I got into a conversation last week about life points.
We were at a conference for ministry leaders – an incredibly encouraging environment, but one that can often foster insecurity. I heard many passing comments comparing one’s ministry to that of the host congregation. It’s hard to not think grass is greener or covet someone else’s calling.
That’s not where I found this infrequent, but unkind streak of insecurity bubble up. I feel unequivocally called to where I am serving. It’s unique with little opportunity for comparison. It’s challenging and not where I would like to see it be in the long term, but I’m good with it making steady progress. God is at work and I’m truly grateful he’s invited me along in what he’s doing at the university. But there was something else – an unexpected undercurrent that swept out my feet.
The conversation was silly. A few of us were standing in awe of my friend, Dave, who has a house, a car, and a limo he has for fun. We joked about how he had racked up some major “life points” with these big ticket items reflecting what it means to be accomplished in the USA. A few other friends there are in their last year of seminary. They shared dreams of having a house and steady income with benefits. I pointed out that their marriages and children carried high value in life points.
And before I could put it in check or even realize it, there it was. My insecurity on display.
I am not a homeowner, nor do I have a husband. I am not a mom, nor a master’s degree recipient. Where many of my friends have already had two children, I have already had two different ministry Calls. As a girl in her late 20’s, my life points felt so far off par. Dave offered encouragement. Places I’ve been and connections made most certainly hold some point value, he suggested.
As much as I know my life is richly blessed, in that moment, it didn’t seem like enough to balance the scale. For exception of my career, my deficit in “what really matters” seemed so insurmountable. I wondered if one could ever file for life point bankruptcy and get a pass to start over. Or perhaps there was a club I could join with others below the curve of life points in the event that my high scoring friends got wise and drew a cut off line. Insecurity is ugly and unholy--making it difficult to love ourselves and others--and I was wearing it like my favorite sweater.
God’s perfect timing lined up the next conference speaker. He shared his story of a near death experience and how it caused him to ask, “would I be satisfied if this would’ve been it?” He spoke on value, worth, and perspective. He challenged us to be part of big, awesome, creative schemes for the Kingdom that bring us joy, but reminding us that we only ever have value because our names are written on the hands of the crucified and risen Christ. I was taken back as that very verse from Isaiah 49 had made its way onto my dresser mirror months ago. I’m grateful for God’s powerful reply of truth to my overwhelming sense of inadequacy.
As I drove home that day, I began to think about Jesus. That’s always a good thing, right?
He wasn’t a home owner. He didn’t have a spouse or kids or a booming business or the highest accolades. If Jesus were measured by our American Dream life point standards, he would earn a failing grade. And that deeply comforted me. Not that any of the big ticket life point items are bad at all—most are incredibly good and worthy of pursuit. But Jesus came with one Kingdom job to do. The value of his life was marked by obedience and love. He invites us to have our life reflect the same. In Matthew 22, when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.” In John 14, he explained, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” Whether or not God’s plans for my story include a mortgage or a wedding or another diploma, they include opportunities for obedience and love.
I chided myself for my fixation on life points. After all, even if I did reach a point goal, that amount would no longer suffice. Insecurity is a prison made of doubt in our identity as God's children. It's a prison that keeps us from celebrating others' points, keeps us from freedom and peace, keeps us chained to the approval of others, keeps us from walking confidently in our calling. I decided instead of judging myself and others based on a ring on the left hand and a set of keys to a door that’s theirs, I needed to start celebrating a new scale.
Nobody could ever earn enough points to be more than filthy rags in God’s sight when it comes to achieving our own way to righteousness. Sin accompanies every point gained. However, I think about what holds value in the economy of God’s Kingdom of love and obedience—the moments where the Kingdom comes among us and heaven rejoices.
Thinking of someone else over myself would get some celebration. Asking someone about their story and choosing to listen with care before launching into my own would get a few points. A high five for being kind to someone who is rude and without tact. A fist bump for being humble and asking for help. A smile for dinner invites that feed bodies and souls. Applause for not spending money on that unnecessary something I can’t seem to leave behind. An “atta kid” for not just slopping through things last minute and at minimum, but giving my best to honor God and serve others in my work. Hands in the air for choosing not to share a word of unhelpful criticism, complaint, or gossip. Joy for speaking honesty and truthfulness, deep love and encouragement. Celebration for making thoughts captive to Christ. Cheers from heaven for releasing a grudge and letting go of anger. A happy dance for beautifully bold and loving proclamation of the Gospel to one who’s yet to call Jesus “Savior.”
I think of the sweet moments of redemption throughout Jesus’ life. The moments of seeing, acknowledging, touching, and healing the lowly – women, Gentiles, prostitutes, tax collectors. Great acts of love that heaven rejoiced in. And the moments of obedience – overcoming temptation, fulfilling prophecy, submitting to the will of the Father in the garden. Seemingly insignificant happenings – love and obedience – become the most important. This is exactly how God works.