Thursday, May 2, 2013

The dangers of letting other people define me...

Early in my ministry, I made the huge mistake of allowing others to define me. At first church members and supervisors heralded me as if I was "the golden girl".   Some said I was creative and inspired. Others praised my organization and people skills. My supervisors told me I was a quick learner and quite talented - a dedicated and hard worker.

I believed all the accolades and worked even harder and longer to please my church family. Soon I was working day and night, fueled by their favor and kind words.  It was a happy time, but I was unaware of the dangers of letting other people define me.

Children's ministry was bustling along, but the church climate was turning toxic.  Since I was working 60 hours per week to keep up with a Children's ministry growth spurt, I did not sense the danger lurking. Looking back, I was aware of mounting tension and discord among the Elders regarding a land purchase, but I clung to an altruistic belief that Christians act in love and church disagreements are resolved in a Godly manner.

To this day, I am unsure how I ended up in the crosshairs of conflict and condemnation, but all of a sudden I found myself under intense scrutiny from my supervisor.  I've been told I was used as a scapegoat to divert attention from the land debacle, but it doesn't matter. I know what man means for evil, God uses for good or in my case - God used this to teach me and I am thankful for it. 

Our leadership team was preparing a Children's Ministry evaluation survey and we invited my supervisor to attend the open meetings. Instead of participating in our self-evaluation process,  he decided he would run the meetings and told me I was not to participate.  My leadership team resisted, but he over-ruled them. He even added a secret survey/evaluation of me and announced he was going to send it to a select & secret  group of members of his choosing.

From day one, I was told you are doing a great job and was used to superior evaluations, but I thought it odd I was the only staff person being evaluated. I did think it ridiculous to ban me from the meetings, but I respected my supervisor - assuming he meant no harm.

 Here's where most folks would see the red flags, but  I went along with the plan, because all my" intel" assured me everyone would be fair and I would be better for it.  Seriously, I was THAT naive. 

Let's fast forward to my doomsday.  Called into the Senior Pastor's office, my supervisor handed me an evaluation report.  The only words I recognized as descriptive of me was my name written across the top of the page. The rest was a damning description of a most incompetent and repulsive person.  As a final blow, the summary paragraph defined me as "Arrogant, abrasive, aloof, abrupt and several other unflattering "A" words I'd never heard said about me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm perfect... far from it.  I'm saying I'd never received a negative evaluation, much less a character assassination.  People usually defined me as confident not arrogant, diplomatic not abrasive, approachable not aloof, and admittedly direct, but not abrupt.  It had always been easy and safe for me to see myself through others eyes, because it was all good.  Now, it was all bad and it felt horrible.  I was devastated, crushed and falling apart.

I fought to keep my emotions in check, but the tears in my eyes and my shaking hands betrayed me. Choking back tears, I looked into the eyes of my Pastor, once warm and encouraging, now icy and piercing and asked, Who would say these cruel things? I would like to talk with them." I trailed off saying, "I don't understand."

The Senior Pastor didn't speak, he just stared blankly at me. He let my supervisor take the lead.  My supervisor told me he could not tell me who was asked to write the evaluations. He said I was to accept their definitions as fact and immediately turn in a letter of resignation.

I didn't buy it. I couldn't accept their scathing review.  I put up a fight for my job and for my self-esteem, but the damage was too great.  Eventually,  I negotiated a severance package and left quietly, but it took me years to fully recover from the traumatic lesson in allowing others to define me.

And this is how I was finally healed.

I eventually learned to allow only God to define me.  In the weeks and months that followed, I turned to God spending hours each day in prayer and reflection. I searched the Bible and landed in Exodus, Psalms and the Gospels.  There I discovered Moses, David and even Jesus endured people's praise and scorn. Moses and David, like me, usually deserved a lot of the negative press, for they sinned... just like me.  But, unlike me, Moses and David did not crumble because they put their faith in God, not man.  Jesus, perfect from the get go endured more negative characterizations that anyone in the Bible, but He knew who He was and only God could define him.

Vowing never to allow other to define me, I started a most unusual form of prayer. I took that horrid evaluation with all it's hurtful "A" words  and burned it. As it turned to ashes, I thanked God for making me just the way he intended reading from Psalm 139, which became my anchor and my prayer.

I continue to participate in evaluations and self-evaluations.  I try to listen and learn from other's perspective and impressions of me, but I no longer let their words of praise or correction define me, color my world or damage my self-worth.

And when I slip allowing high praise to charm me, I remind myself people's favor and praise is as fickle, fallible and dangerous as people's criticism and judgment.  I instead seek the safety and security of God's favor and judgment.

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