Whether or not we’re aware, we are continually assaulted with images, ideas, standards and opinions for who we should be. Unrealistic ideals wreak havoc on how we see ourselves as men and women, as spiritual people and Jesus-followers, as wives and husbands, as parents, as friends, as professionals, as homemakers, business owners, interior decorators, pet owners, cooks and on and on and on.
Let’s just stop it.
You were imagined by God as his unique creation. He picked out all your parts. He named you. There has never been another you and there will never be another you.
Regretfully, though we may have mountain top moments of brilliance, most of us feel like we’re not rocking it at regular points in our journeys; that in the competition of life, we are definitely not medalling—not standing on the podium. We may feel like we’re not enough or we feel like we’re too much; or maybe we vacillate between the two.
The voice of not enough usually sounds like “you can’t keep up in this race…you’re invisible…you’re drab and uninteresting…everyone else does it better.” Or maybe you feel like you’re too much (and I would definitely fit into this category). Too much says things like “you’re too loud, too opinionated, too passionate…simmer down! You’re an offensive, fluorescent lightbulb and you overwhelm the people around you!”
Both accusatory voices—feeling not enough or too much—can tempt us to create a flawless facade, sometimes by overcompensating, and, at times, by shrinking. But if you scratch beneath the feigned perfection of any person, even if they’re painted shiny and red, underneath you’ll see the real stuff: the rust, the dents, the evidence of vandalism. You’ll find insecurities, scars, pain. We are all the same. If you’ve lived at all, you’ve got the marks to prove it.
Who I am at my core (and who YOU are) is not random. It’s not the luck of the draw. It’s not what we have selected. God made us. He chose our personalities. He chose our bodies. He chose where we would be born and the families we would be born into. He knew all our days before any of them came to be. There are a ton of scriptures in the Bible that speak to this; that God really did plan us! In Jeremiah, we learn that before we were even formed in the womb God knew us. Before we were born, he set us apart (Jeremiah 1.5). The Psalmist David wrote:
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139.13-16)
We are different, unique, custom-made, bespoke. And it’s on purpose. A monochromatic and one-dimensional world is not to be desired. So, if we were designed as individuals, why do we continue to compare?
In one of his many profound reflections, Theodore Roosevelt said “comparison is the thief of joy!” I believe that now, more than ever before, we are set up for comparison, disappointment and discontent. I won’t lay all of the blame on social media—I happen to love Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, to name a few—but I will lay some of the blame at its doorstep. There are actual studies that correlate time spent on social media with a lack of contentedness in one’s life or a diminishing of self-esteem due to comparison (I’m resisting my academic urge to cite references here, but if you want them, let me know). Social media can easily transport us to a place of longing for things that aren’t instead of being thankful for what is.
Spending virtual time in other peoples’ lives causes us to live outside our own lives, never being fully present to what is. I regret the many times when I sat, playing with my kids, but not really. Though I was physically present, I’d gone somewhere else via the phone in my hand.
When our critical thinking is lulled to sleep, we can forget that much of the content on social media has been curated. We make faulty assumptions about other peoples’ lives based on what we see on the surface. We might begin to believe that everyone else fits in and is super connected. Even though we know better—that we’re only seeing the best and brightest, the shiny red paint—we unconsciously (or even consciously) compare ourselves. We note that we’re not doing it as well; that “their” lives are to be envied.
We see that all the other moms are making healthy, homemade snacks for their kids. We believe the “in love” photos celebrating perfect, idyllic marriages. We see glamourous images of travel and beautiful homes and new cars and successful careers and perfect children…and we KNOW in our heads it’s the highlight reel—that it’s the stuff they’re (and we’re) choosing to reveal—but, still, it takes a toll. Not one of us is immune. Even the most self-assured and well-adjusted have fallen prey.
As humans, we are never in a static state. We live on a sliding scale—a spectrum—in terms of how we feel about ourselves, how we function and how we perceive our environments. Diverse seasons bring diverse perceptions and feelings, as well as varying degrees of coping. Where we are on the spectrum can determine whether or not we’re a particularly good version of ourselves. The very part of our personality that is a strength when we’re walking in wholeness can be a weakness when we’re walking in brokenness. It’s two sides of the same coin. To clarify, at my best, I’m very efficient and organized. But at my worst, controlling and frenetic.
When I’m in a good place—feeling content and peaceful (which I very much desire to be), in control (which I very much like to be), when I’m achieving and accomplishing (which I very much love to do), when my kids are getting along and I’ve got fresh baking on the counter—I’m less affected by your images of perfect, happy children who are kind to one another, you and your friends going out for dinner together, the family portraits of your “normal” unblended family, your awesome stay-at-home-mom-ness, your homemade everything and your chemical-free cleaning supplies (though truth be told, I do dabble in Norwex).
But when I’m NOT in such a great place (which can happen to the best of us), those same things can tank me. Even though I KNOW you’re posting your tidy moments. Even though I know your kids probably fight, too. Even though I know in my heart that you sometimes eat chicken fingers from a box…comparison can creep in. And if I don’t stay aware and on top of it, I can start feeling discontented with my life; wishing things were different—all the feelings that do not make me the best version of myself.
In this life, we are a combination of nature and nurture—born this way and adaptation to our circumstances. With nurture, we know that our experiences—that is, what’s been done to us, what we’ve done to others and how things have ‘worked out’—definitely allow for the possibility of brokenness and ‘less than’ versions of ourselves. No one is denying this. But nature would say: God made me, he chose me, he did this on purpose, his plans for me are good.
We are NOT in competition with one another. No one else can steal your life, your calling, your piece of the pie. It’s YOURS. God gives every person their portion, their calling, their life to live. Psalm 16 says “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.” We don’t have to arm wrestle for our place in the world. We don’t have to urinate in the corner to mark our territory. We don’t need to betray and scramble over others to secure our position. We don’t need to be stealthy or sneaky or the best. We only need to say YES to our portion and our cup. We need only persevere and work hard toward that which is for us.
The tag on my website used to be Rock Being You, because my goal in life is to rock being me; to be the me that most closely resembles what God intended. Why? Because it’s the best possible, most fulfilled, most content, most effective, most Jesus-like version of me. When everything around us feels like a measuring stick or a guideline to which we must adhere, we must grab hold of this truth: we need only be who we were created to be and to offer what we’ve been given to give.
It’s taken a lot of practice and self-control, but I’ve learned to skirt around the quagmire of comparison. Every now and then, I inadvertently dip a toe, but as those sickening voices of too-much and not-enough announce themselves, I wake up and run reckless in the other direction.
Enjoy social media, but remind yourself to fill in the gaps. Read the unwritten parts of the story. That stay at home mom that you’re admiring is probably craving some grown-up time. That successful business person that leaves you feeling like a professional failure might be grieving the fact that his or her kids spend more time in a daycare than in their real home. Those warm cookies waiting on the counter for kids coming home from school are the only baking that’s been done in ages. The happy couple in the photo fought about finances all morning. That luxury cruise used up the last available dollar on their credit card. I’m not suggesting we view the world through a lens of cynicism and negativity, but to remind us that there is always more than what we see. Don’t be fooled by the shiny, red paint.
Isaiah 60 says:
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you…
Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy.”
The beauty of arising and shining (terrible grammar, yes.) is that it’s not something we do or manufacture. The light comes to us, His glory rises upon us and appears over us. It’s not our job to brighten up or dim down. When we walk closely with God, we reflect exactly who we are created to be—by our creator—and when the light of his glory shines on us and over us, we are going to be brilliant!
So, go ahead. Be brilliant. Say goodbye to the Joy Thief. It’s time to rock being you.