Thursday, October 29, 2015

Having It All

Within my faith there is a popular heretical offshoot known to as The Prosperity Gospel. You may have heard it referred to with other terminology, Health/Wealth, Name It/Claim It, The Gospel of Success, what have you. Basically, it is a warped understanding of Christian doctrine that teaches that as long as you do the right things, believe the right things, say the right words, and check the right boxes (which usually involves sending some guy on TV in a suit a check), God will hop to and begin to make you wildly successful in every area of your life. It promises prosperity in finances, good health, and security in all things worldly and temporal. It defines the love of God as wanting only the best for His people in this world (if only they would demonstrate enough faith to lay hold of what He's all-too-ready to give them).

It is a lie. Christianity is about far more than earthly wealth and good fortune. But, the Prosperity Gospel has made a lot of its proponents very rich both because people are gullible and because it's very tempting to believe that God doesn't exist for any higher purpose other than to fulfill one's every wish.

There is a non-religious version of this idea, as well. The only real twist is that the source of the successful, perfect life resides in each one of us and not in God. Just yesterday I was skimming around social media (I don't recommend it) when I happened upon a lady who captioned one of her pictures with something along the lines of, "The one thing I want everyone to know is that they can have it all: the job, the body, the spouse, the life..." Of course, what she means (and what she no doubt spends the majority of her time on social media espousing) is that you can have the best/perfect/greatest version of all of those things. long as you do what she tells you do, stay plugged into her social media networks, buy her products, and listen to her advice, presumably forever.

Now, I'm not calling into question the motivations of people who want to spend their time trying to help others live better lives. There's nothing wrong with that. What I do have a problem with, however, is attempting to sell people - through religion or empowerment or self-esteem or whatever - on the idea that life is completely malleable, within our control, and up to us. That life is what we make it. That we, regardless of circumstances, have the ability to turn each and every one of our dreams into absolute reality.

Now, again, please don't get me wrong: I am definitely not trying to say that we have no responsibility in our lives to work hard, pursue our dreams, and be willing to do what it takes to go after what we believe our purpose to be. I absolutely believe in each and every one of those things (anyone who has spent any amount of time reading this blog already knows this). But, there is a huge difference between encouraging people to follow their dreams and telling them that anything at all that they can imagine can be theirs. Let me first make a few salient points:

1. We do not control our circumstances. It's tempting to believe that we can make our own luck, that we create our own opportunities. What power that would be, right? Some of us have even seen things in our lives fall into place in just such a way as to make us believe that we actually caused fortune to smile upon us. But, let's think about all this for just a second. Consider this metaphor: a musician makes a record. The record is released, marketed, advertised, promoted. Now, do any of those things, either the production of the record itself or the marketing campaign behind it, actually force people to buy the thing? Of course not. Now, the idea of marketing, of course, is to convince people to buy the product, but convincing is not forcing. All kinds of factors go into the success of a musician, but not a single one of them involves holding a gun to a million people's heads and actively compelling them to make them a star. The truth is, quite simply, that we cannot control all of the circumstances that contour our lives. As much as you may attempt to guide your life in certain directions, none of us has the power to keep sickness at bay, prevent the economy from going south, guarantee that car accidents never happen, or direct any one of millions of other things that affect our lives without asking our permission. Beyond that, none of us had a single say in so many things that determine our lives from the very get-go: none of us decided how talented we were going to be, how athletic, how intelligent, how capable, how attractive, what body type or metabolism we were born with or what socio-economic position or time in history we were born into. The reality is that there are untold numbers of factors that help drive our lives that we have absolutely no control over. This is not at all something to be upset about - it just is. This is life, and to pretend otherwise is simply to delude ourselves.

2. Life is all about trade-offs. The very nature of our lives is that we only have so much time in a day and so much energy or opportunity within that time to do anything. Each of us can only do so much. For me, for instance, going on tour means being away from my family (at least right now). That's a trade-off. Also, an hour spent practicing the drums or writing or working out means an hour not doing something else. The very nature of life is that we are limited. We can only do so much before we simply can't do anymore. We need rest. We need to recharge. The notion that IT CAN ALL BE YOURS attempts to convince you that you have no limitations, circumstantial or otherwise. Or, worse, it tells you that limitations are only in your mind. And, while I agree that there are definitely some obstacles we place in our own way, the truth remains that we simply can't have it all because we can't do it all. Part of becoming a responsible and sensitive human being is understanding prioritization and giving proper attention to the things that really matter. It's not wrong to chase six-pack abs, for instance, but are they really worth it if it comes at the expense of things that matter more? Those are the kinds of questions each of us constantly needs to be asking ourselves in order to become who we were meant to be.

3. Contentment and joy happen in spite of circumstances, not because of them. Some people reading this may be getting the idea that I am encouraging people to settle. I am doing no such thing. But, what I am trying to get people to see is that if you want real, solid, lasting contentment & joy in this life, it cannot be based on what the philosophy & ideology of the world tells you it's based on. You know the one I mean: the one that sells magazines, governs advertising, facilitates celebrity culture, and tells you that you're not enough if you don't measure up the standard that it alone can set. No, to be fulfilled in this life, we need more than what People magazine and the E! Network tells us is worthwhile. What we need to realize is that "having it all" is not what brings real, lasting joy - at least in the ways that the world defines it for us. Contentment and joy are things that last even when your circumstances go south. Do you retain your identity and your individuality even when you lose your job or when cancer strikes? Are you not fully you until you're a millionaire? Is the purpose of life really acquisition? Are competition and comparison really the primary characteristics of a happy person? Are you less of a person because you don't happen to have the kind of face or body that gets paid to have its picture taken? Can you not be deemed successful if you earn less than six figures? No, I think joy and contentment are things that can be yours no matter your circumstances - as long as you're willing to reject this world's notions of what success, beauty, and the good life happen to be.

Don't let them tell you what your life should be.
And this is the main point: you cannot allow the world to determine for you what your life should be.

Both the religious and non-religious version of the Prosperity/Self-Empowerment Gospel have the same fatal flaw: they imply that it is somehow your fault if you don't achieve or acquire all of the absolute best things this world has to offer. The Prosperity heretics tell you that as long as have enough faith and believe strongly enough, God will assuredly grant you all of your biggest dreams. The self-esteem social media gurus lay out their plan for success and insist that you follow it to the letter. Thus, if you don't achieve what you're hoping to achieve, you only have yourself to blame. I mean, heaven knows that the system, the plan, the guide, the tips & tricks can't be wrong. So, that only leaves one unlucky soul to shoulder the blame for the lack of success in your life (and it sure ain't the people doing the selling).

This is a crock, my friends. It is a lie designed to get you to buy (or buy into) something.

Make no mistake: your life is your own. It is not for others to determine how it should go or what it should be like. God made us and gave us our lives, and I wholeheartedly believe that each one of us will answer for how we lived. Not only that, but there will be very real consequences here in this life, as well, for the decisions we make in regards to what we prioritize and what we decide is important.

They want you to believe that you can have it all: the best job, the best car, the best house, the best marriage, the best kids, the best body, the best ____ the best ____ the best ____ the best ____.  And make no mistake: you can have an amazing life. But you will short-circuit that process by insisting that the world define for you what "the best" means. You can spend your life going after what everyone else tells you is the best, or you can choose to be who you were created to be, while letting life, in all its unpredictable fickleness, do what it's going to do.

One final note that I can't help but tack on: the inspirational social media guru who wanted nothing more than for people to understand that they could have it all? Divorced. I didn't dig deep enough to know what exactly caused the breakdown of that relationship and I'm certainly not judging her, but I couldn't help but notice that a person hocking the idea that you can have the best version of everything is herself subject, in at least someway, to the very circumstances she is telling people they can master.

We might insist on being the captains of our own ships, but we do not control the weather. It's alright to not be the best or not have the best version of anything. Life is not a competition and is about so much more than what you manage to acquire while you're here. Don't let this crazy, stupid, screwed up world tell you what your life should be, and don't let them make you feel any worse for not having the kind of life they tell you is a good one.

God made you to be you. Let that be enough.


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