The Stench of Human Sweat

Last week I experienced a tempest in a teapot, and I failed to weather the storm with grace. On Monday afternoon, I discovered that my blog’s subscription sign-up form was broken. It accepted the entry of an email address; everything looked fine. Except it didn’t actually update the subscription files. So I began a sweaty scramble to fix it.

Sweat

I worked from 3:30 Monday afternoon until about 9:30 that evening. At that point, the tiny-tempest sank my site: everything stopped working. I went to bed. I woke early Tuesday morning, coordinated communication between four different help centers, got the site running, temporarily jury-rigged an email signup form, and published last week’s article.

Phew! It took me nine hours, but I got it done. Afterward I took a prayer time, beginning with My Utmost for His Highest. The devotional ended with:

Is there someplace where you are not at home with God? Then allow God to work through that particular circumstance until you increase in Him, adding His qualities.

I immediately felt convicted (in a good way). I hadn’t really repaired my website “in God.” Sure, I had asked God for help, but I had been “at home” in my skills rather than in God.

My work had the stench of human sweat rather than the fragrance of the Father.*

The Self-Love Trap

I had a high school friend who was insecure, socially awkward, and overweight. He envied the skills (and good looks) of classmates; he vilified himself for his frequent social blunders; and he castigated himself for his shortcomings.

Sad student r2

My friend, however, was in the top five percent of the honors class of a magnet, honors high school; he just never reached the top one percent. And he was the second chair trumpet of a nationally recognized orchestra; he just never made first chair.

Despite his many successes, he saw others do better and it discouraged him. My heart went out to him. We became friends, and in the lunchroom I listened as he told story after story of how students, teachers, and his parents misunderstood him.

His discouragement deepened into depression, and he finally sought a counselor. The counselor said his problem was self-hatred, and that he needed to grow his self-love.

I thought he loved himself too much.

And I still think so

How Christian is Modern Self-Esteem?

The Times of London once asked leading British intellectuals to write an article that answered this simple question: “What is the biggest problem with the world?” G. K. Chesterton submitted his essay on a postcard,

Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely,
G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton I Am

Over the last thirty years, therapists have taught us to “like ourselves a lot” and to hold a “high opinion of our capacities.” They taught us that people with high self-esteem tend to be socially well-adjusted and those with low self-esteem tend toward social deviance. (Their teachings came in the form of proclamations not proofs.)

Yet cracks are forming in the self-esteem movement. Lauren Slater, a leading psychologist and writer, casts doubts on today’s self-esteem crusaders,

There is enough evidence from 20 years of studies to conclude that people with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to people around them than people with low self-esteem, and low self-esteem is not the source of any of our country’s biggest problems (The Problem with Self-Esteem).

Chesterton would whole-heartedly agree with Slater’s observation, that “Low self-esteem is not the source of any of our country’s biggest problems.”

Because we are.

Celebrity Christians

We live in an age of celebrity Christians. If it’s not the mega church pastors, it’s the best-selling authors or the Christian rock stars. While we may not worship them (at least not that we admit), we certainly want to be like them. But we constantly fall short.

Open Mic

Christina Kelly (former editor of young women’s magazines like Sassy and Elle) once wrote,

Why do we crave celebrities? Here is my theory. To be human is to feel inconsequential. So we worship celebrities and we seek to look like them.

But it is so dumb, with this stream of perfectly airbrushed, implanted, liposuctioned stars, you have to be an absolute powerhouse of self-esteem not to feel totally inferior before them.

So we worship them because we feel inconsequential, but doing it makes us feel even worse. We make them stars but then their fame makes us feel insignificant. I am part of this whole process as an editor. No wonder I feel soiled at the end of the day.

Oftentimes the greatness of others is crushing to us.

The Pig in London and the Lamb in Israel

Within the span of seven short days, I met two people who formed two completely divergent opinions of me. I could do nothing to change their rock-solid first impressions. That week of mistaken judgments happened thirty-five years ago, but it feels like last week.

The pig and lamb

When I was twenty years old, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but as a college student I barely had enough money for Raman Noodles. I found work on a communal farm in Israel (sort of like modern day WWOOFING). For a bit of manual labor, they provided me with food, a room, ten dollars a month, and a pack of cigarettes a day. (It was the cigarettes that sold me.)

The weekend before I boarded my plane, I heard my first talk ever on being a man (though I completely missed its message). On the way to Israel, I stopped in London to visit some friends who were doing mission work. With the talk on manliness ringing in my ear, I swaggered, spat, and tried (unsuccessfully) to play the man.

During a two hour dinner party in London, I was introduced to a young woman who promptly deemed me shallow, insincere, and stupid. (I skipped dessert so I could quit while I was ahead.)

A few years later she married a friend of mine, but her opinion of me was chiseled in stone. I once loaned her husband ten thousand dollars; she felt I was being manipulative. But if I forgot to send him a birthday card, she felt my true colors were revealed.

To her, I was a jerk, and everything I did or said, or failed to do or say, reinforced her judgment.

The Usefulness of Un-Usefulness

A few weeks ago, I wearily dragged myself home from a retreat. Exhausted. The retreat was terrific, but I had slept abysmally and felt utterly spent. Empty. Pathetically useless.

Broom 3

I despise that feeling of uselessness: I want to accomplish something, to make a contribution, to feel I did my part. I didn’t feel completely worthless, but I somehow sensed the sorrow of barrenness.

This morning I read the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. More than ever, I sympathized with Peter. His reaction seemed honest. Think of your best friends. If you could choose between washing their feet and letting them wash your feet, which would you prefer?

I would choose washing the feet of my friends ten times out of ten. A thousand out of a thousand. It’s not that my feet are especially disgusting (I do bath occasionally); it’s just that I can’t stand the idea of my friend bending before me and doing something so menial for me.

Ask me to climb Mt. Everest or to steal the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West. Some great deed. Even washing their feet would be tolerable; just don’t let them wash my feet. That would be unbearable. Far worse to let Jesus wash my feet. Let me wash his.

I would far rather be helpful to God than be helped by him.

Playboys And Playmen

Last week I watched a nauseating, repulsive, and daft TV show. No, it wasn’t The Big Bang Theory or The Playboy Channel. (Or Barney.) I watched a reality TV show on house hunting.

The plot was simple. A couple was looking for a house, a real-estate agent showed them several options, and the couple chose one. Shakespeare it was not.

condos for sale

This particular episode featured a middle-aged man and his younger wife. (The details are fuzzy; I think I’ve suppressed them.) They were looking for a condo in the Caribbean, a place with a little excitement, some comfort, and a bit of luxury.

Each condo came pre-furnished, and each resort offered differing amenities. The man in question (and I do question the “man”) grew increasingly excited with each unveiled nicety. He was thrilled about a zip-line at the first condo, ecstatic about granite counters in the second, and rapturous at the sight of a Jacuzzi at the third.

When he saw lace doilies in the last condo, I swear I thought he would wet himself.

I wanted to scream at this doily man so ecstatic about granite counters. “Can your life grow any shallower? Will the measure of your fifty years be gauged by the depth of your Jacuzzi?

But I guess everyone is entitled to their fifteen minutes of shame. I mean fame.