An Invitation to Ego Death

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cemetery

I was 400 words into a post contemplating why I so despise and am bad at the multitude of spreadsheets my life currently requires. It was called “(Ego) Death By Spreadsheet.” I found, though, that I couldn’t finish it. Sure, part of the problem was the fatigue I still deal with from sleeping poorly. But I think that, ultimately, I hit a dead end because the title was too clever for the reality of what I was writing about, and I couldn’t reconcile the two.

So, I begin again. I realized today that it’s not just the spreadsheets that punch my ego in the head repeatedly. It’s also not doing as well at the things that I know I am usually good at. Or those things taking much longer for me to do than for the flock of clever 20-somethings I am surrounded by. And beginning to see patterns across my life of tasks that seem like they should be easy but that I just can’t grasp. As in, I shouldn’t have trouble with these things because I’m smart.

And there it is: my identity as a smart person is really what’s getting punched in the head. This is an aspect of myself that I’m very attached to (and we know what attachment leads to, don’t we?). It was the thing that made me different as a kid, and the thing that helped me rise above the ridicule I received for being different. I figured that even if I wasn’t pretty or popular, I was smart, and that meant something. Being smart was my distinguishing factor. It made me special, and to be special was to be worthy of living.

That’s how my young mind understood reality, albeit not all consciously. It’s only now, as an adult, that I see how it is human nature to feel the need to be special, to be recognized, and to equate that with being valuable. We as a race “learn” from infancy that some people are special or better: those who excel in a certain area, even in many areas, or just try hard to overcome adversity, even if they don’t succeed. So we all try to find what is excellent or noble in ourselves, something to hang our worth hat on. If we don’t find it, we feel ashamed and either whip ourselves into a frenzy of effort to excel or determine that we’re inherently inferior and just give up. If we find that thing, as I found intelligence, we feel good about ourselves. Until it is threatened.

All of this, of course, is based on the faulty premise that we are not inherently worthy of love. I believe, in fact, that this is the central problem of humanity. We are terrified to our core that there is something fundamentally wrong with us that makes us unlovable. This thought is so terrifying that it’s pushed down deep into the subconscious for most of us. We try hard, and we get arrogant with success or downcast with failure. We waste our lives trying to impress someone or Something without realizing that we are radically and abundantly loved at all moments, irrespective of what we think makes us valuable.

Here are just two verses that demonstrate how God feels about humans:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you (to myself) with unfailing kindness.”

“He will rejoice over you with joy; he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

And wasn’t Jesus constantly throwing notions of who was valuable and who wasn’t out the window? He made it a point to publicly invite a most despised member of the Jewish community, a tax collector, to dinner. He refused to condemn an adulterous woman. He hung out with blue collar guys and various unsavory characters whom the “holy men” ignored or condemned. In a time when wealthy was equated with God’s favor and poverty with His curse, Jesus served the poor. He celebrated our essential belovedness; why else would he have endured the cross?

So, bring it on, World. Punch away at my ego, that false part of me created from the false notion that I must deserve to be loved. I don’t want to agree with your system for evaluating and valuing human life anymore. I don’t want to waste my effort trying to be important or worthy. Because I already am. Always have been. This requires no effort on my part except to freely receive the love God has poured out on me without restraint and without condition since I came into being.

What have you been hanging your worth hat on? What would it look like to let it go?

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3 Comments

  1. James on June 13, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks Heath. I always enjoy your thoughts. 🙂

    Our culture inundates us with what we deserve in an attempt to sell material.
    “You deserve XYZ”
    “Treat yourself because you deserve it.”
    “Your children deserve the best.”
    “Because you deserve the best.”
    Not because it recognizes our inherent value as creatures in His image, but because it wants us to purchase what the world has to offer. Temporary pleasure that ends up as ashes and dust. All the while the greatest price was paid for our us, and it is free to redeem.



  2. pattyobo on June 14, 2014 at 4:00 am

    An interesting read, Heath. Thanks for making me think. Again.

    I’m still pondering my “worth hat”. Truth be told, I am not sure I *have* a worth hat so much as I have a “self-degradation hat”. It’s safer. Or maybe it’s my “failure hat”? Failing when one predicts failure isn’t a big deal. Shoot, even mediocrity is then acceptable if I prepare everyone for worse.

    But I’ll continue to ponder this.

    Ah the things we do to ourselves, and the games we play. It’s crazy making!



  3. Heath on June 16, 2014 at 1:43 am

    Yes, it’s crazy making! It’s a bummer that it’s so incredibly difficult for us to get our heads around how beloved, how precious we are to God, and then to live with the implications. (Well, sorting THAT out gives me something to do for the rest of my life.) And yes, the self-degradation hat may be safer, but I have seen some of the treasure in you and am not fooled!



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