Undoing High School

photo credit: Lockers via photopin (license)
photo credit: Lockers via photopin (license)

Two Back-to-School nights, in a row. Middle school, high school. New-to-us teachers providing the brief overview of syllabus, expectations, homework. Great schools, high performing, state-ranked, solid test scores…the beginning of the Dream for our children. As parents, we do our work, raising the next generation, pushing, prodding, pulling our kids toward success. Recognizing the things we took for granted, wishing we could go back…but not really. Yikes. Those were scary years.

Opportunities unfold for them. Our love demonstrated through the provision of resources, seeking the best, giving endlessly, sacrificially. Like anyone else, I love my kids. I want them to take advantage of the resources at their fingertips, the knowledge available. But I must ask myself…where is the line between providing opportunity and pushing to get ahead?

We live in a culture of scarcity, we firmly believe opportunities are finite. The best slices of the pie will not be available to all. If I don’t get my piece while it’s fresh, I will only receive stale crummy bits. And yes, this is true for many in our country and world. But in my corner of middle class America, there are options, overwhelming options. It is tempting and easy to fall prey to fear. Fear my children will not get ahead, or have access to certain things if I don’t make it happen, if I don’t pressure them.

When they were small, when I could force and bribe them to do things, the quest beckoned. What do they love? Where are they gifted? What is his/her thing? The one thing that they will excel at, that will bring notoriety, admiration, notice?

People want to be noticed, achieve excellence, rise to the top. Winning, comparing, one-upping. Worth, value determined by how we measure up against our peers. My worth, my value determined by who will stop and talk to me. Am I recognized? Am I in? Scarcity. Not enough to go around. Afraid I am not enough.

Brene Brown in Daring Greatly beautifully addresses this:

Scarcity is the “never enough” problem. Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants.

What makes this constant assessing and comparing so self-defeating is that we are often comparing our lives, our marriages, our families, and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions to perfection, or we’re holding up our reality against our own fictional account of how great someone else has it.

I can easily get stuck in high school thinking. I return to base mode, to the default setting where my ego, my performance, my self must be fed. I allow my insecurities far too much power, fearing my purpose, yearning to fill the emptiness that piggybacks upon my worthiness. This insecurity short-circuits access to giftedness. I am unable to live in my uniquely created self, for I am preoccupied with defense, with earning. Scarcity-dwelling keeps me stuck, in the muck of my perceived shortcoming and failure. Shame.

In the requirement of being the best, there is no room for good enough, which severely impairs the expression of my giftedness, of what I have been specifically entrusted. When I resort to comparisons and competition I choose to only value my gifts if they are shiny and sexy, notable. Most gifts are invisible to the naked eye, requiring time and focus to unearth and cultivate. We are each bestowed with this honor, every single person bears the image of God in some form or another, none are more important or less, given to us not to prop up ourselves, but to prop up our world. Our gifts provide the remarkable combination of giving and receiving, with great potential for joy and abundance. Service, generosity, inspiration, love are ours, through these gifts to make life better for others, to shine light, relief, hope, goodness.

When scarcity and shame are defied, put in their place, I see nature, I see good. I see and believe again in beauty. I own a deeper well of patience and understanding – able to readily give the benefit of the doubt. I accept there is more than enough to go around. Fear and hoarding no longer needed. Slices abound, delicious and fresh accompanied perfectly by healthy doses of ice cream. No more do I have to limp through the race of endlessly striving, trying to reach the invisible line of arrival. Arrival is for the surrendered, given to those who choose intentionally to step off, relinquish, releasing the grip of keeping up.

Trusting in the possibility of abundance is risky. Vulnerability will drop you to your knees. Exposure is terrifying. But until I release the vice-grip of proving, seeking worth through accomplishment, I will live in scarcity. I will unintentionally dwell in shame.

I long for true honesty, where I may express my failures and my successes. I pray I can hear another’s successes and not be threatened, another’s failures and not rejoice. I hope we will recognize the importance of living well these lives we’ve been given, sharing together without fear of threat.

Gifts are given and they are received. Our true gifts, when given and received, radiate around the world, providing blessing in places that have been dried up and abandoned by good. May we seek to live fully into ourselves, generosity abounding, knowing we are loved beyond measure, extending that same love out and beyond, witnessing exponential growth beyond our wildest dreams.