Meeting new people is hard. Finding your place, where you fit, is hard.
It’s especially difficult if your career, city, or lifestyle forces you to press the reset button often. You think you’ve found your new go-to people to cling to, but later you notice you’ve absorbed a thick atmosphere of negativity which previously went unnoticed. You think you’ve found your fit, until you begin to feel like you’re losing yourself. More time passes and you’ve given up things you love or once were excited about in order to conform to the loves and excitements of others, all in the name of acceptance. Conformity battles individuality as a cloud of opinions swarm you, all with their different levels of carelessness, urgency, truth, falsehood, and weight on your spirit. Days turn into weeks and you wonder if the fresh friendships you’ve begun will ever enter the threshold of intimacy and longevity. You grow accustomed to the feeling of eggshells between your toes as you dance between looks, words, and likes.
We’ve all experienced this on some level. A broken social world, yet another truly maddening result of the Fall of Mankind, has us all functioning as pawns in a game where nobody wins. Everyone is begging “Love me! Validate me! Tell me I’m worth something!” and rules for earning or losing points are constantly changing. You’ve probably witnessed this game in your office, in your friend group, even in your church.
The only way to actually win is to stop playing the game.
Choosing to fold is scary – it sounds like you’ll just end up lonelier than you already feel. But you have a choice here: to fall out of the rat race for man’s affection, or to rise out of it.
Falling here looks a lot like hardening and isolating yourself while building a shield to protect you from the arrows of opinions. It starts you down a darker path. I’m more interested in telling you about what it looks like to rise.
Jesus left his home full of known faces and places to live “the gypsy life” (as us performer folk have dubbed it), always on the move, rarely spotting a familiar face, and soon collecting a group of new acquaintances to travel with him and become his closest friends. And he did this all without knowing their Myers-Briggs or astrological signs!
I relate to this gypsy life. I tend to find comfort in familiarity, solid planting, and routine. However, the career I’ve chosen likes to disrupt all of those things. Lately, as I’ve been weighing different options for next steps in my career, I am comforted by how boldly and healthily Jesus navigated the gypsy life! I once thought it irresponsible to not be rooted in one geographic place and community, to be hopping around the world unable to invest longevity and enduring physical presence in one place. But Jesus had a greater purpose expanding beyond the lines of geography, families, and social groups. That purpose was love. This purpose required that he leave everything comfortable, acquire new friends, and interact with total strangers on the daily.
So let’s look at how the purpose of love led Jesus to rise out of the social rat race.
He knew His value.
In other words, He knew what He had to offer. As Jesus collected his close friends, we don’t see him shrinking back in fear wondering Will they really want to follow me? What if I’m not fun to hang out with? What if I’m boring? He just waltzes right up to some dudes and boldly tells them to give up their livelihoods to hang out with Him 24-7 because He knows what He has to offer as a comrade is wildly valuable to their lives!
He knew the value of others.
Society teaches us to put people in “better than” and “less than” categories. The society functioning in double-digit A.D. was no different. However, we see Jesus seamlessly interact with everyone from the high-society Pharisees and tax collectors to the most untouchable leper and Samaritan without batting an eye. He saw the supreme value of every individual knowing the high price He was here to pay for them! By not subjecting others to society’s broken human value system, He protected His mind from persistent self-evaluation of where He stood in that system as well. He was free to love and enjoy others without fabricated filters deciding who was more or less worth his time and attention.
His identity was secure.
We talk about identity a lot in the Church, but it’s a vague word to grasp sometimes. I like to think of identity as the truest essence of who you are, including your innate calling and purpose as an individual. So putting your identity in something is going to that thing and asking: “Tell me who I am! Tell me what makes me unique! Tell me what my life is for!” A secure identity is one that doesn’t change depending on feelings or circumstances because it was put in, or found in, utter Truth.
And boy, did Jesus live his Truth! Besides regularly calling Himself the “son of man,” a phrase literally meaning “human,” but culturally associated with The Messiah, there are more instances where Jesus describes His identity; to name a few:
- “I am the bread of life” – John 6:35, 48
- “I am the light of the world” – John 8:12, 9:5
- “I am the door” – John 10:9
- “I am the good shepherd” – John 10:11
- “I am the resurrection and the life” – John 11:25
- “I am the way, the truth, and the life” – John 14:6
- “I am the true vine” – John 15:1
These were all truths Jesus learned about Himself not by putting His identity in the attention, opinions, assumptions, and judgements of other people, but by putting His identity in His Heavenly Father, the One who loved Him since before time, who created His purpose and identity in the first place.
He wasn’t careful about with whom He spent His time.
Often times, our response to being tossed by the waves of the social world and almost losing ourselves in the undertoe is to listen to what our well-meaning mommies taught us: be careful who you hang around. It sounds sensible: the energy of those with whom you surround yourself will rub off on you, so stay away from the Negative Nancys and Going-Nowhere Neds in favor of all perfectly kind, supportive, successful, comfortable friends. But now you are forcing your friends to carry the burden of giving you your value and identity, a burden meant only for God. Casey made a really great point here. When your identity is secure, when you know your value and the value of others, and your purpose is love, you are free to just be a light, molded by a loving, perfect God, rather than by the rest of us who are still figuring it all out too.
Go be free!