My favorite song, “Awake My Soul,” by Mumford & Sons begins this way:
“How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes / I struggle to find any truth in your lies / And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know / My weakness I feel I must finally show”
Sometimes, I look at the people around me and wonder what kind of lies they’re believing. I think about the depth of my inner thoughts, and I recognize that, at any given moment, one of my beloved friends could be fighting an inner battle about which I know nothing. I wonder if their battles are like my own. Are those battles also buried so deeply, entrenched in years of self-doubt, that escape seems improbable–or impossible?
I’ve found that, even in all the end-of-semester busyness, I’ve been experiencing a bit of dissatisfaction lately, and I can see throughout patterns in my life that this dissatisfaction lies in years of self-doubt. What truly amazes me, however, is how absolutely pervasive this self-doubt can be.
One bad class period in which my students don’t respond to any of my instruction. One plagiarized essay. One student who turns in a late assignment. Any one of these incidents brings up questions that I hate to realize I’m asking myself: Do I really want to teach? Is this actually my calling? Am I making any difference? Why am I working so blasted hard for students who clearly don’t care?
This self-doubt leaks over into my own academic life. The grading scale at Gardner-Webb is strict; if I make anything below a 97 in a class, I lose my (pridefully-held) 4.0 average. A 96–a very honorable grade–will earn me a 3.66 in a class, which is bordering on unacceptable, at least to my perfectionist nature. After taking a midterm exam a few weeks ago, I walked out of my professor’s office thinking I had just blown my GPA. I didn’t feel as though I answered the questions thoroughly, and I did not feel as if I adequately expressed my knowledge of American Renaissance literature. Two weeks later, when my midterm was returned to me, I was astounded by my grade–a 99–and my teacher’s comments that the test was clearly too easy for me. I was also a little ashamed of the flood of relief that passed over me as I realized that I still, in fact, have an excellent chance of making above a 97 in the class as a whole. Just days before, I had followed the slippery slope of self-doubt down to questioning my entire future. If I don’t make an A in this class, I’ll lose my 4.0, and I won’t get accepted into grad school at Baylor (where I’m seriously considering entering a Ph.D. program). My pride as an exceptional student is constantly at war with my perceived identity: though I rarely voice the idea, I often feel that if I’m not a perfect student, then I have completely failed at life. I don’t feel as though I’ve ever been good at anything other than academia, and making less than an A clearly means that I’m not even good at that. See? Lies.
The worst part, however, is the lies of my perception of relationships:
The reason you’re approaching 26 and still single is because no guy could ever be interested in you.
That guy you’re interested in? He doesn’t care about you at all. Other girls are so much better.
That girl? She’s only talking to you because she needs something from you.
Your best friends? They think you’re annoying and you talk too much when you drink too much coffee. You should stop that. Don’t do that anymore. You’re always wrong.
Lies. Lies. Lies.
But so comfortable, too. The lure of lies is that they appeal to my selfish nature. When I believe these lies, I’m in control. Yes, berating myself is difficult, but it’s also very powerful. When I blame myself, I’m buying into the lie that I’m actually important (in some negative regard). It’s easier to believe that I’m single because I’m not good enough than because God has some greater plan. Because when I recognize God’s purpose, I have to let go of my own mindset. And letting God love me can be even more difficult than hating myself.
The truth is that I far too often believe the lies. I do not often enough grasp the Truth. This dissatisfaction serves a purpose, however. I recognize the self-doubt, and I begin to actively fight against it. I read Psalm 139 and remind myself that, even in the trenches of self-doubt, I cannot flee from my Father’s presence. I remind myself that truth is found in the cross on which my Savior died, not in my job or my academic career or my relationships with others. I write on my blog because that’s a little easier than saying the words face-to-face. And I listen to Mumford & Sons’ song and I hear the hope at the end: “Awake my soul / For you were made to meet your maker.”
I’m not sure of Mumford & Sons’ intention in those lyrics, but I know Who my Maker is, and I know that He doesn’t want me believing the lies. And I finally find the courage to fight against them and turn to the Truth once more.