Last night, I caught a good hour of the Billboard Music Awards, which culminated with about a 15-minute segment on Jennifer Lopez, affectionately known as “Jenny from the Block.” While I have never been a big fan of J-Lo (or award shows, for that matter), one has to at least admire her success, stretching out across the plains of music, movies, dance, fashion, and more. There is little she can’t do.
Last night, Jenny from the Block accepted Billboard’s “Icon” Award for lifetime achievement. She gave an inspirational acceptance speech. She thanked God. She encouraged young girls to pursue their dreams.
As she was talking, I couldn’t help but wonder what young girls, because of J-Lo, would be inspired to. A life of fame and fortune? Money, cars, and airy homes?
I hoped that a small snip-it (discussed in a video that played before she received the award) of J-Lo’s heart and philanthropic efforts might shine through. It seemed to me that with all the success she’d had, the greatest was her service to other people. I hoped that that would be what girls would be inspired to—to use their success for the benefit of others and to the glory of God.
There was a time in my life when all I wanted was to be recognized. All I wanted was the stage. I didn’t want it to glorify God or to help other people. I wanted it for myself, so that I may be glorified. But last night, I felt different. For the first time in my life, I didn’t envy anyone on that stage. I was perfectly content with my simple, little life.
All the success in the world may not leave us any better off than we were when we had nothing. And what does success mean if we digress as a person?
There is going to be a time in life when we get to the end of our talent. When we get to the end of our straining. When we get to the end of our finances. When we get to the end of our relationships. When we get to the end of our health. When we get to the end of our grief. It is at that moment when we realize that our human capacities are limited and frail. We feel as if we can barely move, and wonder where to turn.
We might even be tempted to try to fix it. To sort of gut it out and hope that things will be different. To stay an extra hour at the office, dispatch another resume, apologize once more to an estranged loved one, knock back the whiskey and hope that the pain magically goes away. But nothing changes.
Only then do we realize that we are in a quagmire, and feel as if there is no way out.
It seems that we are more inclined to turn to God when we get to the end. I wonder how differently our lives might have looked had we only turned to God in the beginning. I wonder how differently things would be if we gave up on ourselves early and trusted God…
The Art of Giving Up says that I will no longer go at life alone, ceaselessly straining toward a particular outcome or result, using any means necessary to achieve that result. It means foregoing the frustration, the anger, the cheating, the lying, the short-cuts, the temporal, the unsacred, to get what we want. It says that I will trust God, not to work out a particular result in my life so that I may be glorified and happy, but that God’s purpose for my life may be revealed at the proper time.
Our fame, profit, and prosperity mean nothing unless we are using it to do good in the lives of other people. If all our American Dream involves include things that are self-serving, self-honoring, self-aggrandizing, then our dreams remain shallow.
Life and stuff mean nothing unless we are using it to help other people. One may accumulate cars and glitzy pinball machines and the newest gadgets. One may measure success in the square footage of their house, the length of their lawns, the integers of a bank account. But those things will one day turn to rust and dust. Our lives should be measured with eternal things:
How did I make the lady at the fast-food restaurant feel today? Am I using my money to help other people? Am I treating people, who can do nothing for me, with love and compassion? Do I care about the poor and downtrodden? Do I visit the sick? Is the needle of my life pointed toward service to others, or am I merely serving myself?
I believe that we will be all the more successful when we decide to give things up to God instead of trying to handle it ourselves.
I grew up in a church with tearless altars. I learned to put on a façade of perfect, no matter if I was doing okay or in a mighty struggle. Anything short of perfect was weak and unacceptable. The backs of slacks remained unwrinkled from avoiding at the altar. The shirts remained perfectly starched, unsoiled by tears. Crying out to God for help would have been seen as pitiable, fragile.
So I developed a habit of avoiding the altar when I was less than perfect. “Greater” sin in my life meant more avoidance. Instead of coming right to Him, instead of giving up and finding the end of myself, I ran. I began a childish game of “hide and seek” with God. And I knew that when He found me, He wasn’t going to find something He particularly liked or was pleased with.
Over time, I realized the immaturity of my faith. I realized that the Prodigal Son didn’t have to stray away for so long. That the Father was waiting for him to return all along. I should have said “I give up!” more quickly and let God work me out of the pigsty. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I give up in the literal sense; but that the incessant, self-reliant straining is ceded to the Almighty.
Are you at the end of your rope? Have you tried for far too long? Have you given up?
The altar is always open. And change is only a prayer away. 78