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!).