Photo Credit: Sandy Normand
It happens more often than I would like to admit. I create images of people I encounter in my life based on my own assumptions, expectations and experiences. Celebrity culture, social media and busy-ness all contribute to a normalizing of my impressions of people. And then, I get a chance to have a play-date or coffee with a person I have met only in passing, and am shocked to discover someone far more real, complicated and beautiful than my imagination could dream up.
Even more uncomfortable is discovering that others do the same with me. It is tempting to feel trapped by or resentful of those expectations and assumptions, which in fact call forth courage to simply and gently allow who I really am to rise to the surface. At the same time, waves of guilt run from my tense shoulders through my broken heart into my churning stomach, pressing my feet into the earth, inviting me to get grounded; I help no one when I project an image of myself having it all together. I frequently “succeed” in presenting a dishonest picture of myself. Any fooling of anyone is pure foolishness.
My projections of what others are like, who they are, which camps and boxes they fit in are grounded in a destructive habit of comparison. I get caught up in images when I am not rooted in being enough as I am. Comparison is a fence I lock myself in willingly, rejecting outright the freedom that I was created for and creating a false sense of safety by isolation. When God freed the Israelites from slavery and gave them the Ten Commandments, he begins by saying, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.” He then goes on to tell them how to live to avoid enslavement, not by the Egyptians, but by the way they live within their freedom.
At the end of a list of fairly serious prohibitions (murder, adultery and theft), God gives his people what seems to be a final, lesser commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour” (Ex 20:17). Focusing on what others have or appear to be distorts our vision and stops us from discovering our neighbours and receiving their beauty and reality as well as our own.
God not only freed our ancestors in faith; he has also brought us out of slavery. We may not have walked the dry land of the Red Sea, but Jesus died and rose again and invites us to do the same. We were not made to compare ourselves to one another, to look longingly at the gifts given to them and not to us. Comparison is built on an assumption that God measures us all by the same stick, but God looks at us and sees our unique and unrepeatable beauty, our perfect imperfection. He expects nothing other than for us to be exactly who we are. God invites us to love each other the same way.
This fall two of my favourite writers released new books. I read their blogs, and I imagine that we are friends in real life, instead of just in my head. Because of the honesty they embrace in their writing, I have a sense of their strengths but also their failings. They write with a vulnerability that invites me to choose freedom over fenced-in images.
Both of these women write words that send me instead of threaten me. Jen Hatmaker, in For the Love, writes, “Let the rest of us grin at you while you run your race. Let us be proud. Let us be inspired and grateful that God made you to do this thing like a boss.” (She blogs about her chickens here.)
Sarah Bessey’s new book, Out of Sorts, is all about how we wrestle our way to faith, finding new answers in the midst of uncertainty. The end of her book is a prayer, and I can feel her praying it for me: “Wake up! Your life is happening, this is where God has placed you. May you become a parable of hope and renewal right where you are.” (Sarah has more freedom words here.) Jen and Sarah help me to claim my place in God’s kingdom: I am a burning bush in a world that God desires to set on fire with love.
Flames come in many sizes and shapes, and they all have the same capacity to offer warmth and light to a world that has too much cold darkness. Because God has set us free, we get to see and use our own flames and fan the flames of one another. You with your flame, and me with mine, we are doing this building the kingdom thing, right here and right now. Not only do I not have to look over the fence with assumptions, expectations and carefully constructed images, I don’t need the fence.