For most of my life, I’ve been a dreamer and achiever. I’ve always set goals and then worked hard to attain them. It started in elementary school. When I worked hard, I received a lot of praise for doing well. So, I worked harder. I discovered that I liked the praise I was getting. Thus, my identity as a perfectionistic people pleaser was born.
It didn’t matter what I was doing at the moment, I just wanted to be good at it, or at least be perceived as being good at it. One day in second grade, I came home crying because I had received an “S” for “satisfactory” in handwriting. My parents couldn’t comprehend why I was so upset. I sadly explained that I usually get an “S+”. I had set a bar for myself and when I couldn’t reach it, I was a failure.
In high school, the concept of having a good reputation became a big deal. For example, I had developed a reputation for being a good student, a good singer, and a good girl. My identity became wrapped up in my reputation and what other people thought of me. But, what if I lost those things? Would I still have value in the eyes of others? If people liked me because I could sing a pretty song, what if another girl moved into our tiny town who had a better voice? If people liked me because I was smart and got good grades, what if I failed a test or forgot to hand in an assignment? Would their opinions of me change? As a Christian, I wanted to do the right things and glorify God with my choices. But, what would happen if the “good girl” did a bad thing? Would I fall from grace in everyone’s eyes? I knew I wasn’t perfect. But I sure tried to be. And if I wasn’t all of those things, then who was I?
Ugh. The pressure I put on myself was a lot to take. I had a strong idea of who I wanted to be. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The problem was that I was finding my identity in things that are temporary. Things that don’t last and don’t matter in eternity. Plus, my standards for myself were impossible.
When I went to college, the fact that I identified myself as a “good girl” presented itself as a spiritual growth opportunity. It’s not like I went off the rails and went wild. But college Shannon did a few things high school Shannon wouldn’t have approved of. Worse, I knew that those choices were things that God didn’t approve of either. Was I still a good girl in His eyes?
I had to wrestle with my identity. Verses like Ephesians 2:8-9 helped me work the truth that I knew in my head into my heart.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-9
My true identity was in Christ. I knew that through Christ, I was forgiven. Being a good girl until I died was never going to be enough to save my soul. I could not earn my salvation. No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t perfect.
My salvation is a gift from God, through His Son’s sacrifice on my behalf. My sin, especially those mistakes I made in college, reminded me of my need for God and how futile my attempts at perfection really were.
I am His workmanship. My abilities and personality traits are gifts from Him and are His to use through me. They do not define me. He prepared a plan for me in advance and equipped me accordingly.
I discovered so much freedom when I learned to embrace who God made me to be. I don’t have to be insecure. Not because I’m perfect, but because I’m loved. I don’t have to be embarrassed when I’m bad at something. God gave me other gifts. I don’t have to feel threatened by someone with similar gifts. God can use us both and together those gifts can be magnified.
I still worry too much about what other people think of me. They aren’t God, after all and are not nearly as gracious. But, I’m learning that what other people think of me is temporary and will one day be irrelevant. Only one opinion of me is eternal, His, and that is where I find my identity. No longer the good girl, but “grace girl”.
I am a wife to my best friend, a mama to my sweet boy, and a dog mom. My mission is to encourage, comfort, inspire, and draw my readers closer to the Lord by sharing my stories. When I’m not writing or chasing a toddler, I’m singing, reading, or cheering on the Huskers.
You can read more from me at Shannon Lenz: My Faith-My Family-My Stories.