Who I am = my performance + others’ opinions
Sadly, this formula ultimately fails everyone who trusts it. Even those who are over-achievers and eat from the top of the food chain will soon find out that everything they built their name and identity on will perish as fast or faster than their own aging bodies.
Consider the following quotes from people you would think would be deeply satisfied with who they were:
My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. That’s always been pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that I’m SOMEBODY. My struggle has never ended, and it probably never will. ( – Madonna, Quoted from Vogue, in What Jesus Would Say, by Lee Strobel)
I had no idea who I was, or what I could be away from tennis,” says Chris Evert, recalling the final years of her career. “I was depressed and afraid because so much of my life had been defined by my being a tennis champion. I was completely lost. Winning made me feel like I was somebody. It made me feel pretty. It was like being hooked on a drug. I needed the wins, the applause, in order to have an identity. (- Chris Evert, retired tennis star, Good Housekeeping, October 1990, pp. 87-88.)
“Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, ‘Hey man, this is what is.’ I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think, ‘God, it’s got to be more than this.’ I mean this isn’t, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.” When Kroft asked him, “What’s the answer?” Brady responded, “I wish I knew. I wish I knew. I love playing football and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I’m trying to find.” (– Tom Brady interview with Steve Kroft, 60 Minutes, 12/23/07.)
Whoever (or whatever) has the power to define and control who you most truly and intrinsically think yourself to be is what most controls you. This is your deity. The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” If you are driven by the insatiable desire to measure up to the world’s definitions of success or significance, you have become an idolator.
This is covetousness. And covetousness is idolatry.
Thomas a Kempis, the 13th Century priest, had a much healthier formula for personal meaning and success:
Thou art not better if thou art praised, nor the worse if thou art dispraised. For as thou art, thou art. And whatsoever may be said of thee, thou art no better than Almighty God who looketh upon the heart will witness thee to be.
In everyday language he’s saying, “At the end of the day only God’s opinion matters. So focus on Him and listen to Him.”
Being controlled and bothered by what you perceive to be the opinions of others about you is a cruel taskmaster. It self-centered bondage.
The most glorious and joyful experiences of life are moments of self-forgetfulness. (Piper has said something to this end.) A stunning sunrise or sunset, a majestic mountain view, or scanning across the Grand Canyon, or holding your newborn child in your hands, all have power to deliver you (at least for a moment) from the bondage of self-engrossment. But this by itself can still be idolatry! Only when beauty and wonder cause us to worship the Creator/Artist/Redeemer in back of it all have we become truly free.