What’s at the End of Your Rope?

Scene from Steel Magnolias
There’s a scene in the 1989 drama Steel Magnolias where Shelby’s father, Drum, is fussing with his incorrigible neighbor Ouiser over a Magnolia tree dividing their properties.

Drum had cut flowers from the tree to use as pool decorations for his daughter’s wedding reception, and Ouiser was less than happy about it.

I am just about at the end of my rope with you, Drum Eatenton, Ouiser says after she’s exhausted all her fight.

Well then, why don’t you tie a noose and slip it ’round your head? he replies, laughing.

Have you ever come to the end of your rope and realized the place it stopped was your feet?

Have you ever thought that the only option left was to ‘tie it around your neck’?

I have.

Not too long ago I had to admit two hard truths to my husband:

  • I was unhappy, and he actually wasn’t the problem, and…
  • I had lived 37 years never feeling intrinsically worthy.

For the past 15-ish years, I have been telling my husband that he makes me unhappy.

Easy to do. Not taking responsibility for our actions has been a human strong-suit since Adam and Eve ate the apple.

If it’s not your fault, it’s not on you to fix it.

But lately—especially since we moved to Oxford—victimhood has left me feeling a bit jaded. I can keep up a facade for ten days, but not eleven. I can continue to pretend I’m not to blame for my lack of joy, but only until I choke on my own words.

I’m unhappy because I’m unhappy. Not because Clayford, my kids, my parents, my past, old friends, family members or any circumstance made me that way.

I’m unhappy because it’s a habit. It’s wired into my brain. It’s a set point and I’ve been too lazy to change it.

But I’m also unhappy for an uglier reason, one that has shot poison into my body, soul and spirit.

I’m unhappy because for so long I believed my worth came from what I did, who I was, and what I brought to the table.

This is a lie from hell that has hovered around me nearly all my life.

I grew up in the suburbs of a city. In my community and the surrounding areas, there was a larger amount of money and status in comparison to the tinier towns and more remote places in my state.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe you grew up in a similar town.

A town where some families and children are known in a good way for what they have, what they do and what their last names are. Or known in a bad way for purposely seeking to be the opposite. Or not known at all because they fit neither of the above.

From reading my posts, it’s probably not so hard to tell where my family fell.

So even though I wasn’t specifically told to find my worth in doing, being or having, that was exactly what I gathered from all I saw around me.

I saw that pretty girls who dressed in the right clothes and did the right activities were liked.

I saw that boys who acted like men and played sports and wore a certain jacket were popular.

I saw that money, or the perception of having it, made all of the above possible.

And I saw that parents and teachers encouraged this, participated in it, and often schemed to make sure it happened.

I’m not judging a soul for this. I feel quite sure this same merry-go-round has been spinning since the dawn of creation.

But longevity doesn’t equal right.

However, longevity does mean that something probably won’t change anytime soon, and this same scenario happens in Oxford as in any other mid-sized, economically advantaged town.

Strangely, however, it never occurred to me that this was a false way to live until I was sitting at the Starbucks last week talking marriage with a friend of mine.

I told her some struggles Clayford and I had been dealing with.

When she asked me out of the blue if I felt worthy of having a good life, I said no, giving her a very solid list of all the ways I had no right to feel worthy of anything.

My past and present failures are great examples, I said.

She looked at me like I was crazy, and replied, I’m not talking about feeling good for having money or accomplishments, Toni. I mean, Do you feel good just because you are here and you are you?

This. Blew. My. Mind.

I honestly didn’t know you were allowed to feel worthy just for existing. My image of God and redemption has been so skewed for so long that the concept of worthiness has always seemed tied to doing everything right, having material ‘blessings’, and being graced with sheer luck.

I went home and asked Clayford if he grew up feeling intrinsically worthy.

Of course, he said. (And then he probably cursed in his mind because he knew we were about to have a conversation; and unless it’s about the kids’ activities or some kind of sports or television event, Clayford hates talking to me, especially about spiritual stuff.)

I asked my older two kids the same question. My daughter said of course she felt worthy–I mean, please, Mom, she eye-rolled—(her father’s child).

But my son said that sometimes he didn’t feel worthy. Other than Nims, this child is most like me, which tells me these feelings of unworthiness could be rooted in personality as well (but I’ll leave that to the psychologists).

Personality or not, it never registered with me that one shouldn’t be considered worthy on the inside based on what they have or what they do or what their last name is on the outside, but that we all should feel worthy just for existing, just for having breath in our lungs and the privilege to experience this neat thing called Life.

Nobody told me that our greatest calling as humans—especially Jesus followers (love your neighbor as yourself)—was to make everyone feel worthy, because feeling intrinsically valuable helps you make good choices, choices that lead to feeling externally valuable too, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

I believe my lack of self-worth, as seeing myself as intrinsically valuable, has led me to do some pretty outrageous things.

I don’t need to vomit them on a blog post, but suffice it to say, I’ve looked for worth in a lot of wrong places, even places that seem good.

One of those wrong places is my marriage.

As I said in a previous post, Clayford, and most of the men I dated before him, looked perfect on paper. He looked like those people I’d wanted so badly to imitate growing up, the ‘worthy’ people who did, said and had all the right things, things that you believe will fill an empty space in your heart.

While Clayford is an AMAZING man, we are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of what we want out of life, who we like to be around, and what we like to spend our time doing. No kidding. We are night and day. Nothing alike. (And God bless him; the things this man has put up with.)

Another wrong place I’ve looked for worth is through my children, in what they do and how they appear. But it’s amazing how far I’ve come in this one area, considering I spent the first decade of my oldest children’s lives forcing them into molds they weren’t created to fill.

And one of the last wrong places I’ve searched for worth—and easily the most pointless, but also the most common—is social media, including this blog.

In an effort to avoid authentic, imperfect relationship, I’ve sought out the sunnier side of having ‘friends’, the kind where I can comment a few cute words or slap a funny emoji on a post and call it a day.

The kind of friendship that keeps hurt and habits hidden and makes both of us look and feel good, but doesn’t get either of us anywhere in the growth department.

So that’s that. Wish I could wrap it up all cute, but this year has officially been titled “End of My Rope.”

I have zero clues where I’ll be come December. Every day feels like I’m peeling back layers of an onion and finding more and more rottenness underneath.

What about you?

Are you performing for value? Trying to sell something for money and success? Taking selfie after selfie for likes and comments? Living through your name or money or children? Hoping to be known for what you do as opposed to Whose you are?

Do you understand that you are entitled as a living and breathing creature of the Universe, created by a God who knit you together, to feel intrinsically worthy?

Do you know that no matter how long you live (or even if you had never made it here in the first place) your life is still incredibly valuable just because?

Maybe like me, you didn’t know that.

Maybe like me (and Ouiser Boudreaux, bless her soul) you’re at the end of your rope, and you’ve found it halts right where it started: YOU.

Don’t pick up that rope and tie it around your neck.

Burn it. Toss it. Get rid of it.

You don’t need it.

We don’t need to lasso value from other places.

It’s been inside us all this whole time.

It’s on you to know your worth.

It’s on me too. Any change I make, any happiness I accept, any trials I face, it’s my decision to pick which lens I see them through.

And for once I’m okay with that.

Because I’m starting to realize I’m worth it. 😉

When You Struggle to Find Joy in an Invisible Jesus

I have a weekly cleaning schedule I’ve been following for a couple of years:

Mondays and Thursdays are laundry and bathrooms, Tuesdays and Fridays are dusting and floors, and Wednesday is kitchen cleaning day.

Satan lives for tormenting me after everything is cleaned.

And by Satan I mean my four children.

If I mop the floors, that afternoon it will of course rain and one or all of my kids will leave muddy footprints throughout the house.

The day I clean the bathroom is inevitably the day one of them smears blue toothpaste across the mirror or leaves streaks of poo in the toilet.

I used to pout about this, as if having a dirty house was the worst punishment one could be given.  

It’s the nature of the beast, right?

In our flesh, we can and will find something to complain about.

I’ve made no secret of how unhappy I was to come home after teaching a full day and be a housewife while my husband worked less hours but enjoyed a daily round of golf or video games with his buddies.

Nothing about that seemed fair or right (and still doesn’t, by the way, which is why I stay home).

While I am now grateful to be home, I often feel useless at times, like I’ve lost a sense of self and purpose.

It’s as if we women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, you know?

It doesn’t help that I think my husband and I have zero in common. That given a choice, it appears to me he would choose ten things over spending time with his wife.

It doesn’t help that I don’t find fulfillment in Motherhood. Or that what brings many women joy often leaves me feeling restless and discontent.

So I’ve been contemplating joy and happiness lately, mostly because I’ve been doing a whole lot of complaining about all of the above.

A fruit of the spirit (yet another one of the nine I seem to be lacking), joy is said to be completely separate from happiness.

Usually those who claim that joy and happiness do not go hand-in-hand also tell us we can find our joy in an invisible Jesus, the Savior we can read about, but can’t touch, taste, feel, see or hear. 

I’m going to throw this out there (and possibly lose a few readers in the process):

Sometimes ‘knowing’ Jesus just isn’t enough for me.

Sometimes the Bible doesn’t come close to answering all the questions.

Sometimes the prayers don’t feel heard, the tears don’t feel captured, the choices don’t seem logical, and the pain of feeling like a child running after a God who doesn’t seem to want her is unbearable.

I love Jesus. I believe in Him.

But finding ALL my happiness and joy in Him?

That’s tough.

Does anyone else get that?

Do you feel shameful and guilty because of it?

Being unsatisfied, lacking joy or happiness, makes you feel ungrateful when you know you are thankful.

It makes you feel selfish when you know you give of yourself.

It makes me feel anxious, like I want to run away and start anew, as if that would automatically ensure I’d find what I’m looking for.

I recently carried these burdens straight to God. I trusted that He was merciful enough to handle my doubts about His goodness and Will for my life. 

I wanted to wrestle with the possibility that I might never find happiness or joy.

I began to acknowledge that I’d been looking for it in all the wrong places anyway: my past, my social media pages, a good glass of alcohol, my husband and children, material wealth, a home, attractiveness, friends—even this very blog.

Consequently, I’ve spent more time alone. Socializing in the midst of confusion hasn’t felt right to me.

I’ve read more books than in years before.

I’ve reflected on what I’m putting in my body and how it makes me feel.

I’ve studied what I say to others, how I behave around them and why I do what I do.

And I’ve gone outdoors and unashamedly summoned the Universe to bring me good energy, stealing peace from the scent of the wild and free, allowing it to fill the hollow parts inside me. 

And so it happened sometime ago that as I was swinging Nims at the park I tasted my first glimpse of real joy.

The higher Nims swung in the air, the bigger her smile grew and the louder her laughter rang out.

And I thought to myself, If we could all have that kind of joy over small things.

If we could all have that sense of wild abandonment and freedom.

If we could all just be content.

This would usually be the place in my blog where I would finish nice and neat.

I’d write a little quip about finding Jesus and make it sound as if I have it all figured out.

But I won’t do that here.

Because that joy I felt at the park with Nims?

It fled.

I came home to my current life and all its stress, and I found that I’d lost my joy yet again.

So I can’t and won’t wrap this up with a pretty bow. This post will remain open-ended, maybe for good.

I really don’t know what it means to find our joy in Jesus. I just don’t.

But maybe that’s what someone reading this needs to hear. 

That you are not alone.

I’m searching with you. 

Let’s not give up.