Seeing Beyond Ourselves

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Living Stones Series: First Published in All Around Old Bridge Publication – February 2019

By Pastor Lloyd Pulley

Does it ever seem like most everyone is living a perfect life except you?

In our social media age, we are bombarded with images and videos of people experiencing their best times. We scroll endlessly through pages and pages of people on elaborate vacations, going on glamorous dates and generally doing the things we wish we were doing.

Sometimes, these images encourage us; we genuinely celebrate the success of those we hold most dear and are delighted to see they are doing well. But sometimes, rather than making us happy, they make us envious. As the great American playwright Gore Vidal once said, “every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.” Sad, but true for many.

Seeing what seems to present the perfect lives of others makes us feel like something is lacking in our own lives. We have even invented an acronym for this that is now wildly popular. FOMO: fear of missing out.

The level of anxiety this produces cannot be underestimated. It can be crushing to measure yourself against what you think to be the norm, which makes you feel you are always coming up short. This is a recipe for depression or, even worse, anger or revenge toward any perceived person or group holding you back. This, of course, feeds into the already frenzied victim mentality.

But, instead of living in an inflated and distorted reality, perhaps it would help if we had a better awareness. After all, many of the divisions among people today come from prejudices which have never been tested. Perhaps the person whose online persona seems flawless may actually be insecure, depressed and lonely. Their attempts to portray a perfect life to you may really be them trying to convince others they have everything together and are doing well. And perhaps those who play the victim are actually hugely popular playing in that role. What can answer this? Surely not heated online debates resulting in bullying and censoring.

It is one thing to conclude hearsay about the other side of the aisle is true, but it is completely different thing to sit across the table from someone, share a meal and let them explain the way they see the world.

For example, February is Black History Month. Being white, I am aware I am limited to fully understand. But as I delve into some of the great biographies of prominent black figures, I discovered that for every one that was bitter and angry over past treatment and wanted to overthrow the present world with Marxian fervor, there were a plethora who drew strength from their difficult circumstances and resolved to rise above them. Joseph is the classic Biblical example of someone who rose above the circumstances of betrayal into horrific slavery by his own brothers who were envious and afraid of him. In the end, he was even able to tell his brothers “what you meant for evil, God meant for good!”

I remember watching the movie Hidden Figures and being struck with how a group of people can be completely oblivious to the experience of others around them. The lesson was clear; those who are observant and seek to break down barriers and engage in genuine conversation will be enriched and enlarged by the experience of getting to know the people personally.

The impact of the Christian message helps me to look beyond labels and recognize each individual with value and respect. Because of the work of Jesus on the cross, barriers are broken down and the small labels we use to divide ourselves no longer stand up to the unifying work that Jesus does in cleansing our hearts from sin. Being made new in Christ means we are able to see each other in entirely new ways.

Rather than living in the echo chamber of our own opinions or depressed at the distorted reality of social media, perhaps it’s time to sit down with someone different from us and hear their story. I love to ask this simple question to people I don’t know – “So, what is your story?” Oh the things I’ve learned and the friends I’ve made from that one question! Just by engaging them in conversation, you might be amazed at how they open up a whole new perspective for you. If you cannot find anyone to talk to, we would love to meet you at Calvary Old Bridge.

Marj Lancaster