Live & Labor: Life giving friendships

CJ Quartlbaum

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There are certain narratives we all believe.

Stories that have been told to us when we were younger that we still carry today. These narratives were planted like seeds in our minds as children and have sprouted into fully grown plants in our adult lives. Perhaps it was a word about your looks in passing from your mother or a harsh quip about your intelligence from your father. These words sit in the back of our minds and create doubts and insecurities that feel impossible to shake. These feelings grow in our hearts and minds and haunt us. They become the voices in the back of our heads that we can’t seem to shake.

A few weeks ago I was cleaning out some boxes and came across some old journals. I found one from ten years ago and another from twenty years ago. As I read them, my eyes started to fill with tears—not just because of the palpable sadness and brokenness on those pages but because many of those same feelings live inside of me today. The three big lies that have dominated my life are: I’m alone, I am not good enough, and I have to do it all on my own. These are the shadows that have followed me for as long as I can remember.

You are probably thinking about the lies and narratives that have tried to control you right now.

It doesn’t help that we live in a society that breeds insecurity. It prizes specific attributes like wealth, weight, status, height, etc. and with social media, we spend our time looking at other people’s highlight reels and comparing them to our behind the scenes footage. This only feeds the beast of our insecurity, driving us into further despair.

We’re Not Alone

One of the biggest lies we tend to believe is that we are alone. We are the only ones going through it and feeling the way that we feel. No one is exempt from feeling inadequate or insecure in some area of life. People spend a lifetime chasing the thing they think will solve their issues only to get it and find out that it’s not enough.

Comparison is the enemy of joy but we can’t help ourselves. The natural inclination of our hearts is to compare ourselves to those around us. I know many people who are well off yet don’t think they have enough because they know people richer than themselves. They look to their wealthier neighbors and say “it must be nice to be them” not realizing most people just want to be where they are.

Pat Riley, NBA legend, had a great observation about this. He called it “the disease of more.” He used this term to describe why championship teams don’t win more championships. The reason is because they start to self-destruct. Everybody wants more: more playing time, more endorsements, more accolades, more attention. More more more. Rather than be content with where we are and what we have, we just want a little more. Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, says it is all vanity, chasing after the wind.

This disease of more, the feelings of inadequacy, is pervasive in our society. Much of the stress that people feel can be traced back to comparison and the narratives they have believed their entire lives. There was a comedian who once said that every pair of Jordans he buys now is simply to make up for lost time. Because he grew up poor, he now uses his wealth to make up for the childhood luxuries he missed out on (Explains my sneaker collection).

Many of us also experience what is known as Imposter Syndrome. This is where you think you’re not good enough and live insecurely and worried that you are going to be found out as a fraud. You get the job but don’t think you belong there. In your friend groups, you are nervous they will figure you out and disassociate themselves. In dating relationships the fear is that your significant other will leave once they know the real you. In all of these situations we try to walk, talk, and look the part in the hopes that we will be accepted.

These are feelings as old as time itself. There are several examples of this in the Bible.When God told Moses to go speak to Pharaoh, his initial response pertained to his inadequacy. Moses had a stutter and therefore did not feel like he was the right person to do it. Jeremiah was given the hard task of preaching to people who would not listen to him. This left the prophet despairing and depressed, at one point asking God to just kill him.

Enemy Attacks and Biblical Wisdom

The lies that attack your identity are works of the enemy. We must remember that our war is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and wickedness in high and low places. To put in the words of Pusha T: “I heard that the Devil’s new playground is boredom.” It is when we get lost in our thoughts, in the idleness of our minds that he is able to launch those deadly, soul destroying attacks.

This is why 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be sober-minded and alert, “Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” Our minds are fertile soil for him to sow lies. If he can get you to doubt your identity and therefore your status with God, then he can trap you in slavery to sin. If we cannot find our identity in Christ, we will surely look for it somewhere else.

This is why the Bible puts so much emphasis on the way we think. Christianity is not about emptying your mind to reach some perfect mental state but rather filling it with thoughts of Christ. Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above, Romans 12:2 tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, 2 Corinthians 10:5 admonishes us to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

When it comes to doubting our identity and wrestling with those narratives that try to overtake us, the battle starts in our minds. So much of what happens in our lives starts there. The enemy knows this—that is why it is his preferred battlefield.

It is why we spend so much time overthinking and overanalyzing every situation. Our feelings of inadequacy are often the result of too much time talking to ourselves. We turn over every interaction and strange comment a million times in our heads. We question our actions and think of all the ways we could have done things differently or the ways in which we could have been different. We must spend more time talking to the one who created us instead of ourselves.

Biblical Wisdom

We need constant reminders of not just who we are but who we belong to. Psalm 139 tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. This is more than a cute verse to put on your coffee cup. This is a beautiful truth. God knit you together in the womb. He created you and loves you. He is the one who defines your worth, and no one else can do that. Further, if you are a Christian, then according to 2 Corinthians 5:17 you have been made new. The old you is gone and the new is here.

Defining our worth cannot be found in ourselves or anything around us. These things will always prove insufficient. But if we have trusted in Jesus then our vision has been changed and thus where we look for our hope has been changed. Therefore, we look up and not in.

I have to constantly remind myself that I am 100% loved by God. I don’t need to be a better version of myself for God’s approval. God looked through the expanse of time and said he would send his only son to die for me, and for you! God saw fit, for no reason other than his good pleasure, to make us a part of His family.

You don’t get that kind of security anywhere else. Being skinnier won’t solve your worth issues. Finding a spouse will not fix your loneliness. Accumulating a massive amount of wealth won’t fill the God-sized hole in your heart.

Many of us know these things to be true, but still struggle with believing that our hope is found in changing what we believe is wrong with us. I am living proof of this. Those big lies that I have been fighting my entire life are still present today. I often wonder if I am really alone or if I am truly good enough.

Romans 7 is a good reminder that there is much we may wrestle with until we are made completely new in Jesus. We live in a sort of middle time period scholars have dubbed the Already But Not Yet.

We have already been made new in Jesus, we have already been redeemed, we get to experience his goodness now but not fully in the way it was intended. We still live in a world marred by sin and therefore we still experience the haunting of shadows, the wrestling with sin, and the temptation to find our identities elsewhere. Until the day comes that we are completely made new, these are the battles we have to face. This naturally leads to the question: How do we fight?

How to Fight

The key of fighting well requires a constant reorienting of our hearts. This is the battle in our hearts and minds to place Jesus on the throne of our affections and worth. If we try to place our hope in catching up in the areas we feel inadequate, at some point we will realize it is a vain and futile effort.

There will always be someone or something better. You will lose skill. You will age out. The latest version of the gadget will render yours obsolete. Your spouse will not complete you. Kids make terrible gods and you will run yourself ragged trying to manufacture the perfect lives for them so that they are a good reflection on you. Trying to plug the holes in our hearts with anything or anyone but Jesus leaves us as dogs chasing their tails. It’s cute but goes nowhere.

The only secure hope is to root your identity in Jesus. Whenever you’re feeling inadequate, you must look to Him for fulfillment. You draw closer to God through prayer, fasting, and community. You need strong Christians around you to push you to be more like Jesus, and who will remind you where your identity should be found. These are the kinds of people who you need to learn to trust enough to let inside and have the ability to speak plainly and truthfully about where you stand.

These will be people who love YOU for you. Not the you that they want you to be or the you that you think you should be but you just as you are. The you that God loves. God is not waiting for some future version of yourself. Jesus knew what he was purchasing on the cross and said yes anyway. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. You are deemed worthy just as you are, there is no cleaning up that must be done in order to be accepted.

Root that truth in your heart, because nothing else will work.

CJ is a writer and speaker from Brooklyn, NY. He is a husband and father of 2 special girls. His work is centered around the Gospel, culture, racial justice, personal finance, and living the authentic Christian life. His work has been featured in publications including The Witness, Christ and Pop Culture, and The Gospel Coalition. He frequently gives talks at churches, colleges, and high schools around the country. For CJ, it’s all about simple teachings on living in the way of Jesus. You can contact him at cquartlbaum28@gmail.com.

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