Feeling unqualified for "that thing"

I have been fired twice.

One of the times was from the carnival though, so I’m not sure that counts. I guess there’s an art to putting rides together, a sweaty, greasy art and I did not possess it. I had only worked there a few hours and had not even been inducted into the “way of the carny.” (I would tell you more, but I don’t want to anger the Christian carny crowd that reads this site, “Carnies for Christ, Whiplash Warriors for the Word” etc.)

The second time I got fired was less comical, though probably equally justified. I was working for a small dotcom that had the word “net” in the name of the company. Back in Massachusetts after a few years in Birmingham, I was just starting to find my feet in the working world. I was immature and not that great of a writer and eventually that caught of with me.

The owner called me into an office and let me know they were letting me go. Then he said, “I don’t think you should be a writer. Maybe you should try to be a salesman.”

I’d like to say that I shook that off the minute I left the building for the last time. But I didn’t. I can repel a compliment with the best of them, karate blocking kind words back out into the atmosphere even as you try to share them about something I’ve done. But I treat the negative comments like P-Diddy at a night club. “Right this way sir. Here’s the VIP section of my heart. Enjoy your stay.”

For years, I made that conversation a mini god in my life. Whenever things got too good or I got recognized for some silly bit of writing, I would remember I was not a “real writer.” I created this idealized version of what it meant to be a “real writer.” They had talents I did not have. They had not made the mistakes I had. They had secrets of the written world I did not possess. They probably knew words I didn’t even know existed. And try as I might, struggle as I may, I would never attain that goal, the goal of being a writer.

It doesn’t have to be writing. “That thing” is different for everyone. You might want to be a singer or an accountant or a stay at home mom or a pastor’s wife. A woman posted a comment on this site once that said, “I just have struggled for a long time with ‘what is a pastor’s wife?’ and often feel like I don’t measure up.”

At some point, regardless of what “that thing” is for you, we all don’t measure up. We all don’t have enough. We are all missing pieces to a puzzle we feel called to complete but unprepared to finish.

But then there is Paul.

Paul is a gift to the mess ups like me. Paul is an early birthday present to people like me that have broken their lives and their talents and chased other things for so long. Paul is the truth.

If you don’t know the story, Paul’s conversion tale is told in the book of Acts. He once persecuted Christians as a man named Saul but through a miraculous encounter with God grew to become the greatest missionary our faith has ever known. And there are two sentences that kind of provide the key to Paul’s life and maybe some insight into ours too.

In Galatians 1:23-24 Paul quickly explains how his life, “that thing” for him, works:
“They (the Judeans) only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

I love that. As I’ve admitted before, I’ve made a mess of my ability to write. I’ve used it to feed my ego and gossip and lie and a million other forms of abuse. I haven’t made a nickel from this site and I know my temptation to abuse my writing is going to multiply exponentially if I ever do. But in this verse Paul is accused of trying to destroy a faith. He is accused of persecuting a people group. And it doesn’t disqualify him.

If anything, his past is used to amplify his present. Like bookends made of dynamite, things that should be criticisms, are actually used to blow up the power of the middle statement, which is “preaching the faith.” He persecuted. He tried to destroy. He is preaching. The collision of those three thoughts is explosive. They were not left out or edited. They were not hidden. His past is a key component of his story.

And what’s the result of the sentence we read in verse 23? Verse 24 says, “And they praised God because of me.”

Sick. Amazing. Crazy. The result is that God gets praise and Paul gets to say “because of me.” He is not trying to be a “real missionary” like I try to be a “real writer.” He is not sweeping his past under the rug and trying to live up to an ideal that doesn’t even exist. He is aware of his past and embracing his present because it allows God to create a ridiculous future.

You are qualified for that thing. Your ability to do whatever it is you feel God wants you to do is not “in spite of your past.” It might be “because of your past.”

Today, I’m rewriting Galatians 1:23 for my own life. Today, I want to make that idea my own and put to death the desire to be a “real writer” or a “real husband” or any other fake mini god in my life. Here’s how my version reads:

“The man who formerly used his words for filth is now sharing the beauty of a God he once tried to run away from.”

I hope you’ll rewrite it with me and share your version in a comment.

p.s. This is kind of a companion piece to Shining up our Scars so check that out if you haven’t. If this is your first time to the site and you’re thinking, “Ugh, that was heavy,” check out “Not knowing how to hold hands.” It’s a lot funnier.

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  1. Christy says

    I know some of you might roll your eyes when I say that my “love language” is words of affirmation, so anything remotely critical usually sends me scampering to my pity party zone.

  2. jenn from pooler says

    Thanks so much for this – I’m copying to my 16 year old daughter who is a strong follower of Christ but struggling with anorexia. At times she feels she is “tainted” now and wonders how God will use her. Thanks for your comments! I love the funny ones, but I love love love these deep serious ones!

  3. Anonymous says

    “The woman who formerly used bitterness to deal with pain now allows Christ to deal with all of me “

  4. Janera says

    powerful, powerful stuff you’ve written here.

    Not just in one area, but in many, I struggle with feelings that I am unqualified: I’m not the perfect mother, nor the perfect teacher, nor the perfect friend, nor the perfect wife, nor the perfect daughter, nor the perfect writer.

    But this I do know, and I call on it regularly: “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

    Clearly, I never will be the perfect anything. You know why? Because it’s not about me, as much as I sometimes try to make it so.

    So, I guess my version would go something like this:

    “She who formerly sought validation in accomplishment now finds it in service.”

    Thank you very much for this reminder today.

  5. Marni says

    The woman who once was positive her happiest times were behind her, feels like she has emerged from the ashes of pain, despair and anger. And she is grateful for it and praises God everyday for the pain because it brought about redemption, power and victory.

  6. Amber says

    As a writer, who’s had the kibosh put on me by editors, I can very much relate. And here’s my version:

    “The writer who formerly fretted over her words, petting them as slick silver idols that reflected her own glory, is now brandishing God’s gold Word to care for others.”

    If only I could live up to it each day!

  7. Destined2bd1 says

    Wow…you just really encouraged me in a way that I have been needing for such a long time now. I don’t know you nor do you know me, but wow…to think people from different worlds all over can share the same fears, insecurities, feelings, and the same Savior who strengthens us through all of that and loves us through all of that and uses us through all of that!! It’s great. Hope you don’t mind if I quote you or refer to your post in my blog, I will be sure to add a link back to yours (once I figure out how to!)

  8. A_Work_N_Progress says

    This brought tears to my eyes. For some reason, I can’t seem to let go of my past. Because of all the wrong I’ve done, I don’t feel like I can lead others. This is my first time reading your blog however I definitely feel encouraged from reading this.

  9. Sought-Out says

    “The mother who hid in shame because her son used illegal drugs and suffered a traumatic brain injury, is now on the internet telling her story. A story of freedom and redemption.”

  10. Belle says

    The woman who once sold our her little girl inside for words of affirmation from man, now stands firm in the Word and encourages others to base their acceptance, worth, and identity in Him too.

  11. Anonymous says

    my version of Galattions 1:23-24

    ” a woman who once used her tongue for seductive words and sexual imorality now pours from her tongue the glorius Message of Jesus Christ and the hope for all who believe.”

  12. momonthejourney says

    Wow Jon. I followed a link to this post (from boomama.net), and what an introduction to your blog. You wrote about exactly what I’m dealing with and blogging about right now. Thank you!

    PS I think I’ll link to you too!

  13. Kate says

    Wow… that’s intense. I especially loved the “they praised God because of me” part. I can only imagine how excited Paul was to say that.

    And thanks, you’ve helped with some things that I was really beating myself up about. There are alot of things I do that I don’t feel like I’m the “real thing,” like acting, public speaking, and being smart in school. People compliment me in these areas all the time, but I never feel as good as they say I am. When I messed up a line, or when my GPA dropped from a 4.0 to a 3.8, or when I couldn’t come up with much in an improv example speech… I beat myself up… but I shouldn’t.

    Thanks! I will definately be meditating on this post for awhile.

  14. voigt says

    This past year has been a lot of God bringing me out of the myth of what it means to be a quote “real artist” and your sentiments really resonnated with that process.

    I just discovered your blog today and it has been a thrilling read. Lots of solid stuff.

  15. Anonymous says

    yeah, im like a year late on this post and nobody will read it but i wanted to say that i always feel like im not a good band section leader. I have a section practice today so I will remember this when Im leading the other kids, even though i don't feel validated to lead. Im so bravenonymous