I am fairly good at mourning with people when they mourn. Tell me how sad you are, and I’ll cry right along with you. I’m not as good at rejoicing with those who rejoice. If I’m honest, I’d sometimes rather have your good thing. I’m half glad for you and half sad it’s not me.
A friend liked another pal’s blog the other day. Anyone else would think it harmless. At first, I felt insecure about my writing. Then, I questioned what she felt about me as a person. By the time an hour had passed, I’d decided she hates my blog and thinks I’m a terrible writer and a bad mom. And she probably thinks my hair is too big.
I can’t tell you how much energy I waste nursing my own insecurities. I know better, but on my worst days, it doesn’t seem to matter how much affirmation I receive—I’ll still focus on what I don’t have. I’ll focus on how other people have more friends, are more gifted or are better parents.
And this competition will wedge into my mind, straining to be the voice that pushes me to fight to be the best or the most liked or the most talented.
There is a scientific phenomenon in the plant kingdom known as “plant root competition.” Basically, plants in under-nourished soil tend to compete with each other for nutrients below the ground. A plant will actually go on the offense to hoard nutrients and keep them away from other neighboring plants. It may be a survival tactic, but it backfires. When plants compete for nutrients, they end up taking more than they need at a given time for natural processes. These plants over-allocate nutrients for food and the overload ultimately affects the growth and reproductive processes. When neighboring roots compete, the plant who has over-allocated nutrients dies quickly because it loses the ability to reproduce.
Fighting for approval and respect is an anxious, awful way to live.
Could it be that we’ve become approval consumers? We act as if there isn’t enough love or attention in the world, so we have to lock some down before our next-door neighbor or colleague or college friend gets it first. This competition leads to the mentality that no one’s going to take care of you, so you better grab what you can. Dine and dash—emotionally pillage the world so that you feel loved and affirmed. You may have to judge, compare, belittle or invalidate, but it’s the only way to survive.
I wonder why we are so easily threatened when others get approval or attention? Do we really think there’s a limited amount of affection in the world? Are we afraid of ending up empty handed and lonely because we didn’t perform for approval?
Walter Brueggemann talks about the currency the Israelites had to use in Egypt. They had to hoard and work in anxiety. They were valued based on their ability to build up the enemy’s empire.
That’s why the wilderness was such a hypothermic shock: Israel had to learn to listen to a God bigger than Pharaoh. As they crossed the Red Sea, it no longer mattered how well they performed. It mattered how willing they were to rely on a God who provides. You don’t survive by working harder or faster than everyone else. You survive by listening to the God who rescued you.
No wonder we want to return to the old currency-- we know how to use it. The voices of insecurity always tug at our shirts, asking us to make eye contact with them.
But God provides manna. It’s nothing fancy. Israel misses the meat, the fish, the melon and cucumber of Egypt. It may be a rat race, but at least we understood that system.
Now, you wake up and there’s enough food for everyone right on hand. And if you try to return to the old ways of Egypt by hoarding, the manna will rot and breed worms.
If the plants compete with other plants, they won’t make it. They weren’t made to live by taking matters into their own hands. Plants were made to grow as they remain. They grow as they depend on the sun and water and the root’s inherent design. Any form of competition leads to an early death.
We were made to receive what we need from a God willing to provide. We no longer live according to the ways of Egypt. We don’t have to perform to be loved. We’re free to be planted and learn dependence. Your well-being isn’t based on how much approval and love you can lock down. Your life rests in your willingness to listen to the one to whom you belong. And it means you can rest instead of fight. You can rejoice with others who rejoice. You can celebrate even when you feel like someone’s living your dream.