I gaze at the Instagram post. She stands there looking glamorous yet approachable, with perfect hair and a dazzling smile. She’s my age and a sought-after speaker with a best-selling book. She’s made it, with thousands of likes and hundreds of comments to prove it. And although my somewhat ordinary life is pretty great, I find myself comparing. A small desire tugs at my heart — Isn’t it time you made a name for yourself?
The thought surprises me. As a Christian, I’m pretty grounded in my purpose in life: I’m here to glorify God and play my role in seeing His kingdom come. For the most part, I’ve found deep contentment and joy in my lot in life, though some things haven’t happened in the timing or exact way I desired. I came late to marriage and became an “older mom” soon after. I steadily built a career, but didn’t have the breakout success of some in my field. Still, I’ve quietly watched God produce a good harvest when I’ve been faithful with the small things.
That’s why this sudden desire to “make a name for myself” was surprising. Where was it coming from? Was it some kind of crazy midlife crisis propelled by seeing others my age achieve more and establish themselves better? I knew immediately that the urge was miles away from God’s desire for me. I’m told to take up my cross and follow Him, to see others as more important than myself, to humble myself, to lay down my life. Yet seeing others gaining influence and “living the dream” was making me feel inadequate, unnoticed and oh-so ordinary.
Getting Beyond the Joneses
Comparing our lives and successes to those around us isn’t a new phenomenon. Think about the well-worn phrase from yesteryear: “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Our parents looked around and felt the pressure to provide the same standard of living as their neighbors — to have the white picket fence and the American Dream. (Read this for more on wanting the American Dream.) Not a lot has changed. But with the advent of social media, branding and platforms, the ability to compare has risen to new heights. So essentially we’re still trying to keep up — we just have more “neighbors” with whom to compare ourselves.
Adding to the self-promotion problem are the experts and influencers who tell us, “Get yourself out there! Offer what only you can. Be the best version of yourself and success will follow.” While it’s true that God has designed each of us with something to offer the world, no amount of influence or recognition will bring true happiness or fulfillment. God didn’t wire us that way. He wired us to glorify Him and make His name great.
The Suffering Servant
As Christians, we look to Jesus as our ultimate example. And as we consider His life, death and resurrection, it becomes clear that self-gain is the last thing on His mind. Consider these words found in Philippians 2:4-6:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.
As creator and king, Jesus had the ultimate trump card, but He never played it. Instead He chose to go to the Cross to save the ones He loves. When He could have made a name for himself, He instead chose to glorify His Father’s name through a sacrificial act that changed the world.
The Jewish Rock Star
Shortly after Jesus gave His life and rose again, this guy named Saul came along. He was a Pharisee who persecuted Christians. But in the Jewish world he had it going on. Here’s how he described himself in Philippians 3:4-6:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Saul was basically the Jewish Instagram star of his day. He had all the raw material to make a name for himself, and he was headed straight for the top. That’s what makes his next words so shocking: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
Saul, who was later called Paul, said: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). Paul was saying that his former reputation and accolades had been utterly put to death. From the moment Jesus entered the picture, Paul’s priorities shifted — to the point that they were almost unrecognizable.
God used Paul’s humility and obedience to move the Gospel forward in unimaginable ways. The apostle went on to be one of the biggest influencers in the early Christian movement, writing close to one-quarter of the New Testament. But throughout his ministry, Paul affirmed over and over again that this movement was not about him, his talent or his influence. In fact, his path was far from glamorous. He endured ongoing suffering, hardship and humiliation for the cause of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Name Above All Names
When I started to have this desire to make a name for myself, the change in my heart was subtle at first. I began to mentally brainstorm “the plan” — steps I could take to realize my full potential in this season and achieve the success I saw others enjoying — work harder, network more, seek out opportunities. My first sin was envy. I wanted the platform, success and life experiences others had. But this led me to the sin of idolatry, seeking to elevate myself instead of God.
As you might have guessed, my plan failed and a couple of big doors slammed shut. But as I sat in the resulting place of discouragement, God showed me something important: The frustration I was feeling came from focusing on the wrong thing — making a name for me — when my purpose, and the only thing that would make me happy, was to make a name for Him.
God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
The reason making a name for myself will never actually satisfy is because I’m designed to exalt a greater name — the name of Jesus. Pursuing anything less will only lead to disappointment. For all God created me to do and contribute in this world, I will never have influence that transforms lives apart from Him.
That truth frees me to follow Jesus’ example to live and love, making the glory of the Father my only goal.
I do this as I discipline myself to put the needs of others first. I do this as I make praise and thanksgiving an intentional part of my day. I do this as I soak my being in the truth of God’s Word and regularly spend time with my Savior. As I internalize what is most important to Him, my own aspirations dim in comparison.
God already knows that this approach to life is the only one that will bring me true joy and contentment. It’s the path to realizing my greatest significance as a child of God. No matter what the experts say, I don’t have to make my mark on the world; God needs to make His.
Copyright 2018 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.