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Peripheral Shadow

The soft click-click, slide of my mechanical pencil soothed me, as I waited for class to begin. The room was loud and rambunctious as usual as my classmates and I awaited Dr. Brandt’s arrival. I shook my leg up and down in anticipation for the day to finally come to a close. And minutes later I became one step closer to my day ending as Dr. Brandt walked in, in all his Ha-waiian-shirt glory. The rambunctious chatter slowly drifted off into a few final rushed whispered conversations, until only pen-dropping silence remained. I can’t remember exactly what book of the Bible he was covering that day, but what I do remember was that he was explaining how our faith and belief in Jesus didn’t solely rely upon our works.

Granted this statement wasn’t new to me, nor was it something I hadn’t heard before. Rather it was something familiar, and something I believed to be true—or so I thought. But then as he continued his lecture he brought in the extra element of perfectionism and not feeling good enough. He said something along the lines of “Not feeling good enough—or this mindset of perfectionism— is a lie. It’s not a matter of how much you can do for God, or the feeling that you’ve done too little for him. It’s ultimately about having a relationship with Him and continually building that relationship with Him.”

There was something about that last statement that just struck me and hit me to the core. I replayed his words in my mind: “Not feeling good enough and the mindset of perfectionism, of doing too little, is a lie.” In that moment I sat there, stiff as a board as the weight of his words sank in. I knew what he said was true, and I even think I’ve told people these same very words. But when it came to living and believing these words for myself I had a different outlook.

I doubted myself. And the feeling of not being good enough was something I knew all too well. It has followed me like a second shadow for as long as I can remember, clinging to me with its unwavering grip. And as I sat there that day frozen with realization, a new shadow began to flicker in my periphery: Death and what comes after.

I’d like to think my fears are like those pesky peripheral shadows we sometimes see from the corner of our eyes— in that in your periphery, you are always aware of the shadows or figures that lay just outside your line of vision, but you don’t always know what they are until you turn your head and look at them straight on. Realizing it was either nothing at all and just a trick of the eye or something that wasn’t as dire as you were expecting. So the notion of death was nothing new to me. It’s something that happens everyday, all around us. And most of the time without anyone really noticing, unless of course it affects you directly or someone you know and love. Then we really notice it as it stares unflinching, right into our eyes.

And up until that moment when those words were spoken I hadn’t really thought about death. Sure I’d contemplated it in passing, but I don’t think I’d ever really given it more than a second thought—or at least never as keenly as I did in the moments, days, and weeks after that lecture. Those words not good enough haunted me, and made me feel guilty for being so perfectionistic, leading myself to believe that God would be disappointed with me, and that I’d not done enough for Him in my life. And like I said earlier those words sparked another train of thought in me: What happens to me after I die? What if I’m not good enough to make it into heaven; what if I haven’t done enough to get into heaven? I was so haunted by these questions that they began to affect me more than I’d like to admit.

One night I woke up in a cold sweat, as tears streamed down my face from a nightmare I couldn’t remember. It was just a dream, I thought to myself— relieved, yet still wary. I leaned down and picked up my phone to see what time it was as I squinted at the brightness of my phone, and sighed. In a few hours I would have to be awake for school. I tried to go back to sleep, but sleep, it seemed, would not come. I sighed and laid my head back on the pillow, and stared at the ceiling fan as it spun around and around.

As I laid there that night, heart hammering through my chest, I strained to grasp any details of what exactly my dream was about. And the only thing that seemed to remain was the strange lingering feeling that I wasn’t going to make it into heaven. The darkness of my room seemed to close in on me further, and the heaviness and silence I felt in that moment was almost palpable. Over the next couple of days this restlessness occurred a couple of more times, and I couldn’t seem to shake this feeling of heaviness.

And in turn this peripheral shadow of death became much more than just a trick of the eye, it became blinding and, to some degree, all-consuming. I didn’t understand why I felt this way. I was raised in the church and have been a Christian for most of my life. Yet, still I question and doubt what I know to be true—which is that Jesus doesn’t solely want you for your works. He just wants a relationship with you.

Even a year later, I still wrestle with this notion of “not being good enough or not doing enough”— even though I know it deep down to be a lie. So then why am I still doubting? Why has this new fear of not knowing where I’m going to end up when I die in some ways consumed me? And my answer is… I don’t know. I don’t have an answer to these questions.

Maybe God was and is trying to tell me something through all of this questioning. Or maybe this is just an attempt on Satan’s part to keep me from continuing to build my relationship with God. Whatever the reason may be, I think it’s good to question. And perhaps I should take it as a sign that I need to dig deeper into who God is to me, and what he’s like. Because I’ve often found that when I read His words and see what He’s done, His intentions and character become so much clearer, and the fears seem to slink back into just a peripheral shadow. Something that you think is there, but then when you look at it, it just so happens to be a trick of the eye.

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