I opened my Strawberry Activia Yoghurt at lunchtime and felt the crushing demand as the whole lid peeled back. I’d seen and heard this message before. Not just on the shiny foil lid but in a gazillion other places. Self improvement or upgrade is big business and it’s on offer everywhere. [I’m a sucker for the ones promising faster marathon times or better communication skills] I believe a better me exists. Better even than the ‘me’ I present online. [he’s a big improvement on the real thing]. The difficulty is that I’m faced with so many options to bring this guy into existence. Gym classes, running magazines, church conferences and strawberry youghurts all hold out potential. Improvement. The 2.0 me. It can become a little bit draining. Deciding which option to choose takes time and that’s limited. I’ve had this youghurt a lot. My school reports still say ‘could do better.’
I once heard Matt Chandler ask the question:
“Will a better version of me be the solution to my dissatisfaction?”
His reply was devastating.
Ten years from now, you with your ripped up abs and dollar bills falling out of your pockets, that guy will disappoint you also.
It’s a bit bleak. I know what to do. Make sure my kids don’t make the same mistakes I did. Live my life through them and urge the boys to become the updgraded version I always hoped I’d become. [You’ve seen how that goes on the touchline on Saturdays.] It’s horrible. It’s unbearable pressure as a 6 year old feels the weight of his dad’s frustration. The child fails to meet the weighty demand to be a better version of his father. It crushes him.
So what should I do with the demanding yoghurt lid, and every other appeal to improve? Martin Luther once said that the law was a
voice that man can never stop in this life.
We’ve got an allergy to judgement that we can’t seem to shake. The accusations and measuring rods pop up all over the place. Internally and externally my 6ft 4in frame still feels short.
People themselves can represent the law to us (and us to them!). For example, a particularly beautiful or successful person next to whom we can’t help but feel inadequate. Or maybe a boss whose very presence makes us feel like we are not working hard enough, no matter how many hours we put in. They are not the law, but that is how we perceive them. Tullian Tchividjian
What am I to feel as I hear Jesus say:
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I think I’m meant to feel the impossibility of that. To die. Only then can I be raised by another. I think I am to give up hope. To experience defeat. To see that when it comes to my best, it will never be enough. To lean not on my own understanding but instead – trust another with all my heart. The problem is that I would far rather be told what to do than “there’s nothing you can do.” It’s much more infuriating, humiliating and exposing.
“Guess what? You’re powerless.”
That’s harder to hear than ..
“Here’s what you need to do.” “Ten ways to have your best life now.”
At least then I can fix it. Right?
Christian life is all about learning to live with impossibilities. Discovering I cannot fix it. Not only learning to live with them, be distracted from them or conquer them myself. It is about savouring impossibilities as a way to enjoy God.
Jesus once responded to his followers questions by answering
With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God
This is faith. Faith that is directed away from my development, enhancement, improvement. Belief that true life is not found in me. Even the best version. The gospel is good news to everyone who feels short.
The only people who get better are people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway.
Steve Brown, Scandalous Freedom
John the Baptist’s confession gives us the language of progress in the kingdom of God.
He must become greater; I must become less.
Get that on the yoghurt lids. Get that on our lips.