Imago Dei is the church founded by my favorite pastor, Rick McKinley, out in Portland, OR. Not only does it have a name that flows nicely off the tongue, their name conveys the ethos of that community. Imago Dei is Latin for “Image of God.” It points to the theological doctrine “that human beings are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent value independent of their utility or function” (Wikipedia). From the sermons preached on Sundays to the ways that they serve others inside and outside their church, the community of Imago Dei affirm that we are all equally valuable, equally intended for a life rich in meaning and connection. Whether you are a vagabond or sell bonds you are worthy of love and grace.
This is a doctrine I claim to believe. My obsession over the last year with “what I’m doing with my life,” my growing defensiveness of my singleness and my stress over gaining back weight are all evidence that I haven’t been seeing myself in this way. I’ve been measuring my value by my function and utility, by my success and finding myself wonting.
By our culture’s standards, I need to get my shit together. I’m living with my parents. I’m constantly struggling with my weight. I’m working multiple jobs instead of having a comfortable, six figure salary at a job with benefits. I’m single and not looking or dating.
If I’m honest, I’ve felt like a loser and I’ve dealt with a fair share of people implying I am one. I’ve had people say to me, “So, going to college really didn’t get you anywhere, huh?” “You have a master’s degree, why are you working for a demo company?” “So…do you also have a real job?” I had a trainee, a blunt middle-age retiring RN, tell me that I should have found a quality guy in college and imply I need to put more effort into finding a man right now before it’s “too late.”
That’s me in my uniform demoing.
Sometimes it seems like everyone is either pushing me toward a “normal” job or pressuring me into online dating. While I’m too stubborn to let other people’s opinions dictate my choices, I’ve started to see myself through the lens of their disappointment. On top of that, I’ve been wrestling with my own.
Last winter I read Karen Swallow Prior’s article in The Atlantic, “The Case for Getting Married Young.” The life that Prior describes—marrying in college and having that relationship as the cornerstone of her life as she went on to get her masters degree, PhD and become a professor—is the life I’d imagined for myself. While on one hand I feel blessed by the richness of my life, on the other hand I’m jealous of Prior. Jealous of her stable, intellectual career. Jealous that she has the companionship and support of a spouse to share her life with.
I have been immensely frustrated with the fact that my life has not met my expectations and I have not met my expectations. Not only am I alone, I am not the woman that I envisioned. Something that is becoming blatantly clear to me is that I will never be the fervent scholar or reclusive author that I imagine. I’m too social and I have too much of a need to make something besides words on a page.
My frustration has made me foolish and defensive. It’s why I started that happiness project in September. The grand goal I set for myself was really to direct my life back to the path that I, and other people, had envisioned for me. Before the end of the month, I realized that I was trying to turn myself into someone I’m not. I do want to be a professor someday but not now (academia is much like a monastic community; it has beautiful values and is a world onto itself—I’m not ready to be so confined).
My happiness project did lead me to start working on starting a business (Narrative Manifestos) with my friend Krista that will combine my passion for conscious capitalism, my knack for promotions and my diverse communication and interpersonal skills. Even though I’m stoked about our business, Narrative Manifestos, reflecting on Imago Dei reminded me that hinging my worth and value on it isn’t a real solution.
Something I’ve learned through losing weight is that you never “arrive.” No matter how good you look to other people, you always see areas for improvement. You never get passed having crisis of faith in your new lifestyle. Relapses will happen when making the “right choice” just doesn’t feel worth it. No matter how much weight you’ve lost, there will be times you feel like a miserable failure. If your worth and identity hinge on your success, you will constantly oscillate between empowerment and despair. The same is true about hinging your value and identity on your career or your relationship status.
Even if Narrative Manifestos is wildly successful, I’ll find reasons to feel bad about myself if I keep tying my identity to what I achieve instead of who I am. Who I am is not some list of shifting attributes. I am a child of God who bears his image. I’m valuable and lovable simply because I am.
When I think about the people I love and respect, it isn’t because of what they do. It is because of who they are. Even when they’re frustrating beyond belief, or doing something that is not the best reflection of who they are, I don’t believe their value is diminished. I look for the good in them because I believe they bear the image of God. Why is it so hard to do this when it comes to me?
Do you struggle with feeling like your worth is determined by how successful you are?
Feature image from Jordan Whitfield.