You Are a Masterpiece

Fun fact about me: for a long, long time, I hated my personality.

I knew I hated myself from the time I was about 12, when I desperately wanted to be liked by a certain group of people at school who found me less than desirable. I had a crush on a cute boy in 7th grade who really acted like a jerk, and he and the other two girls in our science group shattered my heart by speaking into things that they didn’t like about me. Looking back as an adult, I want to roll my eyes at myself – I was truly scarred and devastated by them saying things like “your hair looks like a rat’s nest – do you even wash it?” and “you have really ugly handwriting – maybe *Name of Pretty Girl* should write for our group” and “why would you even go to the dance? You can’t dance.” I mean, don’t get me wrong, those things are mean, but they aren’t earth-shattering. But to me, with this group of well-liked people who were good-looking telling me these things, I am a worthless person. And the only way I can become worthwhile is to change everything about myself that makes me unlikable.

So I did. Unfortunately, it didn’t work how I imagined. I worked very hard on my appearance, taking hours and hours to tame my wild mane and to improve my ugly handwriting. I worked extremely hard at school to show I was smart enough, and I spent hours practicing music so that everyone would acknowledge my talents and skills. I practiced cracking jokes and making witty comments so that I could be “the hilarious one.” I fed off people’s approval, positive attention, praise, and amusement – it was a drug to me. Still, very rarely did I feel like I really fit anywhere. And I just never felt good enough. I think people can almost smell desperation in a person, and it is a very off-putting scent. In my striving to be good enough in every way, I was inadvertently turning people off.

Kneezel 8th grade spring picture
My 8th Grade Spring Picture, 2001, prime-strive-time

At the end of my freshman year of college, someone I dearly love and greatly respect gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “When I first met you, I really didn’t care for your abrasive, pushy personality. But when I got used to you, I learned to really love you. You’ve taught me more than I could ever teach you.” I’ll never forget the sting of that moment. The person was truly trying to tell me that she learned a lot from me and that she loved me now – I am convinced that it was said with the best of intentions – but what I heard was “you are abrasive and pushy” and “you take some getting used to.” It dawned on me then that my problem – the reason I was so unlikeable – was because of my personality. It all made sense!

I started to regularly tell myself some things, then. My high school dating relationships ended because I have a terrible personality. I couldn’t make long-term close friendships with the people I wanted because I have a terrible personality. People didn’t want me to be their leader because I have a terrible personality. It doesn’t matter if I have a lot of musical talent or leadership skills or book-smarts – I have a terrible personality. I am pushy. I am bossy. I am abrasive. I am a know-it-all. I’m conceited and arrogant about my skills. I bother people. I am irritating to be around. If I can just change everything about myself, then I’ll be good to go.

laughing my head off in college with someone who has always loved me exactly how ridiculous I am, warts and all. 🙂

After this “epiphany,” every choice I made for at least the next 3 years was based on this mindset. In my mind, everything that happened to me – everything I felt was an injustice – was because of my terrible personality. My sophomore year, a teacher pulled me out of class and told me that I was going to be a terrible music teacher and he thought I should consider a different career path. I can’t specifically remember his reasoning, but I knew that it was because of my terrible personality. My junior year, the Dean of the School of Music called me into his office to tell me that I wasn’t going to be making OneVoice that year (this was the top jazz ensemble, and I had made it the previous year. It was pretty uncommon to be “kicked out”). He said it was because my voice just didn’t fit what he was going for, but I was sure it was because of my terrible personality. (I handled that really professionally in the moment, but then I lashed out by randomly getting my first tattoo that afternoon!) I remember on the China trip we voted for officers for University Choir for our senior year. I was so incredibly nervous about my speech because I wanted to be an officer so bad that I couldn’t eat a bite of the amazing Peking duck we were having at the fancy restaurant in Beijing. When I wasn’t elected for either office, I was sure it was because of my terrible personality.

You see, when you start repeating a phrase to yourself in lots of different situations, you stop analyzing and doubting whether or not it is true, and you just accept it as truth. So my truth was that I have a terrible personality. I deeply, deeply believed this to be true. I am just a terrible person, and I will never be any different because this is just the way I am. I want to be different, and I wish I was different, but it is really just hopeless.

The real problem was this: I may have had some traits that were unlikable and unattractive, but I was chalking it up to just having a terrible personality. I hated my whole self because there were a few unwanted parts of myself. The enemy twisted the truth into a perversion of what was actually there, which ended up making it worse instead of better. That’s what he does.

He makes fibs or slight lies seem like paramount truths.

I wonder how many people reading this have a phrase like this for themselves – what do you believe so strongly about yourself that you take it to be as true as Holy Scripture? Have you thought lately about whether or not it is actually true?

About two years ago, a person sat down to discuss this with me. This was a person who I had experienced some serious ups and downs with over five years before that moment – a person with whom I had learned the true meaning of God’s kind of forgiveness. At the time when we sat down to discuss it, we were just beginning to mend our friendship from the awful brokenness we had experienced before. I don’t need to go into that whole story, but I wanted to take a second to point out that it is interesting who God used to teach me this life-changing lesson – someone I had really had some brokenness with. I am amazed by God’s work – the conversation could have easily gone so differently because of the still-healing wounds with this person, but it didn’t. God allowed us both to have thoughtful, sensitive, open hearts as we discussed my deepest wound.

Anyway, this person said to me, “Melody, are you holding it against God that he made you the way he did?” I was struck to the core. I had never even realized that I was holding it against God. I thought it was mean of God, even wrong of God, to make me the way that he did. If he had just given me a different personality, I could do His work so much better!

I, the painting, nitpicking the Painter for each brushstroke.
I, the pot, criticizing the Potter.
I, the music, criticizing the Composer.
I, the creature, criticizing the Creator.

What place do I have, as a created one, to criticize the Uncreated One for His work?

According to Genesis 1:26-27 and 31, I am made in the image of God, and God says that what he created is good. God took the time to make me – exactly me – and he says I am made in his image, which means there is some part of himself in me. And the ultimate Critic – the only One remotely worthy of scrutinizing the work – says His creation is good. According to Ephesians 2:10, I am God’s worksmanship – or in other translations, God’s masterpiece, poem, artwork. According to Romans 1:20, God’s creation makes it clear how incredible, powerful, and majestic he is, to the point where humans have no excuse but to believe God because of his creation. That’s me! (AND YOU!) We are so valuable that God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen BECAUSE WE EXIST.

I am still trying to work through what it even means that I am supposed to be who I am. I don’t even know who I am! Am I bossy and strong and loud and silly because God made me that way, or did I become that way because of how I was treated in life? And what can be said of the influence of sin? Obviously, God doesn’t call me to be a conceited know-it-all! In Philippians 2, we are taught clear principals about putting others higher than ourselves just as Jesus did, being so humble that he succumbed to death on a cross – the ultimate humiliation. Jesus makes it clear that the kingdom of God is backwards from man – the first shall be last and the last shall be first. That means that some of these areas where I’m not like Christ need to be edited. I shouldn’t make myself the center of everything. I shouldn’t be striving for the approval of people. These tendencies need to be edited; God can work in my life to make me more like Christ. Praise God that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” – he takes us exactly as we are, warts and all, but then he teaches us to get better. He’s still working, and he isn’t finished yet (Philippians 1:6). He began a good work in me when I surrendered my life to him, and he is still completing that work until the day of Christ. Praise God, who knows what he is doing!

The difference, though, in acknowledging my sin vs. thinking I have a terrible personality is the hope that accompanies it. When I spent all my time thinking about how much I hated the way God made me, I was hopeless that I would never change. When I embrace the gifts that God gave me and I surrender the sinful parts of myself to him, he uses them all for his glory! God has done and continues to do amazing work in my life to soften those unattractive traits I have. I am truly not who I was, but my entire personality didn’t change, either. I can clearly see the fruit in my life of God’s work, and it makes me so grateful to Him!

Most importantly, we are masterpieces. Do you know that you are a masterpiece? Do you know that the God of the entire universe thought it was important enough to make a “You?” I deeply believe that there is something you can offer this world that nobody else ever in existence could offer. I believe it because I think if you were the same as anyone else ever, God wouldn’t have bothered. There is such order, such purpose in what he created.

When God started to show me who I am in him – that I am a masterpiece, created for a purpose, created in His image, and so, so, so, SO loved by Him, it was so relaxing. What joy to rest perfectly and contentedly in God’s love for me!

I have a 6 week old baby, and she doesn’t strive. Not at all. Not for anything. She just is. There is no pretense to her actions. Totally dependent on us to care for her, content to see and look around, still learning and growing and changing every day – she just is.

There is something to be said of us taking ourselves on as a newborn, totally dependent on our Creator for our care.

When I was a baby and small child, my mom used to sing a version of Sandi Patty’s song “Masterpiece” to me.

“Before you had a name or opened up your eyes,
Or anyone could recognize your face.
You were being formed so delicate in size
Secluded in God’s safe and hidden place.
With your little tiny hands and
Little tiny feet
And little eyes that shimmer like a pearl.
He breathed in you a song and to make it all complete
He brought the masterpiece into the world.

And now you’re growing up
Your life’s a miracle.
Every time I look at you,
I stand in awe.
Because I see in you
a reflection of me
and you’ll always be my little [gift] from God.
And as your life goes on each day
how I pray that you will see
just how much your life has meant to me.
And I’m so [thankful for] you
what else is there to say
just be the masterpiece He created you to be.

You are a masterpiece.
A new creation he has formed
and you’re as soft and fresh as a snowy winter morn.
And I’m so glad that God has given
you to me,
Little [gift from] God,
You are a Masterpiece.