Exchanging Comparison for Joy

mirror

We live in a culture that’s obsessed with change. The top song on iTunes changes faster than I do when I’m late for my first class. The press can go from loving a celebrity to criticizing their every move overnight. Every advertisement that we see is trying to lure us into using a product that will totally change our lives for the better: “Try this weight loss routine and you’ll have the body you’ve always dreamed of!” “Use this cologne and all the ladies will love you!” “Use this brand of makeup so that all the guys will want to date you and all the girls will want to be you!” The media does a great job of making us feel like we always need something bigger and better in order to measure up, and most of the time we believe it, even if we don’t realize it. We work out until we’re blue in the face, bathe in cologne, and paint on layer after layer of makeup in the hopes that this is the means to discovering our true self, our happiest self, our best self. If we were honest, though, living this way leaves us feeling burnt out and empty, not beautiful and exciting, doesn’t it?

Social media is another culprit that makes us feel insecure and inadequate. Imagine this scenario: You’ve been amped up for weeks about your spring break plans. You’re spending the whole week on the beach in Florida with your best friend soaking up every drop of sun possible and diving into that new novel that you’ve been itching to read. The break finally arrives, and you feel like you have it made. Nothing could ruin this trip, and quite frankly, you’re too relaxed to care. You decide to grab your phone to scroll through Instagram, and that’s when you see it: A girl from school that you follow is at the beach, too… in the Bahamas… with the perfect tan… and expensive Ray-Ban sunglasses… and five of her friends who are equally as tan, sporting equally-as-impressive sunglasses. Your mood plummets as you begin to think, “I could never afford those sunglasses or a trip out of the country, and my tan couldn’t possibly look that good. And why didn’t I ask a bunch more of my friends to come with me?” Before you know it, you’ve over thought yourself into a funk that looms over you for the rest of the trip.

This need for change even seeps into our friendships. At times, our well-meaning friends urge us to change things about ourselves to better suit their own tastes and interests. Maybe they tell you to cut back on playing video games because it makes you seem nerdy. What they don’t know is that it’s one of the most fun ways that you and your friends bond, and some of your best heartfelt talks have happened at a game night. Maybe they suggest that you grow your hair out again because long hair looks better on you. What they don’t know is that your mom was just diagnosed with cancer, so you donated your hair to Locks of Love in honor of her. Often, the surface-level opinions that we form of others don’t begin to scratch the surface of what’s going on underneath.

No matter the source, here are some things to keep in mind when you feel like you need to change who you are in order to be happy:

1. What You See Isn’t Usually What You Get

Almost everything in the media is airbrushed. That model that you see in the magazine? She’s been nipped, tucked, and glossed over by airbrushing software so much that she probably wouldn’t recognize herself if you showed her that picture. That picture-perfect love scene in Nicholas Sparks’s latest movie that’s everything that you want in a relationship? It was probably shot numerous times because the actors didn’t do it exactly the way that it was in the script. No one is perfect, not even the most glamorous celebrities.

2. It’s Called a Filter for a Reason

You’ve probably heard the saying “all that glitters is not gold”, and that’s especially true of social media. Our Instagram pictures, Facebook statuses, and tweets are a highlight reel of our lives that show only our best and brightest moments. On Instagram, we agonize over picking just the right filter, which does exactly what its name implies: It takes a real, raw moment and filters it through the lens of what we want people to see that puts us in the best possible light. On Facebook, we re-word our statuses time and time again until we’re sure that they will get plenty of likes and even a few shares if we’re lucky. On Twitter, we squeeze our experiences into 140 characters or less, watering down the beauty of a moment for the sake of a retweet. Don’t compare your everyday moments to someone else’s mountaintop experiences and think that your daily life isn’t worth celebrating. One day, we’ll be able to look back and realize that lots of our ordinary moments aren’t ordinary after all if we would only learn to appreciate them.

3. Celebrate Your Differences

The more people you meet, the more you’ll begin to notice just how different we all are, and that’s actually a really good thing. We all have things in common with our friends, of course, but none of us are going to be cookie-cutter versions of each other. That would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it? When you start comparing your life to others’ lives, it robs you of your joy and chips away at the beauty of who you were created to be. You’ll never be able to use and appreciate your own gifts if you’re constantly wishing for someone else’s. You can admire what someone else has while still finding value in what you have. Someone else’s success doesn’t mean that you’ve failed.

I know that I was put on this earth for a unique purpose that only I can fulfill, and I was given a circle of people that only I can influence, so I’m not changing who I am, and neither should you. Let’s stop worshipping at the altar of image and embrace the freedom that we have to be ourselves, flaws and all.

Street “Preachers” at Asbury University: A Reflection

Street Preachers

An antsy crowd huddled around the crosswalk near the apartments on Asbury University’s campus could have only meant one thing: Campus Ministry USA was back. This group consists of street “preachers” who use antagonistic tactics, such as yelling about how girls are whores damned to hell if they wear yoga pants, as their preferred method of “evangelism”.  As I passed by the swarm of students and the angsty instigators of the chaos, I was immediately overcome with harsh, bitter thoughts toward them: “How do they think they have the right to come onto our campus and hurl insults at us? What a miserable life… Going from school to school to demean and belittle students and then trying to bully them into believing a gospel of hellfire and brimstone… These people are the reasons why Christians get such a bad reputation these days.” The longer that I dwelled on these negative feelings, the more intensely the Holy Spirit began to convict me of my attitude towards them. I began to pray that He would wash through my heart and mind even in that moment and help me to view the situation through His eyes. Here are just a few things that He began to bring to my attention:

  1. One positive thing that I took away from the whole ordeal was those people’s commitment & dedication to their cause & their beliefs, although they were heartbreakingly misguided. I was reminded of the fact that God can change anyone’s heart & use them & the abilities He’s given them for His glory. It made me think of how Paul, one of the greatest human reflections of Christ’s love, started out his life killing Christians & mocking Jesus, but an encounter with the grace & mercy of the Living Jesus literally changed his life. Just think about how powerful those people’s boldness for their beliefs would be if they used it to speak the truth in love. No one is outside of the love & redemption of God, so it’s my prayer that their hearts would be transformed just as Paul’s was.
  2.  When Jesus was on the cross, He did not retaliate against His accusers, rather He had compassion on them & asked God to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing. In the same way, even though it goes completely against human nature, we should not act out against those trying to antagonize us. Arguments don’t change hearts, especially for those who don’t really want to listen to reason; only genuine, godly love can do that. We can’t change hearts because that’s the Lord’s job, but we can love people with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
  3. Satan would like nothing more than to tear down our faith-filled campus from the inside out by trying to plant seeds of resentment, doubt, & insecurity in our hearts, but we can be encouraged by the fact that if we truly know Jesus, then we know that He & His character never change, so our identity as His loved & redeemed children & our hope of salvation doesn’t change either, regardless of insults that are thrown our way. Jesus wants to take that offense & criticism from us so that we can move forward today with the freedom to forgive & the grace to love unconditionally because of the way He loves all of us.

Scripture says in John 3:17 that God didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn it, but to save it. While it’s easy to throw that verse at those people & tell them to stop condemning us, we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn them either. Instead, let’s try to see them through the eyes of Jesus as His children who are not disqualified from His love, no matter what they’ve said or done. Let’s be the set-apart people that we are called to be who love our oppressors so radically that they can’t help but to be drawn into the presence of Jesus. And finally, let’s count this time of suffering as joy, grateful that it gives us a chance to put Jesus’ command to love our enemies into practice.