We live in an age where marketing and advertising companies have got a firm grasp on the amazing power of fear and insecurity; and how it can cause people to buy things just to feel accepted, just to feel that they belong or to feel that others find them successful, attractive and worthy of their attention. They are milking this discovery to sell everything from beauty products to luxury cars.
Then social media came along to not only make the adverts accessible 24 hours of the day, 365 days a year, but you are constantly bombarded with updates of how much more beautiful, popular, wealthy, successful or happy everyone else is… compared to you. Those who post are dying for the attention and those who scroll are wondering if they could achieve the level of perfection being portrayed.
In the meantime, the standards of what it takes to be enough keep rising. It’s not enough to just have a job, but you need an amazing career that allows you to travel the world and update everyone on how focused and passionate you are on this vocation that is changing the world and how it’s so much better than everyone else’s 9 to 5 in a depressing cubicle that barely pays the bills.
It’s not enough to just date anyone, but you need someone attractive enough to post on social media without being trolled and someone to take cute selfies with. You need to go on #Baecations, be #CoupleGoals and impress everybody with how happy you are with documented public displays of affection and inspire all those sad and miserable single people who haven’t found this illusive creature called “The One” who will connect with them instantly like two paired Bluetooth devices and they’ll finish your sentences and love you exactly how you want to be loved.
It’s not enough to look attractive, you need everyone to know that you could be a supermodel if you wanted to. You need at least 50 likes per selfie to prove this. You need perfectly shaped brows, a contoured face, long lashes, skin that glows, pouted lips and the body of a professional athlete. You also need to keep this up for as long as you can because old age is taboo, and any sign of aging is a sign of slacking.
Your wedding needs to bring tears to people’s eyes. Your family pictures must be adorable. You need to achieve all this with a post-grad degree, car, and a house by the time you are 30. Maintain all these things while having inner peace and a positive mindset. May the odds be ever in your favor.
If you’re in ministry you need to do all these things with such grace and decorum, that it inspires everyone to be Christian with a perfect family and life because that is the blessing of God. Failure to acquire and maintain these things reflects negatively on the gospel we preach and our testimonies.
We’re running against our biological clocks, we’re racing our peers, we’re striving to retire before everybody else with the biggest loot. Even those who didn’t start out desiring some of these things are forced to run alongside the rest of us for fear of being viewed as unproductive, lazy and ambition-less. Young children are being recruited into the race at a younger and younger age. They need to meet developmental milestones, they need to be in formal schooling environments at younger and younger ages and if they can figure out what they want to be in kindergarten, they can be geniuses, stars and millionaires in their teens with the right coaching.
Each time you reach one level of success, the pressure of the Next Big Thing starts to mount. Once you successfully complete High School, the pressure of what degree, how many degrees and whether you will get a job afterwards starts to mount. Once you finally marry, people start to ask you when the kids are coming. If you have one, they’ll give you a couple of years before they pester you about having another one. It’s no wonder that with each promotion, we still find a way to live from paycheck to paycheck because there’s always pressure to upgrade your living expenses to match your new income bracket and new job title. Suddenly, you can’t still be driving the car you’re driving or living in the same neighborhood or shopping at the same stores.
We are so obsessed with winning that we have invented a way to measure every detail so that we have a universal guide to Winning At Life!
I find it funny how even the disciples came up to Jesus one day, to ask Him how they can become the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Like, how do I know I’m winning in heaven? How do I know that I’ve beat the high score? How do I know that I’m the greatest to ever do Christianity?
The truth is, with measurable goals and timelines, comes pressure and comparison.
Pressure can be good sometimes.
I know people that seem to “thrive” under pressure. It’s a prized skill in any resume to proudly say that you work well under pressure.
The natural habitat of individuals with this prized skill is high-rise office buildings, in a sports arena or even in public office. These are the heroes of our modern society because they set goals and achieve them, no matter what. No excuses. Their drive to succeed supersedes the odds that are stacked up against them and they are confident in their ability to succeed.
Whenever these individuals are given a deadline to accomplish something, they pull all-nighters and their adrenaline levels keep them focused on meeting it. Whenever they are given limited resources, they get creative. Whenever they are given a lack-luster team to work with, their leadership abilities shine.
The only catch to this is that the minute the demand exceeds our perceived ability to meet it, it is no longer pressure but stress. Combine this stress with an identity that is rooted in the acceptance of others and a low self-worth; you have quite a formula for chronic stress and depression.
It is stressful to be faced with a challenge that you believe you don’t have the required skillset to overcome. It is depressing to face that reality every day, knowing that you might never resolve what is conflicting or challenging you. It weighs down on your self-esteem and your ability to do easier things because your inability to meet the standards in your mind have made you a failure in your own eyes. Your inability to overcome a fear or get over trauma or break out of an addiction or be happy with where you are in life will make you feel that something is deeply wrong with you and that is a crippling state of mind.
I have had seasons in my life of a lingering and deep feeling of dissatisfaction with my lot in life. It was stemming from insecurities that I have had for seemingly my whole life, a keen awareness that I didn’t make friends very easily and didn’t fit in at school, a sexual assault I endured during high school, toxic relationships in my youth and later on, even the pressures of marriage and adulthood. I would have this constant feeling that everything was unfair and the people closest to me were not being there for me in exactly the way that I want them to. I felt that with each disappointment, and each compromise I was making, I was losing control of my life and it was spiraling into destruction because it was not turning out exactly how I wanted it to. It was frustrating that I was not meeting the deadlines I had dreamt up when I was younger, marriage was not a fairytale, parenthood was exhausting, and I was not in the career I had studied for. I felt that I was disappointing my parents who had extremely high expectations for me and had believed that I would be a child prodigy who would later be a PhD candidate but I fell in love, married and started a family in a whirlwind somewhere in the last year of my degree against their best wishes, and haven’t gone back to school since I graduated. My past made me feel inadequate for ministry so I felt that I was unworthy of my husband because I didn’t feel I was the perfect Pastor’s Wife. Six years later, the façade I had been able to keep up while we were dating was now shabby and tattered with holes where he could see the real and imperfect and broken me behind it all.
Some lows were so intense that I developed a form of eczema all over my hands and feet that my local GP prescribed cortisol cream for… When I said I wanted to deal with the root cause of the rash, he said “all I can give you are anti-depressants, because you’re the root. The more anxious and stressed you are, the longer you’ll have to deal with the skin condition.” I had been dealing with the rash and it was getting worse for almost three months and in my desperation, I thought the best solution would be to “abandon ship” – leave the marriage, leave ministry, leave my job, and everybody in one fell swoop! That would do it!
I felt I needed a “Do-Over” of my entire adult life.
I was on Facebook the other day and saw a quotation by Hollywood actor – Jim Carrey – that I had initially lumped together with other nonsensical evaluations by celebrities who are out of touch with reality; but as I thought about what he was saying more and more, I discovered that at the root of it all, he was making a great and significant point. He might not be a psychologist or a scholar, but his frank evaluation of what fundamentally goes wrong with the mental health of those who experience depression was extremely relatable. He said: “People talk about depression all the time. The difference between depression and sadness is sadness is just from happenstance—whatever happened or didn’t happen for you, or grief, or whatever it is. Depression is your body saying, I don’t want to be this character anymore, I don’t want to hold up this avatar that you’ve created in the world. It’s too much for me. You should think of the word ‘depressed’ as ‘deep rest.’ Your body needs to be depressed. It needs deep rest from the character that you’ve been trying to play.” – Jim Carrey
It all boils down to: Self Acceptance. Without it, you will exhaust yourself aimlessly trying to be enough and never feeling that you have arrived at your goal. Peace and joy will elude you because they don’t come from external factors, but they are produced internally, but you don’ have the ingredients to produce it.
Who are you?
Where do you derive your value?
Why do you matter?
Who is allowed to speak into your identity/Self Concept?
We can’t allow our past, our circumstances, the sum total of our failures and weaknesses, or even the people in our lives to be the answer to those questions because that changes all the time and is insufficient. People can let you down. People can mis-judge you and under-estimate who you really are and what you carry. People can project their own insecurities on to you or try to cut you down to size because they don’t want you to outshine them. Sometimes these people are the ones who are the closest to us. Not all parents are aware of the power of words that they speak over their children. Not every intimate partner or close friend is in a secure and healthy place mentally, emotionally and spiritually to build you up and hold you up.
In Jeremiah 17: 5 – 8 the Bible says: “Thus says the Lord,
This means pay attention, because these are words from the mouth of God Himself!
‘Cursed is the man who trusts in and relies on mankind, making [weak, faulty human] flesh his strength, and whose mind and heart turn away from the Lord. For he will be like a shrub in the parched desert; and shall not see prosperity when it comes but shall live in the rocky places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
If you turn to the world and seek validation, affirmation and security, you will be like one wandering around in a desert. Thirsty. There is no nourishment in the world. There is no fulfillment in the world. There is no lasting joy in the world. The compliments and smiles come and quickly dry up, leaving you thirsting for more. Even if prosperity comes, you will not see it or enjoy it! Look at all those Hollywood celebrities and musicians who have money and fame and the adoration of many fans… they do not see prosperity when it comes, and their souls are in the rocky places of the wilderness. They’re lonely. They’re empty. They’re searching. They don’t feel it’s ever enough. They don’t feel that they are ever enough. They always have to push the envelope. Do more. Be more. Reveal more.
Blessed [with spiritual security] is the man who believes and trusts in and relies on the Lord and whose hope and confident expectation is the Lord. For he will be [nourished] like a tree planted by the waters, that spreads out its roots by the river; and will not fear the heat when it comes; but it’s leaves will be green and moist, and it will not be anxious and concerned in a year of drought nor stop bearing fruit.”
Whenever I felt heat and drought in my life…. Oh man… My joy shriveled up and my smile faded, and I would be filled with anxiety. Why was this happening? Why me? Poor me! I would thirst and gasp for fulfillment. I demanded to know that the people around me really cared and really loved me. I would stop bearing fruit in my life. I could hardly keep a job. I would get so unproductive that I would then get depressed over how unproductive I was or look for an outlet that I knew would hurt my Christian walk and start a cycle of shame!
Thank God for revelation! Thank God I took an honest look at myself and committed to understanding what the problem was and committed to co-operating with whatever it took to change.
As a Christian, God’s best for me is what I stand on. His word goes from everlasting to everlasting and never changes. I can allow myself to dig into it and allow it to inform who I am.
Pastor Paul Nyamuda; in his book titled Relational Maturity says: “Most people have not come to a place of accepting ‘this is who I am, this is my station in life, this is where I am at’ and until you get to that place, you are not in a position to receive what God has in store for you. You need to have a biblical self-acceptance, where you accept what God says about you. You accept the label that God has placed onto you. God says ‘you are the aroma of God in Christ, you are the apple of my eye, you are above and not below, you are living epistles,’ and as a Christian you accept your new self in Christ.”
You need to escape the pressure trap.
- Join a Godly community. Join the local church. Have someone you can talk to.
- Live from a place where you know that you have an eternal purpose and value. You are worth the sacrificial blood of Christ.
- Accept grace and favor. You have the approval of the creator of the Universe.
- You were loved and Christ died for you in your sin, shame and weakness. There is nothing you can do to add or take away from that.
- You are supernaturally empowered to succeed. Do not be anxious. Where your abilities end, the blessing of the Lord completes the job.