My wife and I have a stack of cards with topical questions, good for dinner table conversation. The other day we pulled one out that asked “Who did you idolize as a teenager?”
My wife, first up, thought for a minute. She couldn’t think of anyone. She thought some more. Still, nothing.
Now, this is a heavy one for us evangelical Christians. There is the commandment in Exodus 2: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship…” And later in the chapter, under the Idols and Alters heading, God told Moses: “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.”
But though I went to church every Sunday, I hardly recall this lesson about idols coming up. Perhaps it was since the literal instruction applies solely to statues made of valuable metals, which I did not create as a teenager, nor was I tempted.
And though I think we can sometimes make unfounded biblical connections, I would have benefitted from applying this commandment as a teenager when I wanted anyone else’s life rather than my own. There was little about me or my world I was pleased with, and I can see now that this surely saddened my Creator.
So when it came my turn to answer this question, the dinner table became a confessional, starting with my idolization of Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong, basketball great and clothing influencer Michael Jordan, any Cubs players, and anyone else I hung a poster of. There were also movie stars, comedians, and even schoolmates I wanted to be.
And me being bent on being brutally honest, my answer moved beyond the teenage years to young adulthood, to professionals and church leaders, to authors and scholars, and people of noble character and accomplishments. I even traced it to my most recent years.
And though some bad habits may simply fade over time, most don’t. So though I have (mostly) evolved from wanting the glamour and mojo of rock stars or athletes, today I can still toil with jealousy over others’ wisdom and intellect. So what can I do about this yearning?
When I came to faith back in the mid-2000s, the theme of “less of me, more of you, Lord,” was prominent in worship songs and sermons.
This has biblical basis. For instance, John 3:30 says “He must increase; I must decrease.” But notice the order of this is switched from that of the worship songs. I’d been gung ho “less of me, more of you” mission, and promptly pounded down my fleshly inadequacies. But after beating myself into submission I may have been too defeated to set my gaze upon Jesus.
This order issue may solve the problem altogether. I try to start every morning with bible reading and prayer, and then I place my faith on Him to guide me to where I need to go. Even on a relentless journey to sharpen my character.
So I don’t allow myself to envy others’ skills or attributes. Even Paul, perhaps the most influential human of the New Testament, told his followers not to set their gaze on him, but only Jesus (1 Cor. 3).
And please note that decreasing ourselves shouldn’t be mistaken for shaming. When any of the following enter my mind, I shut them immediately:
* Disappointment in myself for inadequacies
* Envy of others’ skills and attributes
* Comparisons to other people’s skills or accomplishments
* Shame about my past
And when these thoughts enter my mind, I remind myself of a skill that is close to my shortcoming. If I think I said the wrong thing, I appreciate that at least I was trying to help. If I take the wrong turn while I’m driving, at least getting out and trying. And though I can’t fix a radiator problem in a car, at least I am accountable, kind, a good cook, and a good kisser (ask my wife!).
This is my first blog since 2016. Surprising, since prior to 2016 I was typing out and publishing all of my thoughts.
Embarrassing, since in March 2016 I held a course called “How to Start a Blog and Keep It Going.” I’d done it consistently for four whole years, which is like 47 in blog years.
However, after I stood before that class and told them how to stand out ahead of the pack and be that rare blogger that actually keeps blogging, I stopped. I published maybe one more post. Why? I was going through a divorce. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I guess I needed to step away and catch my breath, grieve, and come to terms with everything.
When the divorce first struck I’d just moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In order for God’s love to overpower my misery, I filled my calendar with church activities and other volunteer efforts, one of which was to be a mentor for youth. Our orientation leader prepped us: “These kids love their mentors. You guys will be like rock stars. They will stop you to hug your leg when they see you in the school hallway, and your kid will beam with pride when he is next to you.”
The orientation leader also said the children we would serve were typically the ones who sat alone at lunch, and those in need of a friend.
My kid defied the expectations that were set. He was not quiet or disadvantaged, at least not in the services I was providing. When we walked through the hallways no one other kids hugged my legs, probably because they were all giving my kid high fives. He took me out to the playground and promptly ran away to go play kickball, soccer, Wiffle ball, leaving me to aimlessly mill around.
He was the most athletic kid on the playground, and also the most popular. It turned out he had poor grades so the school wanted me to spend time with him in the library. Coaxing didn’t work so then I essentially dragged him there. I tried asking about his life, and we flipped through a couple of books, or I did while he pouted and asked when we would go back outside. He just sunk his shoulders and dropped his head, and it felt like I was pointing at his plate, nudging him towards his broccoli while all he wanted was the brownie.
It wasn’t long before he explained to the program director that he didn’t think he wanted a mentor after all. He said some nice things about me, though. “It’s not you, it’s me.”
It seemed to be a dead end when I desperately needed a path to take. But in all reality, God was only making it clear that the timing wasn’t right. And He told me the same about the blog. I needed to grieve, not give, not then. I needed to give it a break. And I couldn’t be happier about my choice.
Here we are four years later. My wounds have healed, and I am happily remarried.
My friend George Wood has asked me to join him on his mission to get out a message of hope for the Sober Truth Project, and that’s why I am dipping my toe back into this water. Am I ready? Maybe not entirely, but I think so. And that’s why the timing is probably perfect, since I am at least a little bit conflicted. This is when spirit wrestles with flesh, and wisdom intercedes with desire.
My break also gave me perspective and helped cleared my vision. I have now pinpointed the friendly emotions and the classroom bully. I’ve learned to better discern which tugs at my heart will only cost me and have no real payoff. I had needed time away to understand this, and possibly wouldn’t have been able to if it weren’t for my predicament.
And now the course looks different. Blogging has changed. The Internet keeps evolving. But the thing that remains is that I have an important message to share, one of hope amidst an understanding of grief. I want to share this message with you. Please click Subscribe. Come back often. Let’s discuss mental health, God, and humanity.