So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them: "I'm here to introduce you to this God.... He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him!" ~Acts 17
Scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I saw some decorating photos from HGTV. I looked up, stared at my cluttered dining room table and sighed.
Like airbrushed models in magazines, photo spreads of immaculate and flawlessly decorated homes tease us with unrealistic and unattainable images of beauty.
In “Obsessed with Home Décor?” in Globe and Mail, Adriana Barton points out how our culture’s preoccupation with home decor is related to self-image and self-worth: “Like body image, [the home] has become a measuring stick for their successes and failings — and a full-blown obsession for North American women.” For some, it is yet another misplaced effort to measure up or feel in control as pressures grow in life.
But trying to make our homes look like those professionally styled and lit magazine photos is a losing battle. Our homes can’t match up. Even designers and stylists are afraid to have people over. In the end, notes Barton, our home can become a source of shame.
Men aren’t immune to this kind of pressure. They are “overwhelmed and exhausted by the chase for perfection, too,” says Ashley Strickland in “Defining the New Male Ideal” on CNN.
Unless we are constantly aware of how Photoshopped models, staged homes or mirages of perfection pull us toward unreachable and unhealthy ideals, we can find ourselves struggling with dissatisfaction and shame.
Just as troublesome is pondering how this part of our culture affects our faith.
Our trust in God is thwarted when we — however unconsciously — buy into some false promise of perfection as an attempt to feel in control or measure up. The pressure threatens authenticity. We revert to projecting an outward faith in spite of the condition of our hearts.
Community and relationships are also thwarted. When I posted some thoughts on Facebook, my friend Staci noted that those obsessed with outer image or competing to gain status “have to be slowly suffocating those God-given inner characteristics that make them unique! And isn’t that what makes the body of Christ function … properly? When everyone is embracing who God made them to be, meeting different needs that God created them perfectly to fulfill.”
Church culture isn’t immune. We’re offered visions of faith full of health and wealth and absent of
doubt, suffering, and struggle that conflict with our own messy journeys and
those in Scripture. Theological distinctives or opinions elevated to orthodoxy to compel unity ignore the complexity of our lives together.
All this can leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction, disconnection and shame. We pretend to be one way on the outside while experiencing something very different in our souls.
But Jesus’ way is counter to our culture. It is an invitation to give up control rather than another wearying attempt to take it: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn
the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on
you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt. 11:28-30,The Message).
Jesus offers us a grace-filled transformation into the kind of authentic person he created us to be. He invites us into a community with himself as its center — and we together become an invitation to others who seek rest, restoration and fulfillment.
In the end, those Facebook photos remind me life isn’t about chasing perfection but apprenticing to a Person. And that makes my cluttered dining room table much easier to live with.