As demonstrated by yesterday’s set of Valentines, I love The Great British Baking Show. I’ve lost all sense of season and episode numbers because of Netflix, but one of the most interesting moments to me was when a competitor, John, said the secret truth about bakers is that, however they appear, they’re really just “quite controlling people who want to be told that they’re loved.”
Which seemed pretty accurate. John had, in previous episodes, talked about how the judges’ feedback made him feel like he really was good at something, and interviews showed that his family seemed to have very little understanding of his talent or ambitions. They joked that if he won, they’d finally have a reason to be proud of him, and as they did, John laughed with a cringe I’ve seen before.
You have too, probably. In teens making fun of each other to subtly brag about themselves. After self-deprecating comments that beg to be countered with, “No, don’t say that, that’s not true at all.” In fully-grown adults who cringe at criticism, offered with or without a punchline. Because in their hearts they—sometimes even I—believe there must be a little truth to it. Or maybe even a lot.
Who knew a baking show could reveal so many deep-seated insecurities?
Another one of the show’s final was made up of three bakers, all settled with families and kids (I won’t put up a picture so as not to spoil it for those of you who are now adding this to your watch list). All their interviews showed loved ones who expressed how proud they were of their mum or dad or spouse, shared that they are fantastic human beings regardless of the outcome of the show, and named totally non-baking-related virtues they appreciated.
It was the least stressful, most delightful final I’ve ever watched. All three bakers competently and calmly…baked things. That’s it. Sometimes the bread/cake/pastry came out just the way they wanted, sometimes it didn’t. No nervous need for validation. No constant apologizing or overstating the significance of the event or breaking down into tears with every setback. You got the sense, watching them work, that they were all perfectly aware of their abilities without being overconfident. They had worked hard, but their worth wouldn’t be determined by the outcome in the tent.
It didn’t make for particularly dramatic filming, but it made me want to be just like them when I grow up.
Obviously, it doesn’t always work this way. There have been contestants with the full support of friends and family (at least as much as you can tell from the staged interviews) who have very little confidence in themselves, and I’m sure the reverse is sometimes true as well.
Which is one reason I can’t end this post the way I wanted to. I was going to say that we have to be careful about the kind of jokes we make, about others and even ourselves. We should remind our friends and even acquaintances of what we appreciate about them instead of assuming they already know. We need to look past ourselves and see what lies those around us are believing—I’m worthless, no one cares, my life has been wasted, I’ll never get past this—and counter them with reminders of the truth, loudly and often.
That’s all true, and important to remember.
It’s not quite enough. I’ve known people who are almost smothered with affection and encouragement and still have difficulty believing that they’re significant. I am that person from time to time.
We’ve all noticed the problem: there’s a near-constant barrage of fears and insecurities telling us we’re too much or not enough, and very few voices that take the time to disagree. But I don’t think we’ve arrived at the right solution.
The best that we’ve got, most of the time, is to tell each other to give out more gold stars to those around us, to be affirming and kind. That’s nice, but the problem with that is it still puts me at the mercy of others…and some days I haven’t done a single thing to earn any color of star. On those days, is it true that I’m not valuable or worthy of love? It would be easy to believe that.
Alternately, we’re told we can look inside ourselves for the confidence we need, striding forth in self-sufficiency, knowing that our own approval of our actions is all we’ll need. The problem with that is, it puts me at the mercy of…me. And there are so many days when I am not strong enough to be who I want to be, much less to cheer myself on to get there.
So what else is there?
As a Christian, I never quite understood what it meant when people would say things like, “Put your identity in Jesus.” Like, are we trading nametags? Am I supposed to treat all compliments like bombs and fling them away because accepting praise means I’m basing my worth on the wrong things? (I tried this for a while. It’s a bad idea.) Do I stop all self-reflection and development of my abilities and just meditate on Bible passages?
Probably none of these things. I’ll learn different aspects of what it means to be “in Christ” for the rest of my life, but one practical application I’ve been thinking through is that I don’t get to say who I am, what I’m worth, or why I’m here. I have to let God do that.
Then I can ruthlessly compare my feelings with what the Bible says is true of me in Jesus, tossing out anything that smells “off” as ruthlessly as my spring cleaning purge of expired food from the fridge. I can pray about what I should be doing next, and in the meantime, do the things I already know God wants me to do as faithfully as I can, while knowing that my accomplishments don’t define me. I can fail and falter and forget (again)…and know that none of those things mark me because I am chosen and called and deeply loved by God.
You can’t get that from a positive work evaluation or a compliment or a Valentine. It’s a more profound change of mind than repeating mantras of confidence and ability. And it will give you a more lasting joy than even the most delicious chocolate cake.*
*Although I have nothing against Jesus + chocolate cake. These are not mutually exclusive.