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!”

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You Have An Identity. Where’d You Get It?

Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Love Dinner

A few weeks ago, a guy named Barry spoke at Mercy Ships and asked us the following questions:

  • Do you know who you are?
  • When your circumstances collide with your identity, what wins?
  • What are you doing here?
  • Who are you doing it with?

I say he’s a guy named Barry because I Googled him ahead of time to see what kind of Christian hotshot he was, what he’s written, how many Twitter followers he has, you know those important metrics that indicate one is worthy of attention. Here’s all I found:

Barry enjoys people, bikes, bbq, and a really good tomato. Currently, he teaches and facilitates retreats, consults and mentors various non-profits in San Francisco. Barry hopes to spend the rest of his life in San Francisco helping it live up to the name of its patron Saint, St. Francis – as a city on a hill.

Wait, a Christian speaker with no website, no platform and a scrubbed Google profile? Besides this other teacher 2000 years ago, who “ordered them not to make him known,” who does that? Especially since every publishing industry professional says get famous first, then we’ll talk about your book.

Jesus didn’t do it like that.

What Jesus did was show up at a muddy stretch of the Jordan River to be baptized by a guy in camel skins. Before doing anything to earn it, he received his identity then headed right into the wilderness for beta testing. He came out, made some friends, and then he went to the synagogue to teach.

Evidently, even Jesus had to absorb his identity before there was much to write home about.

Barry made me wonder if publishing my book, as a life goal, even matters. If I am awash with the passionate love of God and convinced that I am precious and pleasing even before I do anything fancy, does it matter if “bestselling author” ever modifies my name, like I want it to? Don’t I have what I want already?

“We go looking for identity in mission,” Barry said. “But if your achievements are your identity, you’re only as good as your last success.”

OMG that explains a lot of human behavior doesn’t it?

What I want is to be fully known and loved anyway, and if I choose to believe the gospel, I already have that. So, Barry suggests, whether I’m writing books or cooking spam in West Africa, my vocation is merely the context in which I am transformed into someone interesting and beneficial to those around me. This is also what I want.

“The reward for the process, is the person you get to become,” Barry said.

So what if we believed the gospel without all the mental gymnastics, disclaimers and doubt? What if we believed we actually are passionately loved, clean, holy, purchased and royal? What if we trusted Jesus enough to come to him like children and just follow him, wherever that leads?

What would happen then?