Life @ UNC: My Life as (Pseudo) Superman

This is the first post in our Life @ UNC series. Contributing is Matthew McKnight, a rising sophomore from Charlotte, NC. Matthew is involved in the UNC Honor System, participates at Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), and is a leader with Young Life. This summer, he is working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

When I look back on my first two semesters at UNC, I see a year marked by personal difficulty, personal growth, and the ever-present grace of God.

I arrived as a first-year at UNC with a chip on my shoulder and a burden on my heart.

Without a merit scholarship, athletic team, or club affiliation to call my own, I came to Carolina thinking I needed to prove my worth. I felt burdened to be more than a small fish in a large Carolina Blue pond.  I thought my value as a person derived from achievement, in and out of the classroom. My ambition, simply and facetiously put, was to try to become superman

In my first semester at Carolina, life as “superman” quickly got crazy. I joined an athletic club team, an intramural team, student government, the honor system, two campus ministries, and a Bible study while trying to achieve a perfect GPA, make friends, and further my relationship with the Lord. Seeking worth in activities was totally exhausting and I knew I couldn’t keep it up.

Therefore, in my second semester at UNC, realizing a life as “superman” was unsustainable, I turned my focus to academics. The classroom was a place where I knew I could succeed given enough hard work; my grades replaced activities as a frame of my self-image, the self-portrait in which I could control every brushstroke. Therefore, midway through the second semester, when my grades didn’t turn out as I expected, I was crushed. For the first time in my life, anxiety reared its ugly head.

Driven to maximize study time, I stopped going to church, reading the Bible, exercising, eating well, or investing in relationships. I was so anxious about my grades and proving my worth (to myself of all people!) that I started carrying duplicate textbooks, extra batteries, bluebooks, and scantrons with me at all times as academic insurance against any surprises.  My anxieties culminated in sleepless nights and in my final history recitation, when, after receiving a low grade on a minimal homework assignment, I started shaking uncontrollably. I was miserable and knew something had to change.

My body told me what my mind had refused to fully acknowledge: my priorities were completely out of order.

In my insecurity, I had put becoming “superman” above walking humbly with the Lord. I had bought into the lie that I could determine my own value and establish my own worth. In that demented journey, I had lived as if my resume and outward accomplishments would reveal my inner-greatness.  Threatened with the insurmountable demands of a life established on my own terms, my body started to give up on me.

One passage of scripture in particular spoke to me in that place.

1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you.”

As Christians, we are called to humility before God in recognition of our own weakness. Trust me, personal worth is not an object to be achieved or a quality to be discovered by looking inward. It is a mindset mercifully granted by an unconditionally loving God, bestowed when we look to Him with trust.

Receiving my worth from someplace (or someone) else has brought me a measure of peace. I can’t definitively say my deep sense of worry is now entirely gone, or that I have completely reoriented my priorities towards Christ. My spiritual walk is a work in progress, and I know that change takes time. However, I can definitively say I have learned God’s grace extends to all people, from those struggling with anxiety to those trying to be “superman.”