Entries in comparing (4)
I am a Detroit Tigers fan. Yes, I admit it, I love the Tigers. That is a baseball team for those who are not fans. As any true baseball fan knows, our sport is a fickle one. It is the longest of all professional seasons and has double the games of the other sports: 162 encounters spanning seven months not including spring training. As I type these words, the Tigers are in third place and have won eighteen games and have also lost eighteen games. But I have hope… Hope that they will surge into first place in their division by the end of the year, hope that they will win the American League pennant, and hope that they will prevail in the World Series. To be honest, this type of hope is just a wish, not founded in any reality other than my dreams. As a fan, I live in the “just wait until next year” fantasy.
Contrast that to Romans 5:5: “…hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Hope rooted in God’s promises is not the same as “baseball hope”, which is mere wishful thinking. Biblical hope is assurance of certainty… God is at work and He will redeem our world and us in the process. Here are some actions that help keep me grounded in this hope:
- Focusing on God’s faithfulness… I need to remember that God has blessed me in so many ways, and reminding myself of these gifts is a reminder of what is to come.
- Praying through the fog… My communication to God is a necessary element of remaining hopeful. It crystalizes my emotions as I’m in the process of verbalizing what’s on my heart to the One who loves me perfectly.
- Silence in the midst of chaos… we live in a noisy culture. Cultivate the habit of getting alone and being silent. Clear your mind of the clutter of the day and be still, knowing that God is indeed God.
- Listening to God… a wonderful product of our silence is that we’re finally able to begin to hear what God might be saying to us. Let Him speak to your heart.
The Tigers are doing OK as I write these words. They might even have a good season, but I would not take that to the bank just yet. What I should do is remember that I have a hope, and that hope isn’t based on wishful thinking but on the One who is the same both yesterday, today, and forever. Our hope is also our assurance that God will one day make all things right. Now that’s something to hope for!
Authenticity is a pretty big buzz word right now. You hear a lot about people wanting to be authentic and have authentic relationships. Webster defines authentic as, “not false or imitation: real, actual, and true to one's own personality, spirit or character”. I think authenticity is a great goal. However, what happens when our "personality" doesn't match up with what God wants from us?
I have had several conversations in the past few weeks with individuals dealing with this dilemma. I find myself asking people to not allow their feelings to make decisions for them. To act in a way they know they "should" despite the way they may feel in the moment. I was met several times with the statement "but that is not authentic". Many times this sparks a discussion about "faking" it or not being "real". I've started asking this question, “If the "real" you is striving to live a life God wants for you, and knowing you are not perfect, don't you think there will be times when your imperfection and what you're striving for will collide?” Has this desire for authenticity allowed us to act on every whim so as not to be a hypocrite? What is the difference between "acting" and "trying to change"? When breaking this down further, acting is when you're putting on a show and you are changing so that those around you will see it and be impressed. Trying to change is an "authentic" desire to be refined by God and make choices based on what He wants for you despite what you want. CS Lewis believed that what mattered were not our feelings, but rather our behaviors and intentions. In a published letter from 1951 he says:
"Don't bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them; when they are conceited, selfish cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters are your intentions and your behavior."
Therefore, before we can live authentically or even before we try to, we need to ask the following fundamental question. When considering authenticity, whose personality, spirit, and character do you want to be true to? Your own or God’s?
A couple of weekends ago I attended my 43rd high school reunion (we have all turned 60+ years!). It was the first reunion I had been a part of since graduation in (gasp) 1967. Some observations from that time:
- I don’t feel as old as my classmates look
- People didn’t recognize me, until I smiled
- The eyes are the dead giveaway to identity
- Stirring up memories is bittersweet
- Four decades go by extremely fast
I have to admit that my emotional reaction to seeing old acquaintances left me a bit perplexed. But it all boils down to comparison… the same demon that plagues all of us during adolescence. How do I look compared to everyone else? How have I performed compared to everyone else? Do people like me? Do they seem glad to see me? Do they even remember me?
My pastor in his sermon yesterday reminded me of a passage that cut to the heart of the issue. Jesus was talking to Peter in the Gospel of John, Chapter 21, informing him of his life and also how he would die. Peter, in true form, immediately asked how the Apostle John would fare. In one of the most memorable and yet loving rebukes in all of Scripture, Jesus basically says: “It’s none of your business!” Comparisons all break down in time, and the only focus that is healthy and really makes any sense is focusing on yourself, and whether or not you are doing all you can do to trust God and allow Him to lead you to live a life of authenticity.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is echoing through my head quite a bit lately. It is the most famous of all Jesus’ parables, and it is replete with principles that govern relationships. The striking thing to me is that the title of the parable, given by scholars over the centuries of Christendom, is a misnomer. It should be titled “The Parable of the Unforgiving Elder Son.” While that is a bit less flashy, it is more to the point that Jesus was teaching: namely, we cannot live well in this world if we continually are comparing our lives to others’.
I realize this is the most natural of human reactions, this thing we call comparison. “That’s not fair!” is a statement learned early on in life. One of the great lessons Jesus is teaching is that we cannot live our lives based on what happens to others. Jesus responds to Peter at the end of John’s gospel that John’s story is not his. “What is that to you?” In other words, quit looking around and comparing your story to what others are going through.
The older son is caught up in the “life’s not fair” syndrome, but that comes from comparing our lives to others’ rather than looking at the One whom we celebrate this Easter season. Let’s live our lives focused on Him who sacrificed Himself for us. Then forgiveness and love will flow naturally out of our lives as an act of love to our Lord who loves us no matter what.