Saturday, June 6, 2015

What Are We Striving For?

From optimal health, to financial wealth, to start-up acumen, to stellar talent, to physical prowess, to our “best life now ” to “balancing life, family and work,” to impressing the neighbors, to showing off and to “sticking it to the world,” humans strive

As I’ve grown into a person in my 50’s, and a Christian worldview has beneficially informed me, I’ve become more and more dispassionate. Things I used to get riled up about seem foolish to me now; what I understood to be life-defining decisions are embarrassing to think about from today’s perspective. So much of it was about me, my identity in the eyes of others, the attempt to measure up to a societal barometer of ambition and “having arrived.”

Materialism coated my exterior striving and reflected positively, I imagined, on my interior. It made me (so I hoped) cool, cutting edge, willing to defy norms, determined and adventurous.

But we can choose any persona we wish in which to strive, and window-dress it to our specifications, especially with Facebook. Oh I do thank God there was no Facebook when I was in the thick of myself.

I suppose this all adds up to narcissism, the definition of which I think best applies here being “self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects” and “a grandiose view of one’s talents and a craving for admiration.”

Now there are degrees of this, and narcissism may be too strong a word. But nonetheless, it gets to the root, I believe, of the cause of much striving: self-centered desire to not only look good to one’s self and others, but to look better than most.

So where does God fit into all of this?

For me, God began to chip away at my striving via a newspaper gig I got right around the time I became a Christian. He quickly downgraded my “star journalist” delusion by assigning me to a newspaper that garnered no respect in the public eye. People did not rush to return my phone requests for interviews, and their response to my proud announcement that I wrote for the local paper came with a scowl and malcontent mumblings.

God used my first official stint as the next potential Pulitzer Prize winner to put me in my place. I earned barely $75 a pop for stories about Pinewood Derbies, the man who plays Santa Claus every year at the mall, and a guy on a summer-long kayak adventure. I received no added respect because of my byline. In fact, most stories, because they didn’t involve a celebrity, a murder or a local politician caught in some untoward act, were probably only read by the subject themselves and their families.

That was the first in a long line of humilities, or what I like to call replacing my worldview with God’s.

By the end of my stint at the newspaper, and having my ego utterly pulverized, I was finally no longer writing for my own pride and accolades (how could I, when everyone loathed me and the paper).

It was then that I began writing about WWII and Korean War vets, a Holocaust survivor and missionaries in Africa. Greatly humbled in their presence, I was finally telling their story for them.

I believe I ended well at the newspaper because in the end, it wasn’t about me. And that is when I could walk away from the job, knowing full well that I wanted to write, but didn’t care if I or my writing ever earned a prize or respect from anyone. I was on my way to understanding the act of living under the authority, accountability and affirmation of God alone, within His parameters.

I believe some of the greatest artistic, medical and scientific discoveries and creations have come from dysfunctional and even narcissistic or self-centered individuals. But it is often believed that their craft is what drove them to distraction, depression or drink. 

I ponder whether striving within their own attempt to control and direct that ability didn’t have even more to do with it? 

Webster’s defines striving as “to devote serious effort or energy” and “to struggle in opposition: contend.”  I believe that under God we do the former, and under our own power we do the latter.

And while God does want us to “devote serious effort or energy” to the abilities He gave us, He doesn’t want us to go it alone, without Him. Since He is the creator of our gifts, He will align us as to how, when and where to use them, along with how much to use them. God will not give us abilities and then leaves us to ourselves to scratch out a living or to “contend” with our gifts as some kind of nemesis.

He will also put any capabilities in proper perspective, with our first priority being serving our children and spouse. Striving often eclipses this first God-ordained responsibility.

The point of it all, the point often mentally noted but not at all adopted, is that all that we do that is difficult, or that we are good at doing, and that we have been equipped to do is not for our glory. It is for God’s. And while that might seem narcissistic on God’s part, if you know God you know that it is everything but. Living to God’s glory is God’s wonderful mercy to free us from ourselves and the demons that are often incurred by incessant striving.

God’s glory is for our benefit, not His.

Striving, i.e. living within our own efforts, ideals, “should’s” and worldly expectations, is a dead end; the road, as Talking Heads sings, “to nowhere.”

Persevering in God, however, and living according to His Kingdom economy, wisdom and joy, and doing all things in obedience to Him for His glory, will cease the striving and all the baggage that goes with it.

Copyright, Barb Harwood

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Philippians 2:3

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Col 3:17

“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.” James 3:14

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” James 3:16

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