I sat in bed, my computer on my lap. I hit “Next Episode” without even thinking about it, without considering that it had been dark for hours. As the credit music played distantly, I couldn’t feel how tired I was. That particular need, like so many others, had been swallowed by the adrenaline rush and quick resolution of another episode. Maybe eventually I would try to sleep, but only to lie awake for a while, gritty-eyed, and wonder what I was doing with my life and why I couldn’t stop watching hours of Netflix a day.
And I would wake up, eventually, when it had been light for hours, and do it all over again.
I doubt I could name all the shows I watched. Even mid-episode, I would often be caught off guard by something clearly dramatic happening though I wasn’t sure why, an important plot point revealed when my attention was elsewhere. The recurring thought I have no idea what’s going on; I wasn’t paying attention didn’t bother me.
I do remember finally going through the rhythms of putting away food, shutting down my computer, brushing my teeth, and every night asking, “God, you’re there, right? You still love me?” Something about the act of doing what was forbidden in childhood and irresponsible and emptying made that moment more poignant, because every night I would feel God come—feel a presence, almost a hug, and then hear the silent whisper, meant only for me: “Yep. I’m right here, and I love you.” I wanted—needed—the reassurance so much that I would do nothing all day so any love God gave me had nothing to do with what I did.
When I had the space to think about it—those rare moments when I was driving or doing a chore I couldn’t avoid—I felt pathetic, like a small child acting up to get her parents’ attention. Guilt overwhelmed me for how little I was doing with my life—and then drove me right back to Netflix as soon as I got the chance again.
I felt unlovable. Whatever the Bible and church said—God loves you; the very fact that God loves you is what makes you lovable, makes you worth it—I thought, deep down, that what I did defined who I was, more than God ever could. Two strands of thought, twining together. I knew what I was supposed to believe: God’s love defines me. I could say it. I did say it and articulate it and write it down, but not finishing my to-do list left me feeling empty and ashamed. Going to sleep with my laundry still not done left me angry with myself. Looking at all the things I hadn’t done left me feeling small and worthless. Deep down, I thought I wasn’t enough unless I succeeded all the time—which I never did because I didn’t try, and therefore I was unworthy and unlovable.
God may have been there every night to say, “I love you,” but I felt unworthy of that love. I did nothing to deserve it; I was a lump, except with the added guilt of being a lump who took up resources.
By bingeing on Netflix, by doing something that made me feel so worthless, I was doing everything I could to force God to remind me how much he loved me. If I stayed up late enough, if I watched enough Netflix and became upset enough with myself, I had at least a moment of clarity when I could hear and feel God come and tell me that I was lovable and worth it. I wanted that moment, needed that reminder that I was loved, but the only way I could imagine getting there when I felt so awful already was by bingeing and staying up late. But how I was going about it made me feel so unlovable. Working—doing—made me feel lovable, made me feel worth it. Not who I was, not God’s love offered so freely and repeatedly, but what I did. Yet I was doing nothing.
Being an unemployed graduate did not help. I had graduated from seminary a few months before, then started and completed a chaplaincy internship that was intense and busy and wonderful and challenging. After that, there wasn’t much to do—some paperwork to complete, a sermon to write for my ordination process, which culminated in approval from my committee. But during the two weeks of waiting for the meeting, there was nothing to do. I was left floating, without the structure of assignments and bosses for the first time since I was four. My inability to create lasting structure for myself left me struggling, sinking, drowning in uncertainty. There was nothing to do—leaving me unlovable, leaving me trying desperately to remind myself of God’s love.
I have no sudden revelation, no turn around in my life. I met with my committee and was approved, but I cannot stop feeling so unworthy, stop acting out for that one minute of “I love you.” Guilt for not starting job applications pile on top of guilt about not doing anything all day, about watching so much pointless TV, which piles on top of guilt about finding a new apartment and then not unpacking and then not cleaning. It was almost a month before I submitted my first application, and that happened only because it was my birthday, and something about a day meant to celebrate my existence got me thinking about how this isn’t where I want to be, who I want to be. I decided to celebrate by finally finishing an application and sending it in. I did, and it was hard, but now I realize I forgot how wonderful it feels to look back on a day and say, “Look. I did that, and it was good.” I don’t feel so worthless. I want that feeling back. I want to feel that about my life, I want to feel that about my day more than once a month, and wallowing in my unlovable feelings isn’t the answer.
But I still feel unlovable, like I’m not worth my own effort. It’s a funny place to be. I’ve never doubted God’s love for me, only whether I’m worth it. I don’t feel worth it. I can’t do enough to be worth it. I can quote Scripture, sure, saying doing enough isn’t the point, that I am lovable because God created me, because God sacrificed everything for me. But I don’t know how to feel it, how to act on it and respect myself and live well and honor God when I don’t feel lovable. I’m left trying to love myself every day, with little actions like eating things that make me feel good and reading my Bible and making small goals. I’m left trusting in God’s promise, even though I can’t feel it right now.