Get Over Yourself Already: Living How God Wants Us to Live

‘He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.’  John 12:25-26

It’s so easy to lose focus. When I spend too much time inside my own head, thinking about me and my desires, problems, and concerns, I get depressed. I get anxious and stressed out. I get distracted and off-kilter.

I just listened to a TED talk by Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal. Among many other fascinating things, she mentions in her talk an interesting discovery about stress and compassion, noting a study that links stressful life experiences to early death (unsurprisingly). The twist is that, as she puts it, “people who spent time caring for others [helping family members, friends, community members] showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. Zero. Caring created resilience.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that caring for others instead of focusing on myself is good for me and a possible remedy for stress and anxiety. Father Evan Armatas, host of the weekly call-in show “Orthodoxy Live” on Ancient Faith Radio, once addressed anxiety during his program. He said that people who suffer with anxiety should make time to help others; he gave the example of serving in a homeless shelter, but the advice can apply to any kind of service. I’ve been trying to implement this in my life lately by focusing on what I can do to serve my husband and our marriage instead of thinking about what I should do to serve myself.

And I’m happier. When I stop thinking about me all the time and focus more on caring for other people in my life, I end up happier and more at peace than when I’m only thinking about myself.

It’s one of those things that seems counterintuitive at first (if I want to be happy, shouldn’t I focus my time and energy on me?), but, at the heart of things, makes perfect sense.

I believe our technology-driven world makes it easy to tend towards narcissism and, in turn, depression. There’s plenty of discussion out there about the possibility that social networking sites like Facebook make us depressed. I can only speak anecdotally, but I have noticed that the more time I spend online, looking in on the lives of others, the more dissatisfied I start to feel with my own life. The dissatisfaction ranges from vain concern over my appearance (I’m not as thin/tall/pretty as her) to worry over the health and progress of my relationships or personal goals (Maybe their marriage is stronger than mine; Maybe that friend from undergrad is smarter and harder working than me because she’s already got a master’s degree).

Of course, I know that most peopleincluding meput a brave face on their online personas. Most people aren’t going to air their dirty laundry in a Facebook status or confess their deep insecurities via Twitter. Yet even though I know that, I still find it so easy to fall into the belief that everyone else is doing better than I am, in one way or another. And this certainly makes sense: the more time we spend comparing ourselves to others, the more we’re going to focus on what we lack rather than what we have.

Interestingly, I never worry about whether someone’s prayer life or relationship with God is better than mine. The more I think about myself and compare myself to others, the more trivial my concerns become. Perhaps this is one of the devil’s tactics for tripping us up; if he can distract us with thoughts about things that are less important, we’ll have less time and energy to focus on what truly matters.

The reality is that twenty or fifty or a hundred years from now, no one’s going to remember (or care) exactly what we said, but they’ll remember if we spoke with kindness and love. No one’s going to remember if we looked perfect in every Facebook photo, but they’ll remember if we acted gracefully and selflessly. In the end, no one’s really going to remember whether or not we ever got published, or became a CEO, or traveled the world. We are less likely to be remembered for everything we do, and more likely to be remembered for how we live and what we use our lives to accomplish. And it’s not just about how we’re going to be remembered; it’s also about what we’ll have to show for this gift of life we’ve been given when we someday stand before God. Above all, in the end, it’s about becoming the person God wants us to be, rather than the person we think we should be.

And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?’  Mark 8:34-36

Image via Flickr.

On Facebook and Narcissism: When Crafting Your Own Self-Image Goes Too Far

I’ve always had an odd relationship with Facebook. I joined as a freshman in college, fresh out of the MySpace era, more concerned with who was in my Top 8 than whether or not I should “like” someone’s status. Back then, you had to have a .edu e-mail address just to join the mighty ‘like’ machine, but eventually everybody and their mother (and, in my case, grandmother) was on Facebook, talking about their lives.

Early on, I discovered the joy of self-referential experimentation in the form of ‘witty’ status updates. I wanted to play with the form of a status update, the way that we often used them, and how they may end up being perceived by others. My magnum opus, if I may be so narcissistic to refer to any status update of mine as such in a post about Facebook, was quite early on in my public online career:

[James Arnold is] off to breakfast. Then off to calculus. Then off to work. Then probably cashing his check and going to lunch. Then preparing for Don Rags, feeling stalkerish?

-James Arnold, Facebook status update, 2006.

Perhaps outdated now–note the bracketed language at the beginning, which Facebook automatically included at the front of each ‘status update’ in that era–the post is indicative of the sort of involvement many in my generation have with social media: we deconstruct, to some degree, but mostly we just play. Facebook had introduced a news feed, and many felt as though it was encouraging people to develop stalker-like tendencies. Similarly, when my brother joined Twitter, we had a conversation entirely built on hashtags. What was once meant to be searchable became a language all on its own.

A few friends recently shared a rather scathing article about Facebook usage. The article, which you can read here, fills out seven ways “to be insufferable” as you fill out that little “What’s on your mind?” box that Facebook really wants you to answer. The examples range from understandably frustrating (“Ugggggghhhhhh”) to the mild (“Finally finished my paper”) all the way to the stuff that keeps me coming back to Facebook (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. ~Proverbs 3:5-6″; or, in the author’s words, “An unsolicited nugget of wisdom”).

While the article is filled with cynicism (“99% of the people on your Facebook friends list don’t love you”), it makes some good points. We could learn to moderate what we feel the need to put onto our social networks. If we are motivated by how others view us, entirely, then we can end up crafting our own self-image with a lack of authenticity; we’d become disingenuous.

But here’s the deal: everything you do changes the way people view you. You can live every moment consumed by your self image, or you can honestly express yourself. Just like some people are quick to speak and others take their time, so might some people simply have a personality that prefers to share, rather than prefer to reserve.

If you only post those status updates that will definitely endear you to your 800 friends, then you’ve fallen into the exact same trap: you’re catering to an audience, rather than being ‘genuine.’

I don’t think writing with an audience in mind is a bad thing. Neither do I think that writing to no one in particular is necessarily harmful or frustrating or annoying. You aren’t insufferable if the only things you post on Facebook have to do with what you ate that day; you just might be publicly boring.

If we value people, and I really hope we do, then what we find interesting should be broader than just personal intellectual stimulation. Much like we can learn to appreciate ‘pop’ culture in ways that are bigger than mindless consumption (and still entertaining), so should we remember that the people around us are intrinsically valuable; people are made in the image of God, and we should treat them that way. What my friends ate for breakfast might not be interesting–I’m not saying that the article above wasn’t without merit–but their thoughts on what is happening around the world ought to be. If this means I need to have a smaller friends list, just so that it can be digestible, so be it. But the point is simple: Facebook is just one medium where we interact with one another, and we ought to be showing each other grace.

My Facebook status updates may be about me, but I hope yours aren’t.