The Bible says, “The fear of man is a trap” (Proverbs 29:25). Yes, relationships are what life is about but there’s more to it, isn’t there? Why do we care so much what people think of us? If we get our perspective out-of-balance with the purpose our relationships are meant to serve, it’s easy to feel judged, in-competition, overwhelmed, insecure, etc.
There are many activities we should/would/could be doing to reach everyone else’s standard of what’s socially acceptable, if that’s what we wanted. We all feel it… that pressure to be or do something that we aren’t doing or working to be. It starts with a normal question like: are you married? or Which university are you attending? or What’s your job? Oh, you’re not?! Really? People have a way of telling us, even just by the expression on their face or tone of voice, whether or not they respect us for the choices we’re making.
As a young teenager, I used to stand in front of the mirror and cry. Are you surprised? This is what pressure does! I see it happen every day to girls who watch happy, thin, fashionable, beautiful young people in advertisements, on television, even in their list of friends on facebook. The desire to achieve that perceived measure of success is intense but, unfortunately, it’s also completely unrealistic! In the U.S. now, they’re treating teens for what clinical psychologists are calling Facebook Depression (see AP article). Instead of crying with the majority of girls for that abstract, evanescent image of happy, beautiful, popular, and successful, today I’d like to encourage the hope that we could be living for something more than we see. We can never reach all those intangible, visual goals in our own minds anyway, can we? We will always be frustrated and unsatisfied because what we think we see doesn’t actually exist. The pressure is painful and pointless.
As one gets older, the expectations are similar but more grown up with tangible symbols of status associated with the image we want. Namely, we feel pressure to get a job and get married. This pressure comes not only from society but from personal acquaintances and extended family members whose good opinions matter to us. Case in point, before I left the U.S. to fly to Asia, a friend of mine (a young man) came for a visit and asked me when I was going to stop traveling and start a family of my own. He even went into great detail trying to convince me that I wasn’t always going to be doing what I’m doing now and that I needed to start “planning for my future.” (?!!?!!) He wasn’t the first and probably will not be the last to assume that traveling with my family isn’t building for the future.
For the record: the family relationships and goals you have right now are also your future. Submitting to your parents isn’t a hurdle you have to eventually get over; it’s your greatest privilege and honor.
As a young person with feelings like everyone else’s, the idea of moving on to a family of “my own” sounds really nice until I go through the list of what I’d be forced to trade. I also get this creepy picture of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings clasping his hands greedily every time I say or hear someone else say “my own”. If, for me, building for the future meant marrying a gorgeous, young, financially capable and responsible man who wrote me passionate love songs, told me I was beautiful every day, and showered me with gifts, I could have had that by now. To most girls, this would have been a reasonable choice for the next phase of life. Especially in the U.S., a comfortable living can be achieved this way (if comfortable is your goal). HOWEVER, an abundant, fulfilled life is what Jesus came to give according to John 10:10. Not fulfilled in the sense that we would have every “natural” desire given to us (because, as we all know, some “natural” desires aren’t good for us – as in eating more food than we need, the desire to kill when we’re angry, to swear, etc.) but every RIGHT desire would be satisfied. This, for me, includes a passion for traveling all over the world, making friends of every race, seeing thousands of first-time decisions for Jesus Christ each week, and teaching on family relationships, innocence, and choices. Why would anyone ever want to marry just to get married, get a normal job, or make money if they had to give all that up to do it?!
What’s right in terms of future and purpose in life for each person is as diverse as the fingerprints on the human hand. It’s impossible (and harmful) to cram everyone into a pattern of sameness with everyone else or to pressure individuals to live in conformity with the social norm. “Normal,” if it’s a word used to describe your life, is just another way of saying “mediocre.” Do what’s “normal” (e.g. living out a selfish agenda to fulfill every natural desire) and the extraordinary destiny you could be living is lost. Mankind might miss yet another priceless masterpiece to the mental trauma of an untransformed mind. This would be a tragedy.
You know it – I know it. We’ve all felt it. It’s why, for every job, we require two weeks paid vacation. Like CO2 pumped into a balloon, the toxic pressure will make us explode if we don’t seal the hole. We have to stop letting the world blow a bunch of hot air into our heads and start listening to the Truth for a change. Jesus Christ can give every individual achievable goals, right desires, and happy, fulfilling relationships to plug this hole in our lives if we’ll let him.
How important are our choices? If I hadn’t chosen to trust, not only my family, but God with my time, my gifts, or my ideas about who I want to be and what I want to do with my life, I wouldn’t have ever met or gone out with Ariana and Brandon to eat Mamak food for breakfast at KLCC in Kuala Lumpur or gone punjabi suit shopping with Sheila and Desmond (my Indian brother and sister) or spent an evening laughing with Elena, Suyi, M.J., Debbie, and my siblings (I hope you all are reading this). Who needs all the other measures of status or success when we have opportunities for sweet, loving, fun, and fabulous abundance in a life of selfless serving (as opposed to self serving)?
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11-13. When the pressure’s on, blow it off. If you’ve accepted Jesus Christ and put Him in control of your life, you’re in good hands.