That Unwanted Friend Over Your Shoulder

There are a lot of things in life that you can count on. Here are two of them.

First, when playing the game of solitaire someone will always walk up behind you and tell you something that you’re missing. Always.

There you are, playing a relaxing card game on your iPad when someone suddenly appears right behind you. You know what they’re about to say so you become especially cautious, checking to make sure that every card is right. But it happens anyway.

“You missed the ten of hearts up there.”

And a little part of you dies.

The second thing that you can count on is very similar. The only difference is that it involves push-ups instead of cards. Whenever you are doing push-ups someone, perhaps the same person who was infatuated with your card game, will appear from nowhere and tell you that your form is bad. Always.

“You’re not going down far enough.”

And more of you dies.

This is why you should never do push-ups while playing solitaire.

If we’re not careful, social media can be that unwanted friend over our shoulder, reminding us that we’re just not measuring up. It works like this.

Suppose that you’re struggling to get your four-year-old to make it through the night without peeing all over his room when, finally, you experience success. Now you feel like the greatest mom on the planet. Until you find out that one of your friends on Facebook managed to get her kid to quit wetting the bed at the ripe old age of one. And she did it while making her own tomato based tortillas. And completing the Work Out of the Day. Oh, and there are pictures to prove it. So much for that successful feeling you had.

Sorry. You’re just not measuring up.

Or perhaps you are a pastor who is feeling pretty good about the fact that there were three new families at church last Sunday and it’s been a solid week since someone has compared you to Hitler. And then, like that unwanted friend over your shoulder, your Twitter feed knocks you back down a few steps when you read about a pastor who used his church to put an end to world poverty and the infield fly rule. All in one Sunday. All by himself.

Sorry. You’re just not measuring up.

This isn’t a Twitter or Facebook problem. It’s a heart problem. Our heart problem. All because we have set our sights too low and settled for the approval of man instead of the approval of God.

And here’s the thing about the approval of men. It’s never enough. You can always eat a little more organic, preach a little more gospel-centered and parent a little better. And, in one form or another, there’s always that friend over your shoulder there to remind you of that.

That’s yet another reason why the gospel is so liberating. At the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he pretty much came out of the starting block telling us the same message as that unwanted friend over our shoulder.

Sorry. You’re just not measuring up (Romans 3:23; Matthew 1:21).

But Jesus didn’t stop there. Instead of just another critique, he gave grace. He measured up for us (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:6-11). And through faith and repentance, our identity is found in him (Ephesians 2:1-10). Not our child’s bathroom habits. Not our sermons. Not our tomato based tortillas. But in Christ Jesus.

A while back I was playing outside with my son when we heard an airplane. He was looking everywhere to try to find it but he couldn’t. The problem was that he was looking straight ahead, at the trees. Finally, I stood behind him and gently placed one hand on each side of his head. Slowly moving his head up towards the sky I spoke to him.

“Look higher.”

And there it was.

So the next time that unwanted friend over your shoulder starts reminding you that you’re just not as good as all of the other moms or pastors or athletes, maybe you’re not. But look higher. Look to the One whose approval is not based on your performance but on the perfect life, death and resurrection of his Son.

A life that was lived on your behalf.

A death that secured your identity in Christ.

A resurrection that promises that a day is coming when you will finally measure up.

And you can count on that.

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