celebrate or compare

It’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m scrolling through my Facebook news feed.

Another buzzfeed article.

More funny youtube videos.

Happy birthday wishes to a friend.

Some political thing going on that everyone has an opinion on.

Yep, another engagement.  That’s 4 so far this month.

Oh…. looks like my friends went hiking yesterday.  Wow, looks like they had fun.  Weird…I wasn’t included…

I wasn’t included.

Sometimes through social media.  Sometimes because you hear the stories a few days later.  But always that nagging thought, “I wasn’t included”

I remember a season of my life a few years ago when that “I wasn’t included” feeling was particularly acute.

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Life was in transition.  I had just celebrated the marriages of a few close friends, and a few more close friends had graduated and moved away.  In the span of a summer, it felt like my social circle completely dissipated.  There were a few people I had met recently, and was hoping to get to know them better.  And while we would spend time together occasionally, I remember feeling like I kept seeing pictures on Facebook or hearing about the fun things they were doing that I hadn’t been included in.

Over time, new friendships solidified.  And rather than feeling left out, I decided to get ideas from the fun things I saw people doing on Facebook and start planning my own fun adventures.

I wish I could say I never get that feeling of being left out when I scroll through Facebook.  But the truth is, I see people who I think are really great all having fun without me and there’s always that initial realization that I wasn’t included.  However, what I CAN say is that while there might be that momentary twinge of jealousy, I’ve learned that I have a choice in how I respond.

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When I hear about things I wasn’t included in, I have a choice.  I can compare, and start feeling lesser-than.  Left out.  Excluded.  I can wallow in self-pity and insecurity.

Or I can celebrate.  I can celebrate that people I care about are having fun.  I can be excited for the ways I see community forming.  I can be inspired by fun new ideas I hope to try myself someday.  I can be happy for my friends because I know they had a great time.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of the difference between comparison and celebration for a while.  One of the verses that came to mind was the phrase “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”  I’ll be honest….I’m much better at remembering phrases than where things are actually found.  So I had to look it up, and I wasn’t surprised at all when I found myself in Romans 12.

Romans 12 is one of the great passages in the Bible about what it looks like to live as a unified community.  In the midst of encouraging the community of followers of Jesus in Rome to use their gifts to serve as a unified body, love one another, live in harmony, contribute towards the needs of others, and not seek vengeance, Paul instructs them to also “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

When I hear that good things are happening in the lives of others, I want to be the kind of person who celebrates, not compares!  And on the flip side of that, when I hear that hard things are happening in the lives of others, I want to be the kind of person who enters into their pain and is present with them so they know they are not alone.

I definitely get that there is a basic human need to be loved and feel included.  I’m not trying to invalidate that need.  I’ve struggled myself with being hurt in this area.  What I’m trying to get at is that there are some healthy, life-giving ways to go about trying to get that need met, and there are some really unhelpful if not destructive ways to engage with this need.  Seeing other people having fun brings that need to the surface and makes us aware of it.  And once you are aware of it, you always have a choice about how you will respond.

I have a few scattered thoughts about this struggle, and things that have been helpful in my own journey as I work towards learning to celebrate the good things in the lives of others instead of comparing.

START AT THE BOTTOM

In any conversation about our needs, we have to start at the bottom and work our way up.  Underneath all of this, we find the basic human need to be loved.  And much in the same way that thousands of counselors and psychologists have counselled millions of married couples that no spouse will ever meet all your needs, I would add that no friend or group of friends can fill your need to be loved.  There’s one person who can do that for you, and He is always going to be there for you.  There’s one person who can give you value, worth, and identity, and He has already bestowed these richly.  There’s one person who has invited you to be a part of His family, and always has open arms for you.  There’s one person who is always ready and willing to listen to what is going on in your life, and eager to spend time with you.

Ask yourself this question:  “Am I looking to people to give me something that only God can give me?”

I know this is hard.  I know that sometimes God feels really far away, and people are flesh and blood right in front of you and sometimes all you want is that physical presence of being with people who care for you.  Some days, no matter how deeply rooted you are in the love of Christ, this will still be hard.  Until we’re on the other side of death, we live in a world marked by unfulfilled desires.

And so I’m not trying to be harsh when I say this, but sometimes we need to be reminded of some truths.  Like your life is not simply about getting your needs met.  As followers of Jesus, we’re called to die to ourselves.  I’m pretty sure this includes dying to my needs.

Jesus exhorts us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).  And the amazing thing that happens as we orient our lives around God and his kingdom, and not around ourselves, is that we find our needs getting met in deeper and more profound ways than we ever could have by trying to meet them on our own.

We have to build our lives on the foundation of who God is, what Jesus Christ has done for us, and how the Holy Spirit is actively at work in our lives today.  Yes, there will still be days when we feel lonely or left out.  Yes, it still sucks sometimes.  But the more deeply I have understood the love that God has for me, how God is present with me in all things, and how God has granted me worth and identity far beyond anything I could have ever achieved on my own, I find myself needing less and less from people.

IT’S NOT ALWAYS PERSONAL

About a year ago, I had the privilege of hearing Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church down in San Diego and author of several books, speak at a conference.  He gave one illustration that I have continually referred back to.  In fact, it helped me move past some of the hurt from my past when it felt like people weren’t making room for me in their lives.

He instructed us to think about the base plate of Legos that you used to play with when you were a kid.

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Let’s say that for the typical person, there are 64 available connectors.  That’s actually pretty high, but go with it for the sake of the illustration.  As people go through life, Legos, or relationships, start getting stacked on these connectors.  At some point, people reach maximum capacity.  There is simply no more room to keep adding Legos.

Sometimes you’ll meet someone and want to be friends with them.  But the problem is, their Lego base is full.  No more available connectors.  It’s not personal.  They probably even think that you’re a fabulous person and they wish they had a place for you to put your Lego.  So rather than walking away with hurt feelings, we need to understand that some people simply are already at relational capacity.

This freed me up in so many ways to stop feeling hurt or left out by people who didn’t include me.  It didn’t have to be that I wasn’t fun enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough.  So instead of trying to figure out what was wrong with me, I simply started looking to invest relationally with people who seemed to have the space and capacity for new relationships.  Rather than getting frustrated by trying to connect with people who were unavailable, I looked for other people like myself:  people who had room in their lives, their schedules, and their hearts to build new friendships.

Sometimes there’s only 5 seats in the car, so only 5 people can go.  Or 4 tickets left.  Or a max of 8 people to keep a dinner party as a small and intimate gathering.  There’s only so many connectors, and so much room for Legos to fit.  It’s not always personal.

COMPARISON KILLS COMMUNITY

You’ve heard it said that comparison is the thief of joy, and you’ve probably experienced just how true this saying is.  But I would add that comparison is the killer of community.

When we constantly compare ourselves to others, we put the focus all on ourselves and how we are feeling.  We only consider our own apparent needs, and not those of the others in the community.  We compare, and we try to put our needs above the needs of others.

Comparing is all about me.  Celebrating is all about seeing the good in others and rejoicing on their behalf.

Comparing demands that anything that is done for one be done for all.  Celebrating sees that community is happening and that’s something to be excited about.

Comparing can lead to others hiding the good things going on in their life because they don’t want to provoke jealousy or hurt.  Celebrating puts the good things on display and encourages more of the same to keep spreading.

I learned a valuable lesson from my dad in this area.  My dad loves to give good gifts to his children, and there have been years when I’ve been incredibly blessed by what my dad gave me for Christmas, or my birthday.  But there were other years when one of my siblings got the “best gift.”  I learned that it was no good comparing because it was up to my dad who he wanted to bless, and I learned to be excited for my family member.  And if I did complain that it was unfair, I was reminded that my dad didn’t have to give us anything at all!

When someone chooses to do something nice for someone else, or bless them with a great gift, or plan a special time with them, it has no bearing whatsoever on you!  It’s not about you!

GIVING IS BETTER THAN RECEIVING

Instead of asking who will include you, start asking yourself who you can include.  Instead of demanding others be a better friend to you, start being a better friend to others.  And don’t just reach out to the people who already look like they have a lot of friends.

We all want someone to reach out and include us.  But who are we reaching out to and including?  If we all sit around waiting for someone to initiate, nothing ever happens.  Rather than seek out the people who are already connected and try to make them include you next time, look around and ask who you could possibly invest in and spend time with.

You saw people having a fun weekend in LA?  Great!  Find someone who didn’t go either, and invite them to plan a trip with you.  Ask your friends who did go what their favorite spot was, and be sure stop by and check it out.

CONNECT TO INDIVIDUALS, NOT  A GROUP

So there’s a fun group of people that you want to be included in.  You know how to be connected to a group?  By being connected to individuals.

This is a hard question, and I’m sorry if I’m being harsh.  But too often I myself, or I see in others, a desire to be included in a group.  But why?  Do we even know the people in the group well?  I don’t want to just be included in a group for the sake of being in a group.  I want to be with people I care about, and who care about me.

It’s easy to want to attach to a group.  It can provide a false sense of security and belonging.  But at the end of the day, a group doesn’t care for you.  A group doesn’t include you.  A group doesn’t call you.  People do that.

Start trying to connect more and invest relationally with individuals.  Build healthy relationships with individuals.  Call people individually and ask how their week is going.  It’s not about the group.  It’s about the people.  Invest in the people, and see what starts to happen.

BE CAREFUL OF SOCIAL MEDIA

There’s studies and statistics out there enough to justify another 5 posts, and this is already getting way too long.  But social media fuels comparison, and it’s making people miserable.  So if you struggle with comparing yourself to others, it might be good to take a break from social media.  Delete it from your phone.  Take a week off from checking it.  Do what you need to do to get to a better place, and then re-evaluate what place it should have in your life.

 

I struggle with this.  So much.  Please believe me when I say that these are all things I am still learning, and the process is slow and painful.  But more and more, I know I have a choice.  When I realize I was left out of something, when I feel excluded, I can choose one of two ways to respond.

I can compare, wallow, and feel sorry for myself.

Or I can celebrate, and reach out and ask who I need to include as well.

This has only been about the individual response.  The role of community and our responsibility to reach out and include others is an entirely different topic.  But you and I don’t have control over what other people choose to do or not.  We do have control over how we will respond when we feel left out.  We can have it push us closer to God and talk to him about these feelings that are surfacing, drive us to him more to look to get our needs met in Him, and celebrate on behalf of our friends.  Or we can compare and drive a wedge right into the heart of community.

You always have a choice.

 

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in the midst of chaos

The good thing about jet lag was I woke up plenty early to see the sunrise.

It was the third morning of our trip to Israel and our last morning staying by the Dead Sea.  Not wanting to miss this last opportunity, my roommate and I slipped out of our hotel room and slowly strolled down the street and across the sand.  Two other friends had also woken up early and were already sitting on the beach.

None of us morning people, and all before our morning coffee, not many words were spoken and we all sat in silence reflecting as we watched the sun rise over the Dead Sea.

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As I sat, I read part of Psalm 89:

I will sing of the lovingkindness of the LORD forever;

To all generations I will make known your faithfulness with my mouth.

The heavens will praise your wonders, O LORD;

Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones

As I read and prayed in the serenity of a sunrise, reflecting on God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness that I have seen in my own life, and as more vacationers slipped into the water for a relaxing morning swim in the Dead Sea, my mind wandered to the land around me.

One of the most  common questions I received about my trip was about the safety of going to Israel.  Before I left, people asked if I was worried, or if I would be safe.  Since returning, people have asked if I felt safe while I was there.  I understand (and appreciate) the concern people had over visiting Israel!  

Even as I sat on the shore of the Dead Sea, water quietly rippling up onto the sand, and spa-goers peacefully floating and soaking in the minerals in the water, I looked across the water to the mountains that marked the country of Jordan.  Jordan has become home to millions of Palestinian and now Syrian refugees as they flee the civil unrest going on in Syria.  Traveling north less than 100 miles along the Dead Sea is the West Bank, one of the Palestinian controlled areas of Israel.

And yet the sun kept rising steadily.  Water kept rippling quietly on the shore.  Spa-goers kept floating peacefully.

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In a country that has been torn apart by war, surrounded by political instability, I sat on the shore watching the sunrise and soaking in the peacefulness of the moment.

In this world of ours, we see see truly incredible beauty, peace, and goodness existing right alongside unspeakable evil, sin, and brokenness.

There is terrible woundedness, and yet glorious redemption.

To live in a fallen world is to live in this tension of brokenness and redemption.  Evil and love.  Conflict and peace.

This is true for the world, and it’s also true for the human heart.  What exists as a macrocosm for humanity as a whole exists as a microcosm in our individual lives.  

We’re broken but we’re redeemed.  We sinful but we’re forgiven.  We’re proud and selfish but we’re capable of great love and mercy.

In your life, you might have a day, a week, or a month where it feels like everything is falling apart.  And yet in the midst of the chaos of your life, there are also moments of peace, beauty, and goodness. 

You are never all broken.  Your life is never all bad.

Even in the midst of conflict, evil, sin, and brokenness, beauty is breaking through.

Beauty will always break through.

Peace can always be found.

Hope is always available.

And so as people who have found hope, peace, forgiveness, and love in Jesus Christ, we need to proclaim this to the world.

Creation continues to proclaim the goodness of God.  Sunrises and sunsets.  Water washing on the shore.  Nature continues doing what it was made to do, and in doing so reminds us of the One who created all things.

How much more so do the people of God need to continue to proclaim to a world that suffers deeply that we have found hope.  That we have found peace.  That no matter how bleak the situation seems, there is still a God who deeply loves them and offers them a second chance.

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