Our latest inset day was based on the topic of Mental Health, with an emphasis on helping to develop resilience to deal with mental health issues. The topic was well chosen as it coincided with Theresa May’s announcement on the same is nothing like being told to pay attention by the Prime Minister to keep you focused and engaged during inset!
During the course of the presentation, we were shown a short video of Andrew Curran, a paediatric neurologist, describing how to listen to student’s problems. Paraphrasing slightly, he described how being understood increases one’s self esteem which increases their self confidence and, through the lymbic systems release of dopamine, allows them to learn more effectively and deal with their problems with more resilience. Andrew summed it up by saying if a student felt loved for the individual they are, they will be able to learn.
This strikes a chord right at the heart of each one of us. Too often we are defined not by who we are, but by what we have achieved. We seek affirmation of our actions as a way of evaluating our self worth, counting our value by the number of clicks or likes we have had on our latest post. We can be trapped by seeing what we do as a replacement for who we are. As a parent, it is a trait we can easily build into our children. How often do we praise our son or daughter for something good they have done rather than for the fact that they are our son or daughter? Praise and worth are easily woven together at a young age.
There has been a lot of work done in this area and there have been many wonderful poems and self-help memes designed to counteract this. They speak of how you are special and unique, that no-one is allowed to define you and no-one else can be you. The emphasis is that you are not defined by the opinions of others and you are the one in control of how you see yourself. It is wonderfully liberating to not be at the mercy of the next criticism designed to knock you down or waiting for the next piece of praise to pick you up. However I find there to be a flaw in this logic: me.
To know you are special is completely incredible, but I know who I truly am. I know the light and dark that is inside of me; the mistakes I have made. I know no-one is perfect and somedays I can believe that I set the bar and I am a unique creation, but there are days when the mistakes seem to loom larger than the good deeds and the balance sheet is tilted significantly away from special. Self-criticism can be more damaging and last longer than anything that comes from outside. What happens in those moments? Where is my resilience then?
It seems to be a circular argument that brings us back round to seeking some external source for confirmation of who I am, but the emphasis has shifted from someone who has seen what I have done to someone who truly knows who I am; the good, the bad and the ugly. This is exactly the state we find Jesus in when John is going to baptise Him. It is generally understood He was about 30 years old at this point, having lived a life hidden from the public’s eye. He had done nothing that the Gospel writer’s deemed worthy of recording before this except be born and get lost and yet it was now that a voice from heaven spoke saying “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” Mark 1:11 NLT
It is an incredible affirmation by the Father to His Son, who had yet to get on with the mission He was sent for. It is an affirmation given to us on our baptism by the One who knitted us together in our mother’s womb. He gives it freely knowing our thoughts and our secrets as nothing is hidden from Him. I am privileged to have wonderful parents who have affirmed me throughout my life, particularly my Dad, which is extra special for a son. However to know the One who has created me also feels the same way is mind blowing especially as it has nothing to do with what I have done.
Even if you don’t believe in Christianity, the message is such a powerful one. Jesus, the Son of God, did not bound off into the world and change it as soon as He left home. He needed to hear that loving affirmation of who He was. There is a beautiful children’s story called You are Special by Max Lucado which is worth reading, especially for adults. It recalls the tale of a puppet called Punchinello who lives in a village where stars are awarded for good deeds and black dots for something that is wrong. He has to learn how to not let the dots and stars not stick to him. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is a wonderful book.
If we want to make a difference, learn, take risks and change the world, we need to do so from a place of love and understanding. I hope you have someone in your life who knows you well enough to give this to you. If not and even if so, you should listen to the Voice from the clouds.