January 1, 2020. I made a resolution for the year that really seemed great. I was going to start really living my life by one of the greatest and most difficult challenges ever issued to man. I was going to be obedient to God by living in the very way Jesus did, described by Paul in his letter to the Philippian church here:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”
I didn’t do it.
It’s not that I didn’t try; I just failed at it. Miserably.
It’s an understatement to say that 2020 brought humanity around the world some unique challenges. In March, when Covid began impacting our lives here in New Mexico, I thought, “Here’s my chance to really put my resolution to practice. It’s going to be so tempting for us all to just fold in on ourselves. But I won’t.” I’d made a resolution, after all. Covid wasn’t going to stop me.
I set about finding practical ways to serve other people…which was not a bad thing, of course. Outwardly, I seemed to be doing the thing I set out to do. But inwardly, a problem I think I’ve had my entire life was growing.
The thing about the verse above….the thing that’s really noticeable….the thing Paul really highlights…it’s not Jesus’ actions. It’s His attitude.
Growing up, anytime that word came up in my life, it was never a commendation (and for good reason). I can tell you from experience that a bad attitude is always the outworking of selfishness. I’ll never forget the time my parents rightfully punished my brother and I for something; and instead of sitting in my room quietly, thinking about what I’d done and hopefully learning from it, I made a sign to put on my bedroom door: “Apparently, nobody loves me anymore.” My brother saw it on his way out of the bathroom and asked me to help him make one for his door. Lucky for him, we didn’t even get started before my parents saw the note and rained down holy fire upon me.
I’m glad they did.
But here I am, 37 years old, doing the very same thing to my husband and children. When things aren’t going “well”, as defined by ME, around here, I put up the “apparently, nobody loves me” sign. It’s not a physical sign these days, of course. But it’s terse answers. Silence. A look on my face. Constant irritability. Yes – we have been a bit cooped up together. Yes – survival and safety are the name of the game right now. No – we are not living normal lives. I get it. And I’ve given myself a whole lot of “grace” this year to have the bad days and the meltdowns and everything else the Facebook memes tell me I should allow myself in the name of “self-care”. But here’s the thing:
My problem is not Covid.
Let me explain to you how I discovered what (or really, who) my real problem is.
This year, I also developed some significant body-image issues. I know that sounds silly, coming from a person who looks thin and whatnot. But I became unhappy (read: obsessed) with the fact that I’m about 20 pounds heavier than I ‘would like to be’. It doesn’t matter that that weight would be unhealthy for me now. It didn’t matter that when I weighed that, I was considered to be under-weight. It didn’t matter that expecting to weigh what I did pre-kids and 13 years ago is unreasonable. I decided I was going to get back to that. When working out every day didn’t seem to cause the scale to budge, I signed up for Noom (an app-driven weight loss program). I spent a day starving myself according to what Noom said I could eat…was dizzy and tired and headachy all day. Thankfully, my husband helped me realize that what I was doing was crazy. I went in search of a book that, from a Christian perspective, might help me stop this unhealthy mindset. I found it: Compared To Who? By Heather Creekmore.
This book has so much wonderful help inside it’s pages; but the biggest help is something rather unpleasant. With the help of Biblical truth, the author helped me realize that something other than God is ruling my life…defining my happiness (or unhappiness)…setting the standard of “complete”…driving my thoughts and actions daily. I’ve got an idol.
Now, before you start telling me that I’m just being hard on myself, let me explain further. After finishing Heather’s book, I picked up another book on idolatry, Gods at War, by Kyle Idleman. I figured it would be a good follow-up to the issue I’d discovered while reading Heather’s. I barely started it, though, before I began a different study and just kind of saved it for later. Meanwhile, my problem was getting bigger. No, I wasn’t so focused on the body image struggle anymore; but I was becoming a consistently angry person. I thought it was Covid. I thought it was mean people on Facebook. I thought it was my husband being inconsiderate and my kids being…kids. It was getting so bad that I was actually waking up angry in-between dreams at night! But the other day, I cracked open Kyle’s book and was hit square in the face with my real problem. He asks the following questions:
What disappoints you?
What do you complain about the most?
Where do you make financial sacrifices?
What worries you?
Where is your sanctuary? Where do you go for emotional rescue?
What infuriates you?
And one line really got me: “Disproportionate disappointment reveals that we have placed intense hope and longing in something other than God.”
What disappoints me? What do I complain about? What infuriates me? It is always, and has always been, when I do not feel that others have been considerate of me.
When my husband gets me a gift that doesn’t seem “me” enough.
When my kids are arguing.
When someone makes things inconvenient for me.
When someone doesn’t acknowledge all I’ve done for them.
When someone dose’t give me the grace I think I deserve (now that’s just nuts).
When I have to do stuff I don’t want to do.
When I don’t have time to do the things I like.
When I don’t hear the praise I’m expecting.
When I complain and people don’t affirm me.
When what’s important to me does not seem important to others.
You get the point.
Reading Kyle’s words, I was struck by how much carnage there is in my life because of this thing I didn’t realize I worship….this thing I pursue above all. My demands that everyone acknowledge how amazing I am, how worthy of their time, attention, grace, and applause, has caused me to lose friendships, disrupt my marriage, and hurt my family. And this year, even with a resolution that drove me to give more of my time and resources to others, my heart still had someone on its throne that shouldn’t be there.
But here’s the most awkwardly hopeful and wonderful thing I realized as I sat there, struck by Kyle’s words and the truth of my situation.
I CAN’T FIX IT.
I can’t. I don’t know how to live life any other way than obsessed with my own self. I’ve always done it. I don’t know how to de-throne myself; how to change my own emotional backlash to others’ failure to bow to my whim; how to alter my own thoughts so that they don’t always revolve around ME. I really don’t.
And that’s actually fantastic. If I could fix it, I would…and then I’d demand applause for having fixed it. And I’d go on worshipping myself.
That’s not how it works, though. Thank God.
Just a little further into the second chapter of Philippians are these words:
“For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” – v.13
And he’s got good advice further on in the book:
“…rejoice in the Lord.” – Phil. 3:1
“…put no confidence in the flesh” -Phil. 3:3
“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing blue of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” – Phil. 3:3
“…but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Phil. 3:14
I could certainly go on and quote the entire book for you; but this is sufficient to show you what has caused huge change in my life over the past couple days.
My disgust with my old self-focused life has made it easy to decide I’m never going back there. I thought I needed more worship of myself…more acknowledgement of my achievements, more praise for what I do on a daily basis, more considerate care, more time for self-indulgence. What I really need is the “peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, (to) guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). I actually need less of me and more of Jesus. And that’s it.
It’s hard for me to describe to you the relief and actual joy that’s defined the past few days since God’s brought me to this place. I haven’t done anything…I’ve just begun to live without the constant need for others to acknowlege, congratulate, consider, pity, and otherwise worship me. Through my absolute failure to do what I set out to do this year, God drew me near and set me on a brand new path.
I’ve heard it said, rightly, that no one is absolutely slaying it in 2020. Everyone is struggling and fumbling our way through. But God does ALL things well.
If 2020 has been particularly terrible for you, I am praying now that God meets you in a new way and sets you on a new path of hope. I’m living proof that there’s nothing He can’t redeem.