“Being a doormat is not a calling of God.” I am not over exaggerating when I say that my life changed the day my Lutheran Theology professor spoke these words to me, and to our first year theology class.
I was 21, and up until this point, I had sincerely concluded that the best way to live your faith was to serve others – not a ridiculous conclusion – and to serve them at great cost to yourself, without any hope of reciprocation or appreciation. So I had spent years (ask my high school friends if you don’t believe me) being a Christian Doormat. And a Darn Good One if I do say so myself.
I wasn’t even a martyr about it, I was just resigned to this lifestyle. I knew it was what God wanted me to do. And I figured if I was going to be giving my life for my neighbor, I might as well make it my full time job, so I went to seminary. This may all sound very hyperbolic and over-wrought, but I guarantee that this was my genuine understanding of my faith.
Until I met Ayn Rand – that is to say, her philosophy as it’s laid out primarily in her fiction.
On a recommendation from a seminary friend (who, it turned out, was lying about having read any Rand), I started The Fountainhead. And I devoured it.
Finally, I felt like there was someone who understood that you shouldn’t have to apologize for who you are and how you’re made. Someone who would not compromise his greatness. Someone who felt that other people had no right to walk all over you, and you had no right to let them.
You see, I was a miserable doormat because some part of me knew that this was not who God had made me to be. But in the ocean of humility and service and patience and all those other lovely Christian words, no one had ever mentioned self-esteem.
But I always wanted it to be there. I wanted to be proud (heaven forbid!) of the hard work I was doing, I wanted to be proud of the difference I was making. But instead, I couldn’t let my right hand know what the left was doing.
When Jesus is asked the greatest commandment, he replies with two things: You shall love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself. What I learned is that there are actually three commandments in there – you need to love your neighbor, AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF.
And if you are not loving yourself, then you cannot love your neighbor. Somewhere in the midst of all of this sacrificial giving and neighbor-loving, I had forgotten, or maybe never heard, that I was worthy of love. And that I needed to and deserved to love myself. After all, haven’t I been fearfully and wonderfully made? Haven’t I been created in the image of God?
Ayn Rand gave me this permission. Gave me permission to claim my gifts and talents, to be uncompromising and unapologetic about who I am. This is why I fell in love with Ayn Rand.
Five years later, and I still love her, but for new reasons.
I love Ayn Rand for her fierce integrity – everyone is absolutely accountable for their own actions, and you must always be and do your best. If you compromise your integrity, you will inevitably suffer. It is up to you to honor and protect your reputation, to value yourself and your talents, and to live with integrity because of it.
I love Ayn Rand for her commitment to excellence – you must strive for excellence in all things. Why on earth would you give any less than your best? You owe it to yourself, if you value yourself, to live out of your highest potential. While I may not go so far as to have us all revering a statue of a golden dollar sign, like some of her characters do, I appreciate the sense that you are valuable, your talents are valuable, and you are responsible for how you share that value with the world. I am also fascinated by her ideas about romantic and brotherly love, but that’s another essay altogether.