as a writer – or, perhaps more accurately, as a human – i find myself to be very self-critical. actually, yeah – it’s just a human thing. anyway, my writing in the last year or so seems to be about one thing consistently – it seems to be about progress, about satisfaction, about comparison. (i know what you’re thinking – ‘jeff, you just listed three things!’) i see them all as being rather intertwined…because we tend to compare our progress or otherwise our station or position in life to other people, and we base our satisfaction on how we’re doing compared to the curve. we always want to be in the 90th percentile of success, and it seems to me that the key issue is that we redefine success.
in a world with money and things and experiences and stuff, there are always going to be winners and losers. there is going to be a bell curve of “success,” if that’s how you want to define it. not everyone can be rich, not everyone is going to be poor, not everyone is going to get everything they want. not everyone gets their dream job that lines up with their major and their interests and skill set. not everyone gets the dream car with the right financing (or no financing at all.) it just doesn’t seem to work like that. and as communal creatures, it can be intensely frustrating to live with people for whom things do go right – or so it ostensibly appears. there people i know for whom “success” comes naturally, easily, and without any effort. the deck just seems stacked in their favor at every turn, and if it’s not, then they won’t let on that it’s not (and a part of me, at this juncture, wonders if it’s not that their life is perfect, but that they refuse to let the imperfections bog them down, a convicting thought for me.)
friends, i will be honest with you – and with myself – i feel that in my life lately, i have been all-too-focused on getting what i want. it’s something that my gracious girlfriend has hashed out with me, and within our own relationships we’ve had hard conversations about what it looks like to make each other happy as a couple but also to make sure that we’re getting the things we want/need as individuals.
and i keep coming back to this same roadblock in every juncture of my life —
there’s never enough.
seriously. there’s never enough of something. there’s never enough time, there’s never enough money, people’s schedules don’t line up with mine, there’s not enough freedom or flexibility, there’s not enough interest, or the weather doesn’t cooperate with plans i make. i’ve become really cynical about the idea of a perfect day anymore.
it’s at this point that i find myself convicted and re-convicted that there is true, deep, abiding joy to be found nevertheless, and that it all comes down to where our focus lies. but don’t worry, i’ve found ways to screw that line of thinking up, too. check this out.
so, there’s a verse i really like in 1 Corinthians 2 (i’m currently hammocking and i’m on a roll with writing so i’m not going to look it up) where Paul says that he claimed to know nothing among the Corinthians but Christ and Him crucified. There’s a verse in Philippians where Paul talks about knowing how to be abased and how to abound. there’s a verse in 1 Timothy (6:8 if i recall) that says that if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. i’ve found that in my quest for justice and vindication – because i have not yet been bestowed with one consistent, stable, well-paying full-time job – i use these verses as a club to try and beat other people down to my level. i martyr myself by wailing about how little i live with (or try to) and then shame – either out loud or in my head – the people who have better-paying jobs than i do about their lifestyles. i remember hearing a sermon once that mentioned that people who look at money as a god or as a devil (in relative terms) are equally idolatrous to their approach to money. color me guilty.
let’s revisit the earlier thought about the bell curve. the bell curve exists – at least off the top of my head – because of a capitalist society/economy we live in. there are high-paying jobs, and there are low-paying jobs, and not all jobs can be high-paying, nor can they all be low-paying. economics 101 can tell you that. so this is an instance in which God’s people are in the world but not of the world. and/but we are even distributed, as God’s people, among that bell curve. some of God’s people – Christians – are poor and don’t make much money. they’re still God’s people. some of God’s people are rich and make a lot. they’re still God’s people, too.
the impasse (well, it’s not really an impasse, which is what i’m about to say) that we have to navigate (maybe a road-block is a better term?) is how we operate in a Kingdom that says that we aren’t our socioeconomic status when the world says we are. Paul writes in Galatians that there isn’t Jew or Greek, slave or free, or male or female in the Kingdom. that is, you don’t identify in your sub-culture in the Kingdom of God – you’re a citizen of that Kingdom and the labels that the world puts on you/encourages you to put on yourself don’t matter.
so how do we do that? let me start by saying that i began this blog violating that idea. heck, i’ve lived in violation of that idea for a while. the idea of treating myself and everyone else as simply Kingdom people instead of rich people or poor people or republican people or democrat people or men or women doesn’t come naturally to me. i’m pretty bad at it. i’ve been worst at it in the area of money, which you gracious readers have heard me plop through for the last six months or so. it’s like when i was a kid and i had brussels sprouts – i don’t want them to be on my plate anymore but i also don’t really want to eat them – so it is with me and socioeconomics in the Kingdom of God. i’m trying to finish it up, and each bite is nasty but brings me a step closer to being done with it, and it’s been a slow, slow process which has taken up a lot of my thoughtlife.
that said, my big question for God lately has been, how can we push that out of my thoughtlife? as i ponder (and ponder, and ponder, and ponder) i’m reminded that Jesus is a great leveler. For the Christian, Christ stands ready to be the anthesis of whatever we think we are. Jesus is the riches of the poor man, and the poverty of the rich man; He is the consolation for the weary and the anxious, and the stirrer/challenger of the complacent or lazy; He is the freedom for the enslaved, and the taming Master of the untamable; He is confidence for the insecure, and He is humility for the proud; and perhaps most importantly, He is the leveler who will always prove us wrong if we ever claim, “i could never be/will never be that.”
i believe that pride is at the root of every comparative thought. i think pride is the real issue i deal with, and i think Jesus finds it repulsing. i think pride is so anti-Jesus, and that seems to be the one thing that every human being has in common. we tend to be proud about something, unless we make an active effort to bring pride to the altar every day and crucify it before God. (if you have any tips on how to do that, let me know.) we like to glory, we like to boast. if not in what we have, then in what we don’t have. if not in what we are, then in what we aren’t. if not in what we’ve experienced, then in what we haven’t experienced. pride is self-defense. and i don’t see self-defense in Jesus, who was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
i have no solution here, other than to gaze. i believe that for the things i deal with the most, the only solution is to intensify the light that is Jesus Christ – to have Him take up more of my thoughtlife and my attention, to have Him invade my lines of thinking, to have Him be my line of thinking. because, to follow up on an earlier thought – while there isn’t enough of what i want – whether it’s time or money or freedom or what have you – but there is always enough of Jesus. the blood of Jesus testifies even now, the Spirit of God fills even now, the love of God the Father keeps extending itself even now, even after 27 years of just my own mistakes (and God knows how many millions of years of the sins of others) and it goes on and on and on and on and it never runs out, it never runs dry (to quote a modern tune.) and there’s an old song prays, “be Thou my vision, o Lord of my heart, naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou, my best thought by day or by night, waking or sleeping – Thy presence my light.”
so let it be in me.