Don’t Be Yourself

“Just be yourself.”

If “be yourself” means “be honest about yourself, your weaknesses, and your abilities, lie neither to yourself or others” then I agree. If it means do what you truly and really think is best, then I absolutely agree. 

But what it really means is something like this excuse your excesses, wink at your weaknesses, befriend your faults, and ignore your ignorance.

If I were to tell a struggling Greek student, “just be yourself,” then they would remain a non-Greek knowing person. 

If a new lifter goes to the gym and acts like themselves with the weight equipment they will either plateau at a non-optimal state, injure themselves or become a gymbecile.

How about a Christian who is addicted to various evil behaviors? Should he simply “be himself?” Or should he try really hard to discipline those habits out of himself?

Anyhow, I think the advice can be stated in a useful way, but in the romanticized way it is commonly used it is a bad and dangerous idea.

What does the Bible say about finding romance?

Perhaps the two most frequent things young Christian men ask me for advice about are relationships and overcoming a pornography habit. I’ll stick with relationships, though Dallas Willard has great advice for those who struggle to kick pornography: Beyond Pornography. On to relationships.

Most of the guys who ask for advice, though sometimes women come to my wife for such advice as well, ask how to enter into a relationship in the first place in the current dating market. Many of them suffer from a glut of two pieces of advice:

  1. Be yourself.
  2. Just be a nice guy and girls will fall in love with you.

The problem with both of these pieces of advice is that neither of them are connected in any specific way with Christian piety or with general wisdom. Here are the problems with each piece of advice:

  1. Be yourself.
    This piece of pop-culture advice has the potential to be very valuable when applied to truth telling, staying the course when virtue comes up against resistance, or refusing to compromise on important decisions. But in general it is suicide for anybody whose personal problems stem from personal failures. Telling people who struggled fundamentally with the following sentences to just be themselves won’t help them:
    “I’m lonely and have trouble making friends.”
    “I’m overweight.”
    “I’m lazy.”
    “I’m disorganized.”
    “I’m not funny.”
    What most people need to do is make fundamental changes to how they live in order to be happy.
  2. Just be a nice guy and girls will fall in love with you.
    If what people mean by this is, “Stop being immoral,” then it  is half reasonable. But in practice, it amounts to, “Don’t ask a girl out, just be her friend, be nice, and eventually she’ll notice.” It’s similar to the bad evangelism advice, “Just follow Jesus and people will ask.” It’s a bit narcissistic and it sets people up to be bitter about being friendly because they expect an unlikely or even impossible result. One should not simply become virtuous (especially if it is defined as niceness) in order to get people to love them. That’s stupid on the surface. But it’s also untrue that niceness, as described above, will land you a date.

So, what should a man who wants to be a disciple of Jesus do when struggling with loneliness or failing to ever successfully ask a girl on a date (or ask at all)? The advice below, by the way, is also applicable to women and married people.

  1. Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness. (Matt 6:33)
    The first thing that needs to happen anytime there is a lack in our lives is that we need to reevaluate whether or not we’re living virtuously and basing our choices upon what benefits God’s people and what is in line with God’s purposes. Establishing, in our minds that our purpose is to pursue virtue and fulfill the duties God has placed before us is a powerful medicine for discontentment. The command to focus on our righteousness in the face of missing elements of the good life (read all of Matthew 6 if you would) is central to understanding what it means to be a Christian and it requires us to always re-calibrate our understanding of the good life and also recognizing that there is a highest possible value to seek in life. If people are so obsessed with getting a romantic partner that they compromise on virtue, success, or God’s purposes in general, then they are likely to find sinful romance (see Proverbs 1-9) and end up unhappy anyway. To seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness means (or see here for a rough sketch of what it means):

    1. Accept responsibility for your sinfulness.
    2. Accept responsibility for your problems in general.
    3. Work regularly on trying to fix them.
    4. Work on gaining all the virtues of Scripture (not just niceness).
    5. Learn to be content with God and virtue (in other words, gain some outcome independence, be fine with failure, and be comfortable with lack when you’ve done the right, wise, and courageous thing).
  2. Become skillful (Proverbs 22:29).
    In general, it’s important to have a skill or set of skills for making money, occupying your time, and bringing order into the world which God has given to us. We’re happier when we’re good at something. But learning to make your way in the world, accrue resources, and manage them well is very important for happiness in general (regardless of relationship status) as well as for finding love. Many young Christians spend so much time volunteering, hanging out, and ‘doing ministry’ that they neglect their studies, gain few useful skills, and make very little money in their twenties. This is economic suicide for your thirties and beyond. And being skillful tends to make you more interesting. I knew a woman once, who felt her calling was to be “a stay at home wife.” But she had no domestic skills. A man who expects to be married to somebody who pulls their weight in the relationship would run like Carl Weathers in Rocky III to avoid that sort of marriage. Similarly, men who cannot make money are simply less interesting to women generally. These claims aren’t always true, but they hold with the general population.
  3. Become likable and interesting. (Song of Solomon 1:3)
    One of the reasons that the woman in Song of Solomon is enamored by the man is that “his name is like oil poured out, therefore all the young women love you.” In other words, people love talking about him and they have pleasant things to say. She likes him, likes hearing about him, and likes talking about him. There are dozens of ways to become likable and only some of them require that you give up on virtue and God’s purposes. But having interesting stories, being generous, learning to be funny, dressing well, having bigger muscles, having a healthy BMI, learning to cook, being skillful (see above), being involved in your church, learning rhetoric, reading books, memorizing poetry, having party tricks, and having fun hobbies all go a long way to making you likable.
  4. Be selective. (1 Corinthians 9:5)
    In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul mentions that he and his fellow single apostles would be within their rights to have a “sister wife.” What that means is “wife who believes the gospel and cooperates with our life vision to share the gospel abroad.” Paul doesn’t take a wife because he believes it is virtuous to care for her and not endanger her. But the point stands that he perceives Christians should only marry other Christians. But I would add that one should try to marry somebody who is interested in your career and calling. One’s perception of these things changes over time, but marrying somebody who also wants to do what you want to do is both Christian and wise. Living with somebody who hates your career, calling, or life vision is miserable. It essentially forces you to have committed yourself to seek romance/sex from the only person in the world who regularly resents you, I suspect that nothing could be more miserable. On the other hand, having a virtuous circle of encouragement, challenge to improve, increased attraction, and increased friendship is idyllic and quite possible. It’s like the Scripture says, “at the right of the Lord are pleasures evermore.” (Ps 16:11) And marriage is God’s idea.

To summarize, working on yourself is the most central key to getting others to like you and learning to improve yourself whether or not others like you is utterly central to happiness. Failing to learn that lesson will not only lead to loneliness, but deeper dissatisfaction with relationships as well because you force your happiness to depend upon things other than God and upon things you cannot control.

Sunday School: Career vs Calling

Christianese:

  • I’m not sure what I’m called to do.
  • I’m pretty sure God is calling me to become a chef.
  • God told me to change majors.
  • God called me to date so-and-so.
  • I’m feeling called to the [insert cause that allows for very little personal accountability here].

3 Aspects of Calling (in and out of the Bible)

  1. Being Addressed by God[1]
    This is God’s commissioning of a specific individual or group of people for a specific task. Such as when the Lord calls the prophets of the Old Testament or gives somebody a task through a prophet. This would also include the baptism of Jesus, the resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples, as well as to Paul. In such circumstances, the idea is that the individual in question was addressed by name and given a specific task by God. Or, the group was addressed by God through such an individuals or group and given an identity and task by God, “Hear O Israel…”
  2. Being a Christian[2]
    In the Bible, calling is also used to refer to converting to follow Jesus Christ. The idea is that the gospel message is a summons from God himself. To become a Christian it to be called. Bible passages like Ephesians 4:1 show that every Christian, by virtue of being a Christian, has a calling. This is the calling of every single Christian: to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in a community of Jesus’ people.
  3. Finally, in modern life, “calling” often refers your unique purpose in life.
    This is where the confusion sets in: When you ask, “what is the task to which I should devote my life that is unique to me and my circumstances?” The Bible does not say how to find a calling or that you “have to do it.” The idea that you must leave a unique mark on the world with your life is recent in history. The nature of your calling is tied up with your career, your family, the civilization in which you live, and your life circumstances. But many people assume, without much thought, that this particular aspect of calling is something that God will tell you to do if you only listen carefully. Therefore, many Christians never use wisdom, advice, or forethought in choosing their career or their calling because they confuse God’s calling of prophets in the Bible and his calling of all Christians to follow Jesus with the notion of discovering a life goal or life mission.

Gary North‘s Concepts for Discovering Careers and Callings:

  • Capacities– This is what you’re really good at, what you’re willing to spend thousands of hours upon, and what other people tell you you’re good at when they’re not being flattering. See Ecc 10:10 If the ax is blunt—the edge isn’t sharpened—then more strength will be needed. Putting wisdom to work will bring success.
  • Job Importance– This is what you can do that makes money for your family, the causes you’re interested in, for missions, for charity, etc. Not only that, but it is what you do that leaves a legacy, that changes people’s lives with what you build, what allows you to raise your children to lead godly lives, to spend time with your spouse, and to influence others for the gospel. See 1Ti 5:8 If anyone does not take care of his own relatives, especially his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
    Also see 1Co 12:18-23 But now God has arranged the parts, every one of them, in the body according to his plan. (19) Now if all of it were one part, there wouldn’t be a body, would there? (20) So there are many parts, but one body. (21) The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head to the feet, “I don’t need you.” (22) On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are in fact indispensable, (23) and the parts of the body that we think are less honorable are treated with special honor, and we make our less attractive parts more attractive.
  • Replaceability – This is the concept of being replaced in your context. Are you doing a job wherein anybody with no training can replace you? Get out of it. Do something that you’re willing to be good enough to be irreplaceable in the region you live for the field of work you’re in. Pro_22:29 Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.

Conclusion Questions for Finding Your Career and Calling

Questions for Career:

  1. What are my capacities?
  2. What is the most important job I can perform with my capacities?
  3. What is the most important job you can perform in which few men can replace you?
  4. What career will let me give to charity, pursue my calling, and leave wealth behind me?

Questions for Calling:

  1. What do I like to do?
  2. What kind of legacy can I leave behind for my children, my church, and the well-being of the world?
  3. What can I do that helps others to know God, find happiness, and become successful?

Footnotes

[1] This is the most common notion in Scripture. It can be seen in with individuals in Isaiah 6:1-5 and Ezekiel 1. It can be seen with the people Israel in Deuteronomy 28:10 where the Lord makes it known that the Israelites were called by him and for his purposes. In Romans 1:6-7 we see that Paul considers the church, as the community who faithfully obeys Jesus, to be called by God to be holy people.

[2] The second is like unto the first, as was noted. Here is some Biblical support for the idea: 1 Corinthians 1:26 and all through chapter 7 Paul refers to the Corinthians of their calling as the state in which they lived when they were converted to Christ. The idea is that their state of poverty, obscurity, and foolishness when the gospel came to them should always be a humility inducing matter in the face of their pride. But, a take away ancillary to Paul’s main argument is that Paul wants them to, on the basis of this calling, live as disciples of Jesus Christ. Thus, their calling, is not only their circumstances (which Paul wants them not to change unless it would improve their lot in life), but their entrance into a community whose main task is to “do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)” and to “imitate me (Paul) as I imitate Christ.”

On the sissyness of Christian advice.

Often, advice from successful Christian men and women boils down to platitudes that sound spiritual, but reflect neither wisdom nor what those very people did to become successful.

Here are things I heard in sermons to college students when I was in college or that I heard when I asked for advice:

  1. Ask God for guidance.
  2. Listen and see what God tells you to do.
  3. Your early twenties is a good time to spend yourself on volunteer work (usually the mission cause of the agency represented by the preacher) because you won’t have time when you’re older.
  4. Just wait on God.
  5. Don’t worry about that kind of thing, God will provide.

When somebody reads that list, they are likely to think, “Of course that makes sense, it’s all good advice.”

I call foul.

I think evangelical Christianity is so influenced by this very language that we often cannot even tell that what we’re saying makes no sense.

If a young Christian man asks an older Christian man a question like, “How can I make more friends?” He’s obeying Scripture when it says, “with many counselors there is victory.” He’s probably asking because he feels lonely or gets picked on often and he sees the man he asks as successful and likable. But many people, instead of giving advice based on their own experience say the silly nonsense I mentioned above, even though the man who was asked does things like dresses well, makes interesting conversations, listens to others, and has masculine body language.

Similarly, somebody who is wondering what to major in is often told to pray about it and listen to the Lord to find his calling, even though the Bible never says that God will tell you what to major in, in college. The Bible does say, to “pray for wisdom” (James 1:5) and to gain skill in order to be successful (Proverbs 22:29).

Anyway, Christianese is usually not biblical and is almost never helpful. Don’t give it and don’t believe it when you hear it. Also, try asking better questions like, “what did you do to get ‘x'” or “if you were me, what would you do differently to achieve ‘y’.”