The Perfect Parent Illusion

On Mother’s Day, as I sat in church thinking about my journey as a mother (involving 3 birth kids, 7 foster kids, 2 adopted kids), I remembered the pressure I put on myself to figure out how to parent right before my first son was born. I felt confused, frustrated, and worried as I read books that seemed to contradict one another about things like handling a baby’s crying, bonding with my child, and teaching obedience. How could I do it right, if “experts” couldn’t even agree, much less the different parents and mentors in our lives. Now, don’t get me wrong—I still put plenty of pressure on myself nowadays, and parenting teenagers is a whole different ballgame, but my perspective is a little different now.

Early on, I subconsciously believed that if I could just do things perfectly as a parent, then my kids would be guaranteed to turn out great. And I also allowed the perhaps more damaging belief to creep in as well—that if I didn’t do things right, it would be “my fault” if they didn’t end up healthy, well-adjusted followers of Jesus. I think we all know that is a lie, but we still spend a lot of our time acting like it is true, and beating ourselves up for not living up to whatever we see as the standard (somewhat culturally determined, and somewhat affected by nurture, personality, faith, and our individual passions). Sometimes, people swing to the opposite extreme—they justify almost any bad parenting behavior, by just saying “well, nobody is perfect.” I have seen the result of just “not parenting,” and that is not a good option either. Our choices do affect our children, and we should strive to model a good path for them, but we also don’t and shouldn’t try to take responsibility for everything in their lives.

So how do we handle the fact that failure is everywhere, yet we still long for what is good and right, and we truly do want good for our children? It is a tension…I want the best, but I can’t even live up to it, so how can I expect my children to?

Let me share a very brief picture of my “failure is everywhere” experience by sharing two of my very recent mundane parenting fails that might feel insignificant, but are the very kinds of things that plague us. Maybe you can relate—or maybe I am just weird. First, when a certain child left her backpack out (again!) after getting home from school, despite my reminder as she walked in the door, I failed to display patience and to calmly communicate my expectation that she try again and put it away. I instead resorted to sarcasm and a demeaning comment; I felt instantly bad.  Second, when I was at a flea market, I bought shirts for two of my girls, but didn’t get one for the third girl because I wasn’t sure she would like them…but then she felt hurt, and I beat myself up for not deciding to get it for her too. I didn’t want her to feel unseen or undervalued.

I have found, through the hard knocks of parenting so far, that there is no parenting formula, but there are helpful parenting principles. One key principle for me is to both accept and live out grace and truth, with patience.  Successful parenting means that I guide my kids to value what matters most and brings true happiness—having healthy relationships with God and other people, and using what we have to be a blessing. It means that I seek to discover and live out what is right and good, actively modeling it for my children to the best of my ability, yet also modeling the practice of admitting when I am wrong and walking in humility, grace and truth. It means I help them discover the freedom of joyfully doing good in the world—not so that we can earn our place and prove we have value, but because we know that we are already secure and full relationally, with a God who accepts and loves us, and hopefully family that imperfectly roots us in unconditional love as well.

Prominently positioned in our family room, we have a poster with some of our key family principles listed. It says “In our family, we …” and lists things like “choose respect,” “learn and grow,” “obey our Lord Jesus Christ,” “are for, and not against, one another,” “admit when we are wrong,” and more.  We frequently refer to it in the midst of arguments. I confess that I don’t live up to our values in all of my actions all the time, and neither do the kids. So how do I deal with those symptoms of hypocrisy in myself? Well, I accept the truth that I missed the mark and receive the grace from the Lord that reminds me I am his beloved child. I then also seek to extend that to my kids. I have to receive God’s love to be able to offer it freely. Both wisdom and compassion and forgiveness and grace come from God and His Word, and the best way to live them out is to consider and openly talk about these truths and principles as we live life, in the midst of all of its ups and downs.  Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says “And these words that I command you shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

I want to use God’s Word as a guide, not as a cudgel.  Ephesians 6:4 “do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  My deepest hope is not that my kids would be perfect, but that they would think rightly (about themselves, life, love, joy and hope), and that they would let it affect how they live.

So I have to parent with something better than perfection in mind. I want them seeing how I deal with my failures and disappointments. Rather than hate myself for my weaknesses and mistakes, even in my parenting, I can see those weaknesses as an opportunity to live out humility, thankfulness for God’s grace, and contentment in the midst of my struggles. I can keep going, not because I think I can achieve perfection, but because I have hope in Christ, the one who is perfect, and yet compassionate and patient with us. He loves us and gave himself for us so that we can have peace. We can taste it now, and can know we will see its true fulfillment in eternity.

I love my children. Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done, and also the greatest gift!

I am not ashamed…

Growing up in a Christian community in the 90s meant I had some cheezy Christian shirts. One of them was a little illustration of a bunch of different fish going one direction, and then a Christian fish going the other way. It said “Go against the flow.” I think it was supposed to help me remember that, even though it might not be popular to trust God and His Word, it was still worth it.  Nevertheless, something about the way it was framed caused me to understand the verse, Romans 1:16, which I memorized as a girl, with a certain unhelpful lens.  The verse says “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes.” I reinterpreted it with a “Look at me. I am going to stand firm, even if others don’t…” mentality. That “us/them” thinking and the resulting self-centered focus completely misses the point. It isn’t about me—it’s about God.  The verse is actually saying that I have been given the gift of good news—an incredible foundation of hope, love and meaning for life—and I can have the tremendous privilege of sharing that good news with others, so they too can have that hope.

The Apostle Paul is “eager” (v.15) to share the good news broadly with people from all different backgrounds and experiences. He knows that the good news of Jesus transforms people. He wants to invite people into the hope and freedom that is NOT found in being religious and is NOT found in rejecting God and going our own way, but is found in receiving God’s gift of righteousness and life by faith, and then walking with Him by faith.

I believe that nothing in the world can offer peace, love and hope in the midst of a struggling world like Jesus does.  That I see him, know him, see myself the way he does, and love people with the love he has shown me, is absolutely the most important thing about me.  I am not ashamed of him, and look forward to spending the rest of my life journey continuing to follow him and live for him.

Yet it can still feel hard to identify as a Christian.

So what do we tend to be “ashamed” of that feels tied to the trappings of Christianity in this culture? And is that the same thing as being ashamed of the gospel itself? I believe the answer is a clear no. I do, however, need to make sure that the gospel I am proclaiming is the good news that the Bible is actually about—centered on Jesus, not my preferences or my comfort.  I must avoid the painfully common us/them thinking that leads to arrogance, hate and judgmentalism, and instead live as a follower of Jesus, filled with love and humility, rooted in truth and walking in grace. If I do, I indeed will often feel like I don’t fit very well in the dominant culture. The good news of Jesus is for all people and cultures, so it will challenge tendencies in every culture.

Principle-based living and the hard work of nuance.

When I look closely at Jesus’ life, I see that he both loved and challenged every pocket of society, from the deeply religious to the social outcast to the Roman soldiers to the zealots who wanted to overthrow Rome. He was not ashamed of truth, and he determined to live out the will of the Father (Jn. 6:38), even when it meant upsetting the elite of his day. He did not jump on bandwagons or seek out power and prestige, but preached the Word and acted with compassion. He did not just pick what seemed best for him and his reputation, but chose the way of service and sacrifice.

So my standard cannot be to avoid what is uncomfortable. Neither can it be to choose what feels right in my own mind. God’s Word is clear that a gospel-centered life will always include love, not selfishness, as a motivating and animating principle (Colossians 3:14).

We have all heard the proverbial phrase “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” This is the challenge for true followers of Jesus today. We are called to reject the cultural trappings of arrogance and hatred, politics and nationalism, and “look-down-at-others” judgmentalism. When popular expressions of Christianity feel like they are marinated in these cultural attitudes, let’s do the hard work to instead marinate ourselves in God’s Word.  Let us not reject Jesus, but rather get to know him, and make him Lord and King in our hearts and lives. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel…”

[I originally shared this post at, but I wanted to share it here as well.]

The Selfishness Epidemic

I am selfish.

I am needy.

I don’t want to be, but I am like a moth drawn to a flame.

I don’t want to be, because I know that, even when I get or achieve that thing I want, there is just the next thing. The next thing to accomplish, get, experience, feel…

I was playing a game the other day, and I had made my plan. I had a few steps envisioned that would get me into a better position.  Very quickly, every path I had was cut off by an opponent. I suddenly had no plan. I felt like the options were gone, and the whole game suddenly felt very unsatisfying.  I am ashamed to say that I became irritable and rude to my fellow players.  Granted, it was just a game. I could get up, apologize for my sour attitude, and move on with my life.  But what about when life feels like that?

If my life is built around seeing certain things happen, then when more complications come, or my plans become disrupted, it can feel hugely destabilizing.  It is loss.  Similarly, if my desires begin to shift due to disappointments or evolving perspectives, and I don’t even know what I really want anymore, that too is destabilizing.  Part of the problem is that our culture has brainwashed us to think that self-fulfillment and self-actualization are what will lead to happiness. Therefore, if we don’t know what we want, or if we aren’t as good at something as we thought we should be, we can feel like we have failed.

“Self.” “Me.” “My.” Much of our culture says each of us is the center of our own lives. We are each at the center of our dreams and hopes. No wonder selfishness feels so normal. Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation has “self-actualization” as the pinnacle of his hierarchy of needs with the goal of achieving one’s “ideal self.” This ‘focus-on-your-needs-and-achieve-your-potential’ mentality feels very normal in our present-day life in the United States. The theory seems to posit that if we can discover who we are and achieve what we are capable of being, then we can find happiness… This framework can analyze the lives of successful people who made a difference in society and conclude that they achieved self-actualization because they realized their full potential through doing great work for society (e.g., Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela). Therefore—it could be extrapolated—a person who wants to achieve happiness should focus on his development opportunities, and find challenges to enhance his skills and realize his full potential.

I think this framing cheapens the accomplishments of history if they are really about individual “selves” achieving their potential. If we all have this individualized lens in looking at both history and our little dot of a life in the grand scheme of history, do we expect that perspective (e.g., making my goal achieving my potential) to bring peace and satisfaction?  One reason it can’t bring satisfaction is that it is too small and weak. Another reason is that it causes tremendous stress to have to figure out my potential and to worry constantly about whether or not I am on track to achieve it. How do I recover from feelings of failure, except to either lower my standard or re-double my efforts?

For example, I might have a vision for an ideal of mothering that I think I should be able to achieve based on my knowledge and potential. And maybe there are days when I live it out well. But what about the other days where I fail…and what about the uncertainty of the “product” because I can’t actually control if each of my five children will be happy, safe, secure, emotionally/physically/spiritually healthy, and successful in their own lives? To give another example, what about the ideal of career success that I believe, if unhindered, I could achieve? If I am not advancing towards it, peace or satisfaction feel far off, and then I might tend to blame and resent the things in my life keeping me from that ideal of success (maybe even my spouse or my children, who require so much of my emotional energy). I will be tempted to say no to anything that could hold me back, and in the process will undermine my ability to experience or live out real unconditional love, which the Bible describes with words like “it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…” (I Corinthians 13:5-7).

There is in fact a much more compelling vision for life that is not focused on “self,” lived out most compellingly in the life of Jesus. In fact, I believe the real core of human relationships and human meaning in the world must be grounded in love, not self. The only way to move away from my selfishness is to replace myself as the center of my life. But it can’t be another person in my circle. They also can’t handle being the center. None of us have the right gravity. We can’t handle keeping things going without everything crashing into itself. We don’t have the ability to set up the world perfectly to sustain life—spinning at just the right speed, with just the right distance from the sun, with just the right gravity from the moon to keep the tides going, with just the right atmosphere so that the water cycle works, and all the other myriad of details that only God can handle.

So it is God who must be at the center, not me.  But why do I keep trying to claw my way back into the center? I somehow can even make it about me when my children disobey me (don’t they know how hard it makes it for me when they do that?). I make things about me when I worry about possibly offending someone that I barely know, because somehow I think it deeply matters if they think I am a good person. I am not actually that important.

Freedom comes from grounding myself in the love God has so graciously shown to me, and from knowing that, as someone made in His image (Genesis 1:27), I get to reflect his goodness and be part of what he is doing in the world. That means being part of serving other people, seeing them as more important than myself (Philippians 2:3), because I see them as equally beautiful and made in God’s image, just like me.  I can be free to fail, because I know that when I admit my weakness, it all the more reflects just how good God is as he loves and restores and transforms me. I am at rest because I am relationally loved and secure, and I can be part of that rest for others as I share that love with them.

The Eve of Summer

What a school year it has been…I have seen joy and laughter; I have seen uncertainty and pain. Many people I know, especially teachers, have reached points of complete exhaustion along the way. I too have felt the weariness. These two-plus years of “the pandemic that won’t quite end” have taken a toll. I feel it when I sit next to a college student who is uncertain of his skills and afraid for his future. I feel it as I observe the elementary student with social anxiety who isn’t sure who her true friends are. I feel it when I see the young teacher who spent a year teaching online, and a year teaching 25 traumatized kids at 25 different levels, who is now questioning her calling. I feel it on those days when I wonder why I am so tired and yet don’t know how to process the deep emotions I feel; when the tears feel just under the surface and a few notes of a familiar song can spill them out. Sometimes they spill out in hope, after a glimpse of beauty; sometimes they spill out in sorrow, connecting with the pain of those I see or even strangers I read about that somehow don’t feel so distant because of our common humanity.

Treading Water

I am constantly moving
Managing to stay afloat.
I am determined to keep pressing on,
Yet uncertain if I am getting anywhere.

Will weariness defeat me?

I fear if I stop, I will start to sink;
Resting feels out of reach.
I am both inadequate and overconfident,

Thinking I alone must keep my people safe.
Will fear disable me?

I long for more than staying afloat,
Desiring impact, meaning, love, change.
I want to grow and help others grow,
To swim toward a peace-filled shore.
Will dependence strengthen me?

I will never give up. Yet it won’t be because of me, but as I depend on the Lord’s strength. He has loved me with a steadfast love. I always tell the girls that I mentor to “take the long-term view.” God will not leave us and he is not done loving us and transforming us for our good as we walk with Him. When I have trouble following my own advice, I need to once again fix my eyes on Jesus and trust in him! (Phil 1:6; Heb 12:2; Isaiah 26:3; Prov 3:5-6).


A final talk to seniors and students heading info finals…and I hope a blessing to you

I want to pray a blessing over you all, a blessing for your finals, a blessing for the summer, a blessing for your post-college life.

I’m sure for some of you, you’ve never had a blessing prayed over you.

I’m sure for just about every one of you, you have a vague sense of what I’m talking about, but you’re not really sure.

Blessing. What is a blessing? What is this idea?

  • Some of you when you go home may be asked to give a blessing at a meal. (This happens to me a lot, now that I’m a professional Christian)
  • Blessing to get engaged
  • Sometimes say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes.

But what is its meaning?

Bible: Genesis 1:22 — God makes animals, then it says, Genesis 1:22 — And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” (ESV)

Genesis 1:28 — And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (ESV)

Genesis 2:3 — So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (ESV)

So we see that blessing has two ideas:

  1. God’s favor: His positive inclination towards something or someone. It is the promise of a more powerful person to give, to protect, to bless, the lesser. It’s entering into a relationship with them for their good.  All the life we see around us is because God has blessed the living creatures of the earth to have life. All the people of the earth are blessed to produce more life, as well as to be good stewards over the other things God has blessed. We are blessed with responsibilities. To bless is to give favor
  2. Consecration: God blessed the seventh day, the day of rest. He set it aside as a day of rest to people, because we need that rest. When Israel were slaves in Egypt, they had no days off. I wonder, are we slaves to our work and school in America?  God blessed the day off to worship God through rest, through praise and thanksgiving. To bless is to consecrate it.

These two blessings fall to all people. It’s called God’s common grace.

There is another blessing God gives called a covenant.

  1. Covenant: God’s special relationship for favor and consecration, to set apart people for a more specific purpose. We see this in Genesis 12:1–3

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV)

God made a special partnership with Abraham, to bless Him, so that through Him, all the other families of the earth, the other tribes, cultures, people groups, could experience the blessing of God’s covenant with them.

Which brings up the opposite of a blessing…a curse.

To be blessed by God is the most wonderful thing you can possibly have, but that isn’t the default of the world God’s common grace is the default, but we are separated from God’s covenant because we’re all under the curse.

The curse is when death and destruction come, when things fall apart. 

How did this happen, how does this happen?

When God put our first parents in the garden he put before them two trees. The tree of blessing, called the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. They were to trust God to define right and wrong, trust God to live for Him, not for themselves, and thus eat from the tree of life, experiencing that covenant relationship of love.

But the deceiver came, and tricked them. God had told Adam and Eve that they day they eat of  the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, that death would come…not that God would kill them, but that the curse would come, death would come, because they would no longer be under God’s blessing, but out on their own.

So the blessing of covenant is now the main story of the Bible. How will humans get back out of the curse and into the blessing of God?

The answer lies in God Himself. What humans could not do, get back to God, God did for us.

Jesus is God who became human. He lived a life that earned God’s blessing, yet when he was about 33 years old he received now the blessing, but the curse.

When Jesus died on the cross, he took the full weight of the curse upon himself. The apostle Paul says it like this in the book of Galatians

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (ESV)

The blessing of Abraham, that every culture and people would be blessed through his offspring comes to us through Jesus, because he took the curse.

He was cursed so that we could be blessed.

We can experience the blessing of God, because God himself took the curse for us.

Now let me read the ancient blessing that God commanded the tribe of Israel, the descendants of Abraham to speak over one another.

Numbers 6:22–26

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (ESV)

The Power of Speaking Truth

I was correcting one of my daughters in her thinking the other day, and I asked her some questions to try to get her to acknowledge the truth of what her choices were causing and resulting in…. She refused to respond and just stared with that little “eyes of steel” and straight-line mouth expression that she is so good at. I pressed further. After a few more moments of silence and my expectant penetrating gaze that she could see quite clearly out of the side of those hardened eyes, she verbally lashed out with exasperation, “Why should I answer your stupid questions when you already know the answers?!”

“Because, sweet girl”—my endearing name for my girls that helps me in those hot moments to remember that my correction needs to always remain grounded in love—”I am not asking for my benefit. I am asking because I am trying to teach you the good way, and I know that there is power in speaking what is true. I know that freedom comes from admitting things, and that we can only start to change our negative patterns when we see them clearly. It is harder to believe the lie that it is “me against the world” when I actually admit that I am wrong out loud (which is NOT to say others are not also wrong, but does make room for me to learn and grow). Then I can experience love and forgiveness and actually move towards making a better choice next time.”

I had to admit to my daughter that I also brought my sin into this encounter. I probably kept monologuing, like I often do—not particularly helpful… I was also defensive and snarky when I probed, “By the way, do your teachers ever ask you questions that they know the answers to? Hmmm?” All that to say, I need to learn and grow in this area too…

Verbally speaking things about ourselves—both celebratory and painful things—is meaningful. It matters to say it.

  • I like ___.
  • I am a Christian.
  • I am struggling with my identity.
  • I am feeling alone.
  • I don’t like that.
  • I did that thing that hurt you.
  • I was wrong (which is different from “I’m sorry”).

Why are these kinds of statements often hard to say?

The Bible points to this principle about how words can bring life and/or death in Proverbs 18:21, where it says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”

Yet admitting my mistakes, and verbalizing my emotions and my fears enables me to take steps to move forward in a positive way. I want to embrace the truth, and I want to invite others into my journey of life and growth in this messy, broken world I find myself in.  I don’t want my emotional energy to be used up in denying or hiding that thing I am ashamed of, or in worrying about what people will do when they see the real me. When I speak truth and receive grace from God (and hopefully from those around me who love me), then I can safely enter the process of healing and growing. It may be a long journey, but it is the road I need to travel.

Image by Illiya Vjestica on Unsplash

Suffering and Sacrifice

We’ve been studying Romans 8 in church recently, in small group, we looked at v16-18.

Romans 8:16–18

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (ESV)

So here are some of my thoughts on suffering. Suffering is inherently evil, bad. I say this because suffering will not exist in the age to come, in which we live glorified on a glorified earth. In that age there will be no sickness, no death, no dying. God will wipe away ever tear and we will be in perfect union with Him and with each other forever. I long for those days. But what about now? How are we to think about suffering, and specifically, how is suffering, which is bad, related to sacrifice, which is good?

So here’s what I wrote in my journal (excuse me if it’s unedited): “Should we seek suffering? No. But we should seek sacrifice. We should seek sacrifice, not suffering. We choose sacrifice, when we intentionally choose to say no to a good thing in this world. It could be for our spiritual growth, fo the sake of giving to other, for building God’s Kingdom. We choose sacrifice. But suffering comes to us. It’s an external thing that comes upon us. We don’t want it, didn’t choose it. Sacrifice is our fit to god. Is suffering God’s gift to us? No. And yet, God in His wisdom allows and even at times brings suffering to us, for our good, to call out to us, to chasten us, to discipline us, to mentor us, to form us into Christ-likeness.

And both sacrifice and suffering are the family business, they are what Jesus id while on earth. He suffered at the hands of sinful men when He offered his life as a sacrifice for our sins. He worshipped the Father in sacrifice even as suffering came upon him. Let me be like Him.”

Where Do I Set My Mind?

Does it matter if we see life as temporary or eternal? Is this eschatological question even worth delving into, or does it just lead us on a nice little philosophical rabbit trail? I believe the answer is a resounding “yes, it matters.”

Colossians 3:1-4 [ESV] says:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

“If then…” What an incredible framing—these two little words carry grammatical and theological significance. This is about how our position in Christ changes how we look at life, how we interact with life, and how we live life. The Apostle Paul here points out that whether or not one is “raised with Christ” drastically changes one’s focus and identity.  The phrase ‘If then’ implies that there is a contrast; if it is not true, then the statements that follow are inapplicable.  The side of the “if” that people fall on can become the most important thing about them because it alters their goals and motivations.

Those who are in Christ have an eternal perspective. This means their focus changes from the temporal to the forever. They are to “set their minds” on things beyond this life. In fact, they already see themselves as dead to the things of this world.

What are the “things that are on earth” that grip human attention so strongly—that humans seek instead of “things that are above?” Living in a research university town, I have observed that the vast majority of students see success as bound up in getting good grades, going to a good grad school, getting a good job, and being able to live a comfortable life making good money. For some, it is even more—they feel the need to distinguish themselves as better than others by adding recognition through getting published, moving up the corporate/social/political ladder, and generally becoming known and respected. Those things are not inherently bad. But when people “set their minds” on those things to the exclusion of all else—making them ultimate goals—it fundamentally changes how they live and how they view other people.  If the seventy to ninety years that we get in this life (if we are given that long) are all there is, then it makes sense to want to distinguish ourselves in these ways. But what if they are not all there is?

I believe humans are built with a “beyond themselves” orientation; this is evident even in those who reject God as having significance for their lives.  It is common for people, including atheists, to speak of wanting to leave “something behind” or to have “a legacy.” They have a sense that it is not enough to just live for themselves in the here and now. I believe that is because they are made by God and in his image.

God, however, invites those of us whose identity is in Christ into the freedom of living not for ourselves, but for the hope of His glory.  He invites us to be part of that forever glorious life and impact that Christ has.  It is meaningful to see our impact as tied to eternal things. The implications of setting our minds “on things that are above” is not that we are then aloof and uncaring about the things on this earth, but rather that we care about what God cares about. We can act in ways that bring blessing to the earth, yet live free from the pressure of having to make our lives look ‘significant’ from a me-centered temporal perspective. God gives us a different calculus for determining significance—be part of what He is doing!  The rest of Colossians 3 then teases this out as Paul moves into a profoundly relational description of life on earth.

If people are what is eternal, then it is indeed relationships that have the greatest impact.  We get to use this time on earth to learn to love people, love learning, and to practice living with God’s values in mind.  This life is an opportunity to touch and impact other eternal beings with love, hope and meaning.

So what can we do to orient our hearts to this eternal perspective? Lets remember a couple things. First, remember what is temporary.  For example, John reminds us that the things of the world are passing away (I John 2:15-18). Paul reminds us that our bodies are mortal and breaking down, but God gives us hope for eternity with Him (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8). Second, remember we are secure in Christ Jesus.  In him I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), presented as blameless because of Christ’s finished work (Colossians 1:22), and with no need to prove myself because I am accepted by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), able to do good out of love and joy, not to earn favor (Eph 2:10; Col 3:12-14).

The social and cultural waters we swim in can make it difficult to remember these things. We have to regularly remind ourselves of the truth of who we are in Christ. It helps me to periodically self-examine: “What is consuming my thinking time and emotional energy?” And “What is the ‘why’ behind my striving?” I can then ask God to help transform my mind and root my identity in him, so that I might “no longer live for [myself], but for him who for [my] sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). I long to be free from fear and stress, so that I can do my work for His glory—not to justify my existence. My significance is not based on a worldly standard, but on the fullness of significance that Jesus has accomplished and has invited me to be part of. Therefore, as I face the ebbs and flows of frustration and discouragement when my nearsightedness gets the best of me, I can lift my eyes once again to things above, where Christ is and where true life is found.