Who You Are Is Not What You Do

My mornings go something like this:

My alarm buzzes at 6:00. I hate this part of my day — that moment where I know the bliss of sleep is over and what comes next is just cold, groggy, darkness. I contemplate this and hit snooze.

My alarm buzzes again at 6:02. I burrow further into the covers, trying to bargain with time. I have tried this. It has never worked. I open one eye and then another. I look over at Stu whose lack of hair to wash and dry allows him to sleep in another half hour. I seriously consider shaving my head so I can do this too.

I pick up my robe and slippers and put them on while still under the covers. I literally roll out of bed. Sometimes I fall onto the floor, sometimes I land on my feet. This is often indicative of how the rest of my day is going to go.

I trudge into the living room to turn on the lights and remember that Stu installed the bulbs that make you talk to them like you’re a delusional freak. That was a horrible idea. It’s my first intelligent thought of the day. I trudge around in the dark to grab a mug and reach for the coffee pot but there is no coffee.

I think this is the greatest first-world horror a person can experience. I react like someone stole my purse or my car broke down on the highway. I want to cry. I think about lying down in the kitchen and going back to sleep, like I used to do on the bathroom floor when I was in high school and I couldn’t resist my mom trying to drag me out of bed any longer.

And then I remember. I did this to myself. I didn’t make the coffee. I decided to stop with the coffee. I feel like I finally understand that nameless main character in Fight Club. I have sabotaged myself.

I can still remember my first sip of coffee. I was at my grandma’s house and we were having a tea party. My grandma offered to pour me a couple of sips and I eagerly accepted. I was probably in elementary school, and it was love at first sip. I drank coffee every morning from 8th grade until about last month. I drank coffee every morning and every evening until about last year. I drank coffee every morning and every evening and every afternoon and mid-morning and at dinner all through college, and honestly I’m surprised I remember any of that since my blood was probably more caffeine than oxygen.

I love coffee. The way it tastes, the way it smells, the way it feels in my hands. I love coffee shops and making coffee for other people, watching the water and grounds mix together and pour in a dark, smooth stream beneath the filter. My hometown is full of amazing coffee shops and I visit them all and know how each of their coffee tastes different. Coffee is one of my simplest joys.

It doesn’t matter why I stopped drinking coffee, but I think it’s clear by now that I had a very good reason (one I’ve been putting off for, hmmmm, years).

I thought that trading coffee for decaf (ok, half-caff) tea and water in the mornings would be a real bummer and a wicked caffeine headache, but it was…more than that.

At first it was that nagging headache and sludging through my day like I was half asleep, walking past a Starbucks and feeling jealous and devastated all at once.

On day three or so things got worse. I apologized to my coworkers, “I’m not caffeinated lately and I’m feeling….off.” I started forgetting to do things that were always part of my routine. I would try to solve a small problem but it became insurmountably difficult. I drove to work every morning feeling angry, irritable, exhausted, livid at the amount of people on the road and the sky for being grey and the air for being cold.

This was, of course, exceptionally difficult for the person I live with and spend the majority of my time with. I was snappy and cold and unpleasant, at best. I went to bed at 9:00 every night, complained about cooking and laundry, grieved over having to smell his coffee every morning.

I actually asked for prayer during small group about the whole thing, and if there is anything more modern-day Christian than asking for prayer about coffee, I don’t know what it is.

I got irrationally angry and combative because suddenly coffee was my kryptonite. With it I was capable of holding down a job and being a wife and a friend and a courteous person to strangers and without it I was a total witch. I felt like coffee, the thing I love, had done this to me and the absolute last thing I was going to do was give in and drink some. Stu sweetly and gently (and desperately), suggested I just drink a little bit to make myself feel better (and restore peace to our home). “No,” I seethed. “I cannot let the coffee win.”

I felt worse and worse everyday. I was irritated by the mistakes I kept making, I was shameful about the way I was taking things out on Stu, I was stressed that the house was a disaster and I had no energy to do anything, overwhelmed about the errands and chores that were piling up that my brain felt too cloudy to address.

Then one day on my way home from work I turned off the music, I sat in the silence, and I cried. I cried about what I wasn’t doing. What I wasn’t accomplishing. About the weak person I am that coffee, COFFEE, seemed to be the thing holding my life together. What kind of person can’t hold their life together without coffee?

But my expectations were seemingly invisible to anyone but me. My team at work let my mistakes roll off, my husband never once complained or reacted to my irritability, offered to cook and did all the laundry and cleaned and ran errands, the floors didn’t start to rot and mold just because they hadn’t been mopped, the world didn’t slap me on the wrist for not keeping everything in perfect order.

The only thing falling apart was me. And suddenly, like an epiphany, it wasn’t the stupid coffee that was drowning and scorching me — it was my way of living that pretends what I can accomplish and achieve makes me worthwhile, held together so tediously that even something so not Earth shattering like kicking caffeine could affect it so deeply.

For weeks it felt like I had done nothing to make me worthy of love or praise, and yet in that moment I felt just as loved and valued and appreciated as ever before. I did not feel judged or pushed away or belittled.

I had been living like my worth is in what I do, that what I offer somehow makes me worthwhile. I would not have admitted that, of course not. On my good days I don’t think I’m aware of it, but on my bad days it punches me in the gut. I don’t like to think I’m one of these people — one who exchanges good deeds and thinks offering hospitality deserves a reward, but when I had nothing to give I realized I am fully capable of thinking this way, and I didn’t like it.

I felt arrogant — thinking that I could ever do enough to prove myself of anything. I felt like I was diminishing the people in my life to meer bargainers, ones who measure what I give them, exchanging an appropriate amount of love in return. What began as a sweet and pure effort to show the people in my life how much I love them was poisoned by a selfish desire: the more I do this the more I will be loved. And then, far worse: if I stop doing this they’ll think differently of me.

Living this way is exhausting, distrusting, and stingy. It ignores the way that the ones we love support and honor us, stomps on the trust we’ve built up, degrades our relationships to simple exchanges rather than life-giving, servant-hearted treasures.

Worse, it convinces you that who you are is what you do. It will run you ragged, it will eat away at you, it will make you churn and try and fail and you will have nothing to show for it.

Here is the truth, the truth we know but often push out of our daily consciousness, the truth that washed back over me when I felt like I didn’t have much to give: you are valued and loved and accepted the way you are — by the people who love you truly and selflessly everyday, but more so by a God whose grace is unfailing and perfect.

This kind of love is the most precious thing you could ever hold, but instead we’re bloated with expectations, insecurities, doubts, and fears. We need this reminder more often: we can never do enough, say enough, be enough, to earn the love of Christ. And if you have real, lasting, worthwhile relationships in your life I promise you, their love for you does not depend on how much you do for them, either.

Somehow, in the lasting anguish (it totally feels as dramatic as it sounds) of leaving coffee behind, I am being slammed with the beautiful reminder of this pure and welcome love. I am leaning into its grace, thankful and relieved that who I am is not what I do, that I am valued despite my failures, that even when I have nothing left to give I am still loved.

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