Monday, July 22, 2019

Pitfalls of Comparing ‘Highlight Reels’

Have you ever looked at another family, comparing them with your own, and thought, ”Why can’t we be like them?” Perhaps there’s a couple you don’t know well, but observing them, they seem so perfect. “Why can’t my (husband/wife) and I be like them?” Or maybe you’ve been inspired by a guest speaker at your church or a Bible conference and you thought, “That person has it so together. What I wouldn’t give to be like (him/her).”

We’ve probably all done this at one time or another. I know I have. The problem is, what we’re doing is contrasting our lives with what I heard one person call the “highlight reels” of other people’s lives. 

You know what a highlight reel is, don’t you? It’s the “best plays of the day” that ESPN at the end of every sports day. It’s the video package a football or basketball prospect puts together to catch the eye of coaches – outstanding runs, catches or tackles, or three-pointers and slam dunks. Judging from those little video snippets, how can one help but be impressed? 

It's similar to that in real life. Except not on reels. We see folks up close and marvel at how ideal they seem. “There are no perfect people,” we reason, “but they sure look pretty darn close.”

Therein lies the problem – or pitfall. Sports highlight reels don’t include the fumbles, dropped passes or missed tackles, the bad shots or fouls. They show only the good plays. That’s usually the case when we’re in public. As my friend Jimmy Lee says, we put on our “Sunday smiles.”

How did I learn to distrust other people’s “highlight reels”? I had the opportunity to see people behind the scenes, when they let their guard down, when they thought no one was watching, or I caught a glimpse of how they acted when the spotlight was turned off.

Those families who seem to in sync, who appear to be oozing with love for each other without a trace of conflict? In real life – rather than reel life – they experience strife just like anyone else. They might present their best at church and other public settings, but they’re just as riddled by sibling rivalry as the rest of us. As the saying goes, they put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else.

I recall during my years in parachurch ministry that I would watch couples seemingly in lockstep, totally in one accord as they ministered to others together. Then I would learn that some of them were in counseling, that they were wrestling with demons from their past, or bickering just like any other married couple. Even “perfect people” have flaws.

And those individual who seemed so smart and friendly from the podium? The ones you think, “Wow! If only he were my pastor and I could hear him speak every week”? Or, “She’s so warm, so compassionate. Wouldn't it be something to have her as a friend – or even a mentor”? Over the years I learned that some of them are lightbulbs. They shine when they’re on stage, with all the attention riveted on them. But in private, when the switch is turned off, they’re really introverts. Not nearly as sparkly and engaging as when they’re speaking.

Truly, appearances can deceive. But this isn’t to condemn these folks. It’s just that they’re not super heroes. They’re just like us, people with real joys and real sorrows, facing the same types of struggles and challenges we all do.

Perhaps this is one reason God included “you shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17) among His Ten Commandments. It’s just not wishing we had a house or car like someone has; it can also mean coveting what other people appear to be. Especially because in many cases, that’s not who they really are anyway.

This also might be another application of the apostle Paul’s declaration in Philippians 2:11, “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Yes, he was writing from prison, in less than ideal circumstances, and during his ministry had often suffered from near-deprivation. But he had also learned to find contentment wherever he was and whatever situation he found himself in. Thus he emphasized to his protégé, Timothy, that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”

When we learn to accept our spouses and families for who they are, rather than some false image of what we think someone else’s is, we grow one step closer to God. When we accept being what the Lord made us to be and to become, rather than wishing we were like another person, we also grow one step closer to Him.

So those “highlight reels” other people are showing us every day? Only their best feet forward? Ignore them. Those are no more genuine than the Wizard of Oz, or Obi Wan Kenobi. 

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