Cupcake Countenance: AuthorityCupcake Countenance — By Kim Gottschild on August 13, 2012 at 5:00 am
Kim Gottschild is one of Burnside’s Managing Editors. A middle school German teacher, she resides with her spouse, their two daughters, and their two rescue dogs in Carmel “By the Corn,” Indiana. To connect with Kim, find her on Facebook. Also, you can read the rest of the Cupcake Countenance column here.
“Aunt B, I’ve not been managing my stress very well,” I confide over dinner.
A retired Indiana University nursing professor, Aunt B’s been giving presentations and coaching clients on stress management for over thirty years. I decide this is rather convenient. Because it’s been a long six months. And I need help.
Last August when I began my full time teaching job, I thought I could hack it. After all, the Proverbs 31 Woman “got it all done.” How hard could it be? Surely I could eliminate dust bunnies and pet dander in my home while a roast braises in the oven and laundry spins in the washer, ensuring that my husband and children will not have to turn their underwear inside out the next morning before I go to work to promote literacy and problem solving skills for all types of learners who forget to bring pencils to class yet steal all of mine. No problem!
In September, I appreciated the toilet paper at work because we didn’t have any more at home. Admittedly, Kleenex was softer than the recycled stuff I usually buy.
In October, the vacuum collected dust for the wrong reasons.
In November, after the faculty meeting exercise in which I could only define three out of twenty-one best practices, I went home
to cry. Then, after our store-bought pre-cooked rotisserie chicken dinner, I retired to bed at six-thirty.
In December, I wanted to stage a coup with the Grinch. Again. And Ella had no clean underwear, so she was forced to wear old pairs my backside had suddenly outgrown. My students may not be left behind, but my own children surely have been.
Now we’re into January. Exhausted and strapped for time, I can barely get off the couch to “get it all done.” And I have decided, based on personal experience, that the Proverbs 31 Woman produced too much cortisol, depleted her adrenal glands, and went into stress-induced early menopause before withering away to a premature death. Because coritsol production, in addition to stimulating perimenopausal symptoms, apparently induces uncontrolled butt growth, collagen loss, gastric acid secretion, and long-term osteoporosis development. All around atrophy.
I need some kind of formula. A better strategy. Or a magic wand. I’ve been asking all the other women at work – women who have been doing this longer, women who are way wiser than me, women who have all the answers – how they “get it all done” and all of them – ALL OF THEM – tell me they “don’t.”
So I’m hoping Aunt B has some insight.
“Well, you know, most people don’t even understand what stress really is,” Aunt B answers.
Stress is stress is stress is….Wait, what is stress? Stress is suddenly just this vague word Dr. Oz throws around in conjunction with antioxidants. I furrow my unruly brows. (I’ve not had time to do anything about those, either.)
“Stress is what we experience when demands outweigh our resources,” Aunt B explains.
I nod. I am familiar with demands.
“Also, we experience stress when we give external sources too much control. It’s often what we choose to believe about our situations that determines stress levels.”
I stop nodding because that sounds so smart and totally not neurotic in any way. This may be over my head.
“You mentioned resources?”
“Well, self-esteem is the most important resource. The more you believe in yourself, the less control you give to external circumstances to stress you.”
Self-esteem? Believe in myself? This is totally over my head. But I play along.
“Well, since discovering God likes me, I’m trying to live like it. I suppose my self-esteem would come from knowing that God likes me.”
“That’s interesting. Do you feel like you need permission to like yourself?”
I feel exposed, weak, and defensive. “Yes, yes I do.”
But isn’t that how the world works? From the earliest of ages, we learn to base our self-esteem from the gold stars we received at school. Then we get it from the grades, the ribbons, the college entrance exam scores, the contests. The hair, the outfits, the diets. The degrees, the jobs, the income, the matching family outfits. Whatever the world views as success. Granting these external sources authority to determine our self-esteem is deceptively effective.
For a second.
Because next we screw up and fail. We realize the acid wash jeans, just as a random example, were excruciatingly ugly and the fashion police has withdrawn their permission to like ourselves as ourselves. So we try harder and think we’ve finally succeeded
with skinny jeans only to fail again when they create muffin top, a phenomenon with which I now have direct experience as wonky stress-hormone production forces me to eat all the chocolate Dunkin’ Donut holes in the admin work room. On occasion.
It’s a vicious cycle.
And I realize for the first time ever that I have no actual self-esteem. Which is to say, I have never esteemed myself very highly. (In my head, I’m sounding like a Jane Austen film.)
Any self-esteem I have possessed temporarily resulted from meeting external demands. Last year, for example, I liked myself for being a good wife, mom, or teacher – cooking dinner, doing laundry, utilizing best practices. Working part time I still had time and energy to fulfill my duties. But now, in my eyes, I’m not doing any or all of those things. Now, basing my self-esteem on my own effort is ineffective in dealing with my stress. In fact, it is causing it.
If Aunt B is right, and believing in myself will ease my burdens, then I need something outside the performance based system on which to base my self-esteem.
“I need God’s permission to like myself,” I blurt.
God’s permission to like myself? What, have I gone New Age? Am I now a Unitarian? Evangelicals are not allowed to like themselves. We even sing about how wretched and shameful we are. I’m so unworthy, but still You love me! La lala la la. Oh, Lord, I’m so full of crap! But You love me! Lala lala la la.
I mean, I was already stretching it, declaring that God likes me. But now, like myself?
What about all this humility shiznit, and denying the self crap? Where in the whole stinkin’ Bible does it say we have God’s permission to like ourselves? And if I find it, where would it lead? What would happen if I like myself because God likes me?
“You need God’s permission to like yourself?” Aunt B repeats.
“Yes.” I chew on this and my salmon.
Now resolute, I decide to go and track down some God-endorsed self-esteem. Which means I need to call my mother, who directly proceeds to put me on speaker phone.
“Mom, does it say in the Bible that we have God’s permission to like ourselves?” Mom is my human Bible concordance. I can name a topic and she instantly knows which verse applies.
“Like ourselves?” Also an evangelical, she is at first confused.
Dad chimes in, “Why? Don’t you like yourself?”
“Yes. No. I need some self-esteem.”
“Oh, well, honey, it says that God delights over us.”
“Why don’t you like yourself?” Dad needs clarification. I suddenly feel like a total failure because I don’t truly like myself.
“Because my self-esteem was always based on effort, Dad.”
“And it says that we are worth more to him than the sparrows,” Mom continues. I can see her flipping through her mental catalogue. “If it says that God feels that way about us, then surely we can, too,” she rationalizes.
“I know. I know it says all that. But that’s not enough. Where does it say that I’m allowed to do that? Where does it say that I have permission to do that? Any authority at all?”
“Well, in it says in Acts that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Well, that’ll have to do for now. I was really hoping for some verse that said “You have absolute permission to like yourself.” Instead I’m left with the authority to witness, which leads to more questions, like “How will witnessing provide me with self-esteem?” and “Will I need tracts?”
February, the dead of winter, is business as usual. Canned soup, frantic clean undie searches, dust, dirt, and grime.
Four days post Ash Wednesday, we attend Lenna’s Circle the State with Song Festival choir performance. “Don’t cry, Mommy,” she says. It’s a preemptive strike to spare herself total humiliation. As we know, I tend to tear up at their musical performances. There’s something so powerful about children making music that melts me, and I can’t help it. “Okay,” I answer, preparing to shield myself from emotion.
But then she sings:
When I close my eyes than I can see, and I am not afraid.
Now I am learning the magic within me, and that is the reason I’m standing so tall.
Deep in my heart is a voice that is speaking, if I keep believing then I will not fall.
Magic? Inside me? Standing tall? A voice speaking in my heart? If I keep believing I will not fall? Before I know what’s happening, the floodgates burst open.
“Mommy, I saw you crying,” Lenna says with disgust. But as we drive home I think about the voices inside me. I decide I don’t like what they usually say. Lately they’ve been cutting me down, saying things like Dinner was crap! The lesson was crap! You’re a crappy mom! And when I believe them, I later find myself lying on the couch in utter despair.
March is the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if the tunnel only leads to the the end of winter, and not my burdens, it’s better than nothing. Then, during the usual course of my educational endeavors, I field an unexpected question.
“Frau Geeeee, are you Catholic?” seventh grade Colin asks from his behind the table.
Colin and his table mates are working on conjugating verbs as I facilitate an after-school tutoring session at the library, so the
question takes me by surprise. I’m thinking we’re going to talk about regular verb endings, and while the teacher in me wants to correct the sentences on his paper, I sense urgency.
“Well, no. I’m not,” I answer.
“But do you know anything about Lent?”
Ah, Lent. Yes, I know a few things about Lent. I know that I hate Lent, for example. I know that I used to use Lent as a self-righteous dieting tool. And I know that I do not like going to church during Lent, when the series topic is inevitable something depressing like “Seven Deadly Sins.” I know that I do not appreciate the more guided effort at examining my flaws, because I never needed any help with that to begin with. I don’t require a seasonal reminder to highlight my failures. And I never liked leaving church feeling worse about myself than when I entered. Life served that purpose quite well, thank you very much.
“A little bit,” I lie, trying to remain upbeat. I don’t need to project my issues on the poor kid.
“Did you give up anything?” His beady eyes peer at me through his black, thick rimmed glasses. Colin is a miniature Elvis Costello. I want to give him a fedora. And a guitar.
“No,” I lie again. I have actually given up doing anything I should do for Lent. But I never declared it officially because
that’s something I felt I should do. It’s an experiment in my motivations. In living in freedom, as my naturopathic counselor lady Katherine says.
“Well, I ate meat last Friday, so do I have to stop Lent?”
“Stop Lent? Why, what did you give up for Lent?”
Oh, this is quite the challenge for a thirteen year old boy. Near impossible. From what I hear, eating these chicken wings is one of the main cases for proof of middle school manliness. Along with farting on command.
“Nah, I think you’re good.”
“But Frau Geeeee, I failed.”
“I don’t see how the Friday meat has anything to do with the Lenten B-dubs,” I rationalize, making my non-Catholicness quite clear. “Aren’t they two separate things? Just get back on that horse, bucko, and try again. Decide why giving up B-dubs is
important to you, what it’s worth to you, and try again. It’s all you can do.”
“But Frau Geeeeeeeeeeee, I FAILED!” He is sprawled all across the table like a fawn learning to use its legs. On ice.
“You’re okay, just try again.”
“But Frau Geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, I FAILED.” Gasping he cries, “Is this a MORTAL SIN?!?!?”
I will later find out that what I’m about to say is very non-Catholic. Very Martin Luther. I will be sorry for that, and I will be forgiven, but at the moment I can’t take any more. Colin’s genuine anxiety has hit a nerve and I can’t watch him suffer any longer. It seems so unnecessary. I want to scoop him up and make it all go away, make it all better.
“Colin, because of what the one your priest would tell you about did at Easter, not naming any names here, there is no such thing as failure after that. He won already. And it’s technically a couple thousand years after Easter, Lent or not. So you can’t fail. Failure doesn’t exist.”
Ooooooooh, the four boys at the table gasp. “Frau G,” they say, “that’s deep.”
I nod, feeling like superwoman, though unsure where any of this came from.
“But Frau Geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, how many sins do we get until we go, you know?!?” Colin points down at the commercial flooring. This last question gnaws at perhaps the deepest issue we all face. How many chances do we get until we are disgraced for good, cast off in shame? This is the ultimate failure and pain we all fear.
“As far as I’ve been told, we get unlimited chances. It’s by faith we are saved, not by works.” There I go with the Luther
again. I don’t mean to. Honest. It’s simply one of the only verses I actually know; just don’t ask me to name it.
Colin is visibly relieved. He sits back up, relaxes into his seat, and resumes his verb conjugations, giving me a chance to stop to think about what just happened. What did just happen?
I was Jesus’ witness.
Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save it. God had asked only ten things (and then some, think Deuteronomy) of the Israelites, and they failed to fulfill the requirements to earn God’s favor. So Jesus died to meet God’s demands on the Israelites’ and, ultimately, our behalf. But He was not abandoned to the grave, and, by faith, neither are we. We are united with Him in His resurrection, now alive in the law of the Spirit. So now our success is not dependent upon our strength to fulfill any kind of law or meet life’s demands, but is solely found in Him.
This is not to say that we will never suffer or experience consequences for our actions or others’. We’re just not labeled by it, condemned by it. As we live out our daily lives, God’s spiritual truth trumps anything that happens in this world. For if nothing on the planet has the authority to grant us grace, then nothing has the power to take it away. And we have authority through the Spirit over anything that would try, even over ourselves.
I’ve been living in self-condemnation for too long. Now, like I did for Colin, I want to tell myself the truth, scoop myself up, make it all go away, and make it all better.
Paul says in Romans 8:16 that “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” Frankly, my own spirit is feeling a little beefed up, now. And I think I could like myself as God’s heir, co-heir with Christ. This is how I want to live. I want to live and move and breathe through the power of the Spirit.
Spring arrives, and as flowers and buds pop out everywhere, so do reminders that I’ve failed to meet life’s demands. While preparing my lunch in the teacher workroom, monitoring the hallway during passing periods, sitting in meetings, driving home, or waking up in the middle of the night. Basically, all the time. No worries, now I know how to drive it all away:
Kim, that lesson totally sucked!!!!!
No it didn’t. It might not have gone as intended, but it didn’t fail. The students still learned and I hit all kinds of standards and we’ll revisit the topic tomorrow. By the way, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I googled even more verses, so get the hell away from me. Pun intended. Ha hahahaha!
Kim, you are neglecting your children right now, while you’re here at this meeting. This is what happens when mothers go to work!! Go home now!!!!
No, I’m not. They are learning some independence, which they actually like. All things work for good for those who are called according to His purpose. And I am predestined, called, justified, and glorified. And so are they.
Kim, you can’t serve your family canned soup for dinner!!!
It’s organic, and I didn’t serve it. It’s super useful that my kids now know how to use a can opener. So leave me, because I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me. And neither death nor life not angels nor demons nor anything else in all creation, like canned soup, dull laundry, or best practices, among a multitude of things way more serious, will be able to separate me and my family from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And just because I can, I’m going to get three more cases of this soup at Costco.
Kim, your butt has gotten HUGE!!!!
Yes, so I have bought new bottoms of all varieties. I think I look like J. Lo. Beauty is fleeting, anyway.
I’m getting the hang of liking myself apart from my efforts, as a child of God, and with each new victory in the Spirit I sense my
posture changing. As I learn to perceive the demands placed on my existence as powerless over my authority in Christ, I’m standing a little taller. And If I can keep believing and extending myself grace, well – more power to me.