” My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4
The extinguisher of joy.
The violator of peace.
The counterfeit– the ultimate illusion of rest I’m profanely attracted to.
The voice in my head I’ve mistaken for Truth.
And this is where my story begins, and this is were my story will end: Perfectionism: the violent, silent killer who as been killed already, but I am only now awake to that reality.
A seed of discontentment was sown in my heart many many many moons ago.
The mirror said it plain. I can see with these earth eyes every flaw: My thighs touched when I stood with my feet together. My stomach pooched out and over my favorite pair of red corduroy pants. My chest, the bane of my existence, caused all of my junior and child sized shirts to pull and stretch and expose “offensively enormous” amounts of flesh.
Worth: I am Skylar. The disgusting pig girl who no one will ever ever love or desire to be with because my image is ugly and fat and therefore worthless and shameful.
Once the skinny one, the athletic one, always barefoot and climbing trees, biking, walking, running, rollerblading, waking with the sun escaping into the woods until the moon convinced my body that I needed to sleep. Always happiest in the forest with the trees and the creek.”She eats like a bird” my dad once said in a very unassuming observational tone, to which in my mind I received as merit to my name. A unintentional pat on the back for Skylar.
Worth: I am Skylar, the skinny, athletic, vivacious bird.
The ballet barre. Wooden silk gliding beneath my clenched fists. White knuckled grip. Determined to be the best ballerina in the entire world. I had the heart. I had the will. I was not lacking in passion. Movement and music, the art of embodying poetry. It was my life blood. My release. My very own joy. My purpose.
But the romance with the studio mirrors. It grew. It overcame me. Meters from which I measured my value.The gauge which told me how to view myself. What was meant to be a useful tool to help align and correct the body quickly became a weapon which was used against the constitution of my mind and my will and my emotions.
The tutu didn’t fit over my hips. The leotard I bought last month, yet again, wasn’t supporting my chest. Always “getting fatter”. Never skinnier, no matter how many hours I danced, how many miles I walked. Thousands of crushes a week. The darn tutu bodice. 100,000 hooks and eyes, bent out of shape just trying to hold me and my fat self in place.
“See, you’re so fat. You’re always going to be. What are you going to do about it? No one is going to love you. You won’t be able to live without love. You’d better do something and fast!” Over and over and over again. Constantly on replay in my head.
“Lift your chest, suck in your stomach. Imagine if prince charming was right behind you, you wouldn’t want him to see your belly hanging out!!” My ballet teachers enforces my core beliefs.
“Oh my goodness!! I know it, I knew it, I know it is true! The one, the only thing this girlish romantic heart desires is to be desired and wanted and cherished, and all of my dreams of finding the “one” to gratify these longings hinges of the flatness of my belly!”
So I walk through life, holding my breath, afraid of repelling “the one” with my “fat stomach”.
Age 13. And 14. And 15. And 16. And 17.
Shallow breathing. Watching myself, every bite, every plie, every pirouette, ever grand jete. Never good enough. I was too fat! I was never going to be as thin as Meredith. I wasn’t going to be as skinny as Mrs. Christy. I was trying and trying, and these dusty eyes could only see jabba the hut in a leotard.
“Enough! Stop fooling yourself. It doesn’t matter how much you love motion and movement. It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy getting lost in the music. It doesn’t matter that mothers from other dancers and teachers applauded you with tears, thanking you for dancing with freedom and passion enough to inspire the whole audience.
You are too fat and therefore not worthy of point shoes. Get real Skylar. No matter how many lives are touched, you are only as valuable as you are skinny. So since you’re so fat, nothing else matters and nothing else is true. Turn in your point shoes.”
Worth: Still fat. Will always be fat. Will always be worthless and undesirable. Get real and grow up and stop these dreams of ballet. Stop kidding yourself.
I went to Korea once. It was a very lovely and happy place for me. I ran away there. Although, I really didn’t know I was running away. All I knew is that I was weary inside and it came through on the outside. I weighed 150ish pounds and I am a smashing 5’31/2″. And that reality alone, at that point, oh my. I was numb. In denial and just avoided mirrors all together.
I walked in Korea. Everyday and everywhere. I rode my bike all over those pothole pocked, randomly patched brutally uneven roads and sidewalks. It was like Picasso and Bob the builder got together and then that blessed maze of streets and roads in Korea where born! I mountain biked almost daily. Learned how to swim. I was pummeled relentlessly by old farts trying to sell my kimchi and roasted larva on market days. I saw some of the most beautiful mountains. The bridal flush of cherry blossoms swept through the landscapes in April like a hurricane radar on a weather map. Furiously monopolized every street corner and nook and cranny with a bloom so pink and fresh that I fell in love every time.
I managed to get lost on the trains, in the city, on the trails.
From July 2014-December 2015 I lost 25ish pounds.
I didn’t see it. I only saw what I still had to lose. Sure, my pants were looser and my dresses sagged on me, but I still have more fat to lose. More about this later.
I also lost myself. Finally. In a little way. I surrendered my life to Christ.
This time it was real. Unlike all of the proceeding frantic times, where I’d be sitting in the car as a 7 year old listening to haunting radio reports about new millennium and terrorist attacks and twin towers.
I actually felt peace manifest in my heart and I actually felt joy radiate from my spirit. I actually tasted freedom and it was mine and forever I am free from, well, free from whatever it was that was so haunting to me before. I just, I could breath and my mind was finally quiet.
I was content for the first time in my life. I wasn’t skinny (by my delusional standards) and I was ok. I didn’t have a boyfriend and I was ok! I was honestly happy being single and completely in love, for the first time, with the heart of God who loved me here and now and then and apart from my performance. Imperfect. But He wasn’t asking me to be perfect. And I had never known that before. I was free from something I didn’t know I was held hostage to: Perfectionism.
It was really cool.
And also really short lived.
Not my position or my awakening, but the freedom and fireworks of that first few weeks.
Then my heart was tested.
I fell in love in Korea.
I fell in love with God for the first time.
I also fell in love with Josh.
I believed that since I had learned to be content without all the things I thought I needed to be content (“perfect” body and someone to value and cherish me and my perfect-ness), I believed that the Lord was rewarding me with a ( my first) romantic relationship. The one and only thing I had really every wanted. The ballet, the beauty, and music, everything I chased to achieve, I chased to become, I chased so passionately because I wanted to secure love from others through my performance.
Josh, he came out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. He pursued me and wanted me, without me being my standard of perfect! It was like the Lord was saying “See why all of those past manufactured relationships failed? It was because I was saving you for Josh! See what good it is to trust in Me? Have you learned to trust me yet? Just trust who I’ve made you to be! Let go of your standards and enjoy this relationship! ”
God had written for me a beautiful romance, one more intricate and delightful than I could have ever imagined or written myself. He was just waiting for me to let go a TRUST HIM.
I was so relieved and happy. All. Of. The. Time.
Josh was exactly everything I had every dreamed of, ever hoped for finding in a future spouse. It was laughable, really, how exactly he seemed to match all of my qualifications. All of the important ones, and even all of the silly not-so-important ones. Yet again, confirmation that the Lord puts desires in your heart and that He is the one you need to trust to fulfill them.
So from that moment on, really and truly trusting the Lord has been the life breath to my existence. Because He showed me through letting go of what I thought was important and what I perceived as best, only then was I susceptible to His blessing and leading. He can be trusted and His wisdom is better and constant and much broader than mine. Pride is deciding that what you see and think is true and best. My new relationship with Josh and surrender to God’s wisdom solidified forever that Proverbs 3:5-8 and Isaiah 55:8-9 were words worthy of all of my trust.
I went from: “I will never be loved or wanted. I will never have worth” replaying over and over in my head to “You are finally wanted and finally cherished ! You finally have worth!” over and over and over again. It was a new song to me and I sang it all the time. I was genuinely joyfully free from the nagging hiss of worthlessness because Josh loved me and it was a miracle and it was too good to be true and it was God who inspired the relationship and set it in motion, rewarding me for trusting Him.
Many days past from that initial epiphany. Many seasons passed. A birthday passed. 11 months worth of days and seasons and church services and worship practices, Thai food, ice skating, long unhurried train rides from Seoul. The hiking, the gimbap in a random rice field under the twilight, stars scattered here and there. So many hours of becoming familiar with the way his fingers felt all tangled with mine. I studied his smile and loved remembering how it made the wildest sparks fly whenever he looked at me with it. I was raptured, heart and soul with this man. Every airplane note, e-mail, guitar pick, recap of his day. The octopus we always accidentally seemed to order. All of the nonsense that become a part of us and our romance and our story. I beheld with tenderness and wild gratitude. Joy flourished in my heart.
His heart for the Lord was what I really cherished most about him. That and the perception that he loved me. Inside and out, all of me without my silly notion of perfection achieved. He loved me raw! I perceived him as a man who I could trust with my heart because he said he loved me. Of course he did! He showed me all the time that he did. I never ever doubted his love for me. I loved him too! Entirely. Sometimes too obviously but I had never been in a relationship before, so I gave myself grace for making mistakes. For being less than perfect.
All of this time, these 11 months, I felt happy and peaceful. Compared to the physiological chaos I was living with before, this “peace” I was experiencing now was like steady streams of water to my Spirit. I was at rest and I didn’t think about my body anymore.
It was amazing.
I felt him pull away. He acted the same, and kept sending me flowers, but in my spirit I sensed him rejecting me. My worth was on the line. I was suddenly becoming unloved and un-cherish-able and I didn’t know why or what to do.
My life state side, many people dear to me had died. I was left to grieve four major losses on my own. I had never experienced death before, so I really didn’t know how to, or what the normal side affects would be. I didn’t know how to handle the sadness I was feeling in a healthy way, so I stuffed it and tried to pretend that I was ok.
My life Korea side I became isolated and depressed. I was terribly lonely and felt pressure for not being enough. The one who, one moment, showed me I was lovely and beautiful and wanted was now the one confirming all of those old lies I shared with you before:
“there is something wrong with you, you’re not good enough after all, I really just don’t see how anyone would want you“.
I didn’t understand then what made Josh critical and particular, or nervous all of the sudden, but it made me nervous! I cared so much for him, despite the pressure I was feeling, that I tried to keep my chin up and make sure I was light in his day regardless of what was going on in my spirit. (The gnawing reality was that I saw how uneasy he got when I expressed any sadness or negativity so I denied it in myself and ignored the emotional traumas taking place in my heart, which was coming out in my energy and spirit).
*Looking back, if I had just allowed myself to cry and be real, I think I know I would have felt a whole lot better!!*
I felt anxious and nervous around my boss, too because he was projecting onto me that I was a headache, a bother and just completely stressful to be around. I was never singing loud enough, never singing fast enough. Too many hymns, slides we’re perfect, not confident enough. There was too much “Skyar” coming though in my worship leading and I was just so immature and basically a hopeless cause. Whether or not that was realaity, that is what I sensed and it was very defeating.
I felt totally defeated because I was weak and was fragile and I didn’t know what was going on internally but it was affecting my external relationships and that really made me even more frustrated with myself.
But I still stayed in Korea. I still loved Josh. Endlessly.
“Every relationship has its ups and downs, right? That is normal! If Josh thinks there is something wrong with me, since he is older and wiser than me then there probably is! I’ll just grow and be better and do better, and if my boss thinks something is wrong with me then there probably is because he is more mature and wiser.”
“Just do more Skylar! Run more, eat less, sing louder, practice more, memorize scripture, listen to sermons, just BE BETTER! Get a grip, stop being sad, get over your immaturity and grow up! Oh, and stop talking so much. Just be quiet and listen.”
This became my new anthem: You’re not worthy after all, so GET TO WORK so that you don’t lose Josh or your value.
The romance continued right on into Christmas day.
Then it ended.
Then I came home.
Korea. Josh. My life there. One huge wad of confusion, sadness and disappointment. And I was the disappointment. It was my fault.
Back to square one:
I am Skylar Barger: Fat and ugly and completely worthless. See, I told you it was too good to be true. Josh doesn’t love you, God doesn’t love you and you really shouldn’t love you either. Who would love you anyway.
It was December 26 2015. 126 lbs for the first time since I was 14 years old. And I was on my sofa in Georgia, bent into the tightest ball I have ever folded myself into. Breathlessly weeping under the light of a Christmas tree.
A place I never dreamed I would be. Broken. Shattered, “finally skinny enough” confused and I felt like all that I had thought the Lord had done in my heart and life was a joke. I was fraud and not a real Christian because I was completely shattered on my parents couch one day before my Birthday. An ocean apart from the man I had committed to love forever. Someone I cherished asked me to stop cherishing him.
I felt betrayed. Promises had been broken. I thought God was so involved! Why didn’t He protect our relationship! Didn’t He give it to us? To me?! Hadn’t He seen my heart for Him, and my heart for Josh? Wasn’t He the one who brought us together? He knew my heart. I know I made mistakes, I know I was new at the whole “girl friend” thing. Was it really necessary to “punish” me for my imperfections by taking Josh away? I only did my best with what little wisdom I had in the moment. I learned, I know better now, why should this horrible trauma happen? Out of left field! I never in a million years thought he would dump me! Why?!
Questions I really wanted answers to but the Lord in His gentle mercy began working on me in a different way.
He told me in a whisper, one early morning as I was playing piano, waiting to be able to breath again without pain, He said
“You were never going to heal in Korea. It is time to bloom. ”
And so, life suddenly became horribly stressful, more so than in Korea, and I felt every force of evil against me. The more I sought the Lord, the louder the enemy and his demons fought for my soul. The more I prayed the more I failed. The more I laughed, the more I cried. I heard voices like “See, good thing Josh dumped you, you are sooo unstable! You are a mess and you are never going to change! He really dodged a bullet.” Just relentless constant loud chaos in my head. Beat up from every angle all the time.
I was a wreck inside, cool on the outside and trying way too hard to be ok when my reality was this:
I am Skylar Barger, completely broken hearted, afraid to fully feel this pain, and unbelievably hopeful that things between Josh and I will turn around and work out. Holding my breath, maybe I can numb myself to this gnawing disappointment.
Maybe you need a break from reading. In which case, please go grab yourself some water. I promise when you get back, this story is going to start becoming hopeful.
The weed growing in my heart, seeded so long ago, this discontentment, it is gone. Left huge empty hole, which is now being washed by the water of the Word and healed through time, by the grace and un-measurable mercy of God.
I started to breath again. I started to cry. For the first time in my life I feel safe crying. Not trying to be soundless anymore, but honest. It was once I stopped running from the stress of sadness and trauma and emotions in general that I was quiet enough to invited the Holy Spirit to help me see all that was going on and all that had happened from HIS perspective. He started healing me with the Truth, from the inside out. I learned that feeling the stress and feeling the sadness wasn’t going to kill me. My mind was less distracted by emotions so I started becoming aware of the lies that I was embracing as truth.
I started seeing how these lies had shaped my values and paradigm. How I veiwed and valued others. I saw how these basically satanic beliefs about myself were projecting onto others, even Josh. I started to see for the first time in my life how normal people don’t worry about the fat on their stomachs. I was seeing how you can actually live peacefully without thinking about your body and your clothes size and worrying about was or wasn’t on your plate.
I never wanted to think about those things, I just thought I had to. I thought it was my role as a responsible Christian to, essentially, obsess over my body and health. But come to find out, that is not God’s heart at all.
You see, all this time, all of my life, I was unaware that I was slave to false truths. Sure I wanted to be skinny, but I didn’t realize until just recently that I was not only tying my physical worth and value to my performance and body image, but I have been tying my spiritual value to my performance and body image as well.
That is way I was so disappointed with myself every time I “sinned” (aka ate too many crackers or skipped too many work outs). I thought I was, not only disappointing myself, but that I was just completely making it impossible for God to love me. I was so sinful that there was no way He would even want to use me to glorify Himself, to love others. He could never use me and ultimately, all I really want is that very thing: to be loved and wanted by God. Not just by others, but by God.
That is what I was created for. Communion with God. And the lie that put a wedge in between myself and the Jealous, Passionate Lover of my soul was everything perfectionism stood for: “You’re not enough, shame on you! You should know better, there for do better! You’ll never be enough, why bother”.
Then the savior says, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”…( Matthew 11:28-30)
I did not see how ingrained perfectionism was in my being and thinking. It took the most heart breaking thing to happen in order for Him to begin this work of breaking me from these hell inspired anthems of death. I mistook these demonic voices for life and truth.
Its been a process, but really the best advice I give to EVERYONE who is trying to break free from bondage in their lives is this:
Pray (James 5:13-18)
Memorize, KNOW TRUTH (John 8:32)
Focus your mind on said Truth (Romans 12:1-2, Isaiah 26:3, Colossians 3)
Lastly, do not give up. Wait on the Lord and keep fighting. No matter who gives up on you, no matter how Satan will try and drag you down, you have been given Power and authority and demons want nothing more than to keep you unaware and thus defeated forever (2 Timothy 1:7, Galatians 6, Lamentations 3:25-26, Isiah 40:31)
I learned that positionaly in Christ I am whole, perfect and new (Hebrews 10:14, Colossians 3, 2 Corinthians 5:17). IThus my reality is I have great value apart from my performance because Christ gave His life for me and therefore imparted great worth to me. I am deeply love, fully pleasing, totally forgiven and completely accepted in Christ.
Praise God, Praise God Forever.
You see, It was His timing. I had to trust His timing and His plan for my journey of healing (scriptures always admonishing to wait on the Lord!). I was trying to heal myself through prayer and reading and mediation and all the while focusing on my progress (or lack of progress), but He just wanted me to rest in Him. He sets the pace. He knows who He has created me to be. He knows His purpose for my life. He created me on purpose for a purpose and the pressure and stress of perfectionism is NEVER his voice.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lay down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters. He restores me Soul…”
All of this, my whole life, could be summarized in this paragraph: I thought perfectionism was His voice, the path to the fullest life, so I tried to obey it. Because I love the Lord and desire to do His will. But perfectionism is the venom of satan. I’m a turkey human, attracted to all that sparkles and the some-what tangibility, illusion of perfect was very attractive to me and so my heart was drawn to the things of this word (1 John 2:15-17) then the fangs sunk deep into my blood and I was totally blinded by the deception that perfect = fullest richest life. Perfect being: Physically beautiful and desired by a man and loved by God. That is my perfect.
Christ, and being alive to Him = Fullest richest life.
So guess what?
I DON’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO THAT VOICE ANYMORE BECAUSE IT IS NOT OF THE LORD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10
The whole Josh thing wasn’t a clean break.
He didn’t want me.
There isn’t any way around that part of the story. It sucks and sometimes you just have to walk through the mud to get to the other side.
It is ok for me to feel hurt. It is ok for me to feel disappointed. It is ok for me to feel betrayed. It is ok to feel rejected. Christ felt all of those things, so now I knida have a mini tiny taste of how His heart broke, and how I’ve been the one to break His.
That is something I am going to have to work through and heart break just takes time to heal.
God loves me. Deeply, wildly and passionately. And my mind is free from the demonic lies which haunted me before, so I can finally breath and finally hear and finally see that HE IS ALIVE and HE IS LIFE and He is TRUTH and His TRUTH HAS SET ME FREE!
The Lord sees my heart and knows Josh’s heart. The Lord loves Josh just as passionately and wildly as the Lord loves me. The Lord also loves Josh more than I do or can, so I can trust that the Lord will heal my heart.
He absolutely is in the business of making things new.
Especially when He gets to glory.
I am Skylar Barger: I Embrace, embody and inspire freedom in myself and others through Christ and for Christ. I am beautiful, I am strong and I am loved, worthy and complete. I am fearfully and beautifully made, inside and out. I Delight in the Lord, I trust in the Lord and I commit my ways to the Lord, from now until forevermore.
Now I know what it means to be fully alive.
And right before Easter!
Thank you Lord!
I am loved.
I love you, too.