Monday, March 31, 2014

Admiration vs. inspiration

[Yep, once again faith-related writings ahead.]

HINKING for the last few weeks about self-esteem, the sources from which people derive it and the way in which the search for personal validation changes them. Specifically, I've been thinking about the differences between being focused on receiving admiration from mankind and inspiration from deity.

So many people around the world are seeking out personal validation, the need to be loved or admired by their peers. And since we're only human, we do have a very natural hunger for this kind of admiration. We want other people to like us. The trouble comes, I think, when people develop an unhealthy need to be universally admired. For one thing, it's just not possible. Not only do ideas of what is admirable vary from person to person and from culture to culture, but they also vary from year to year. Human admiration doesn't last, and it can turn on a dime. (Ask Lance Armstrong about that.)

I'm as good an example of this as any. Yeah, you may think you like me (or maybe you don't, but for now let's just go with the assumption that you do), but if you're really determined, you can do a little digging and find out all sorts of things about me that you might not approve of -- my political leanings, my religious beliefs, my personal habits and food preferences, the way I look and dress -- and these discoveries might well lead you to stop liking me or associating with me. If I were to rely wholly on human validation for my self-esteem, I wouldn't be able to stay the same being from day to day, or even from person to person. I'd have to become something like a human chameleon, constantly changing my stripes to fit other people's ideas of seemliness, and eventually losing my sense of self even when I was wholly alone.

Seeking inspiration from God is a very different story. If you look to God for inspiration, you will see a long pattern of consistency in principles applied, in rules given, in promises made and kept. But although God is a god of laws, He is also a god of love. You can take comfort, rather than dismay, in the fact that He knows all your traits, good and bad -- even the ones you don't like to admit to yourself -- and that He loves you always, despite your less savory habits and choices. He sees not only who you are now, but who you are truly meant to be. So under the inspiration of God, you will change as well -- but not the way the pitiable chameleons of human validation change. Instead, you are making daily incremental changes to become, over time, more like you -- that is, the ideal version of yourself. If you change only for God and not for the whims of every person you encounter, if God has become the perfect stillness in the center of your soul, you can find the courage to do things that are right even if they're unpopular. And if you try to see things from God's perspective -- that is, if you can understand that God loves and cherishes you in spite of your flaws -- I think you can also learn to do the same thing for the people around you. We could use a little more love and understanding in this world.

Maybe this isn't a popular way of looking at life.  But I think I've already suggested that popularity is not and cannot be my primary motivator. It's nice to be admired by other people, but it's not something I can rely on the way I have learned, and am still learning, to rely on God. That relationship is like nothing else on earth. As human beings we spend so much time comparing ourselves to others, thinking in terms of superiority or inferiority, determining where we fit in the pecking order. But only in the light of God's perfect insight do we see how we really measure up -- paradoxically, less than the dust of the earth and simultaneously of infinite worth to Him.

It's strange and disconcerting and yet marvelously exciting to consider that the most intelligent, powerful, creative, fully alive Being in existence not only takes an interest in us, but loves us. Do you really need a better source of self-esteem than that?

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