How to Quit Comparing

What's that to you

I read an article the other day about a spike in suicide rates among students at top US universities.

“Effortless perfection,” the article states, has become the unspoken goal of many young, high-achieving co-eds. Anything short of it in academic, curricular and social endeavors is a shameful and unmanageable failure. At Stanford it even has a name –  the Duck Syndrome – because as the duck glides calmly across the water,  it paddles frantically below.

While posting the perfect selfie of course.

The story is sad on so many levels, but this post isn’t about why people take their lives, it’s about the  fantasy of “effortless perfection.”

Even though that is the dumbest oxymoron in history, it tricks me all the time. I space out and scroll while Sam feeds the cows, letting the propaganda wash over me like green slime.

“Maybe I should decorate the living room like that, or do more side planks like Gillian, or drink coconut water and cleanse.” Then of course, I do none of those things and my subconscious whips me like a rented mule.

I know the behavior is absurd and so do you.

But when your face breaks out and your double chin shows, do you put that on Facebook? There’s no Instagram filter that can hide your muffin tops in a cute group photo, so you delete it.  And when you’re at the county jail visiting your kid for the 22nd time, do you check in?  Who does that?

Nobody.

That everybody crafts an online image is hardly news, but to blame Facebook for being a big, fat liar is like blaming Budweiser for your hangover – it contributed certainly, but it isn’t the problem.

The problem is we’re insecure, jealous, a little bit lost and looking for someone to lead us out of the woods.

Jesus’ friends had the same problem.

One morning while making breakfast on the beach, Jesus was talking to Peter about how hard Peter’s life was about to become. Just then, John appeared. John, as you may recall, referred to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved.” Doesn’t that sound just like your friend who gags you with her “perfect child” posts, especially when yours is being a jerk?

What about that guy, Peter asked Jesus. How’s it going to go for him?

How about you mind your own biscuits Peter, Jesus answered, kind of.  Not really, here’s the real scripture.

“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

If you’re wandering around lost in the woods, it’s natural to get bent out of shape with people who don’t seem lost at all.  But since you have no idea what my real life looks like, lamenting your condition, even subconsciously, in the light of what I show you on Facebook, is foolishness. It’s a distraction from the one who can actually lead you out of the woods.

And why not follow someone who describes himself as all-knowing?

If you’re not a Jesus-guy, I get that, but who do you follow when you’re lost? Yourself? Your friends? Hipsters on Instagram? Your cousin’s pastor on Facebook? How do you know they aren’t just as lost as you, frantically paddling like the young women at Stanford and Penn State?

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What John got right about Jesus is this: He was as deep in the woods as Peter. He didn’t know how it was going to end, but he laid back, right against Jesus’ chest and rested in the midst of it. Never a bad idea.

I think a lot of people would like Jesus better if they quit following his followers and just followed him instead. Jesus explains how to do that in the gospels a lot better than your friends do on Facebook.

Don’t go to bed mad, shut your mouth, forgive people when they don’t deserve it, don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff, learn what mercy is, follow me. Trust me. I’ll show you.

It’s such an amazing offer, really.  So next time you catch yourself sinking in the face of some effortlessly perfect status update, take a cue from Jesus.

“What is that to you? You follow me!”

On Loving People In Line

Photo Credit Buzac Marius

Photo Credit Buzac Marius

On Friday, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up stuff for a BBQ. I had several things in my basket, when a guy with a case of beer got in line behind me. I offered to let him go first because I like it when people do that for me. He did and said thanks.

When the clerk rang up his Miller Lite he said, “Oh I thought it was on sale.”

“Well it is,” she replied. “But you need a Brookshires card.”

“Oh dang.”

I had my Brookshires card in my hand so I reached over and gave it to the clerk. She scanned it and the guy got four bucks off his beer. I like it when people do that for me too.

Then he said something to me that may be the point of this story.

“It’s kind of lame they make you have a card for something they’ve already put on sale anyway.”

“But it’s cool they give you points towards your gas though,” I said. “I saved like 50 cents a gallon last week.”

“Oh wow, that’s a lot,” he said, thanking me and grabbing his beer.

I’m not telling this story to impress you with my goodness in grocery store lines, because I am often hurried and cranky and I don’t let people go ahead of me. But after he left I realized, I used to be that guy and I’m not anymore.

Countless times I have ignored the obvious goodness in front of me to talk about something dumb – like The Man, who could easily have put the beer on sale for everybody, but what a silly thing to talk about. Especially since, the Bible says the power of life and death are in the tongue and what we speak, we’ll eat. Yikes, I don’t want to eat that. This, I think, is a small but good example of the broad destructive path Jesus talked about. Unfortunately, it’s a factory default for many of us.

The narrow path Jesus commends, is patient and generous and speaks life even, and perhaps especially, in the grocery store line when nobody sees it coming.

Photo Credit: Richard Freeman

Photo Credit: Richard Freeman

We forget our lives are like rocks tossed into a pond, and there are ripples all around us. More on that later, but consider for a second what sort of ripples your life is making. In your grocery store, your office, your community.

This is what I think it looks like to operate in the Kingdom of God. It is, in part, to be kind and generous with strangers and reframe meaningless small talk into something that sends good ripples through the water.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Can you imagine yourself in Walmart being patient, kind and self-controlled without white-knuckling it or being smug about it later? That’s high level. I’m not there yet, I’m still practicing at Brookshires. And I certainly hope you don’t hear smug in this post, but rather excitement and the joy of possibility.

See, I am different now in the grocery store because Jesus has reset my defaults. I operated in the fruit of the spirit Friday without really trying and only noticed it in hindsight. Because of Jesus, I found myself walking the narrow path as though I’ve been there all along.

How cool is that?

Happy Sunday.

On Snowbanks and Wells.

This is Sam. Not Ed Sheeran.

This is Sam in Colorado. Not Ed Sheeran.

I was watching Ed Sheeran play a live show on Palladia the other night. I love Ed Sheeran because he’s a great songwriter and musician for sure, but it’s more than that.

Ed Sheeran is not a kook or a phony.

He is clearly a man doing what he was born to do, and while his talent is deep and native, you can tell he’s done the work too: Digging in the garden where his talents lie until something authentic and pure grows.

That’s why, when he plays, there’s no construct, just a guy on stage with his hands in his pockets saying: “Yah, I got something you’ve never heard, so I’m going to turn it up.”

I love people like that. I follow them around because I don’t care if you’re playing music or preaching the word, I want to see it stripped down. I want to know what you got, you got straight from the well.

At this exact time last year, I was a week out from the arrival of a big new school, and just plowing through piles at work. It felt like the day after a blizzard when even the bulldozer struggles to keep up. I was tired and discouraged, but as I do, I just pushed harder. Maybe you know this feeling. Here’s how it looks:

Tired of Snow

Later that day, I opened my bible looking for the scripture about youths not growing weary and rising up like eagles, but as often happens, I arrived at the “wrong” place in Isaiah. I went to Isaiah 41, not 40. Here, the Prophet is speaking for God to Israel, the children of Abraham:

You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off;
fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Just as I was ready to say, “OK, cool thanks God,” I very clearly heard him say, “Wait. Read it again. Now again, slower.” As I did I pictured the words in my head. The scripture goes on to say:

For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”

Wait. If you’re holding right hands with somebody, you’re basically shaking hello right? How else do you do it? If suddenly they fell down, could you hold them up? Not really. So if I’m a child of Abraham because I’ve been grafted in and God and I are holding right hands, like the scripture says, how is he upholding me?

And that’s when I saw it.

He’s standing behind me.

Possibly squatting, holding me like a child, with my right hand outstretched in his. He speaks softly, because his lips are right next to my ear. He literally has my back, with his left arm around me, holding me with the strength of his whole body. In this posture, I can be a sharp, threshing instrument, and a fearless crusher of mountains. Read the whole thing, it’s amazing.

See friends, this is what happens at the well.

Nobody gave me that image, I didn’t read it in somebody’s book. It was an unexpected but very precise disclosure that came when I sat at the well and waited for it. And I trust it, because in the past year, I’ve shared it at least a dozen times. Every time, somebody says: “Yes! I get it,” in the same way you can listen to Ed Sheeran play and say, “Yes, I get that, it’s authentic, it’s true.”

To me, it also proves what my pastor friend Daniel has been saying for months.

The degree to which you abide in Jesus, is the degree of authority you will have in him.

That, my friends, means time at the well. Talking. Listening. Rereading his words, slowly, with focus and intention –  even when you want to jump up and push snow.