Letting Go of Appearances
You already know the signs when something’s got to give. Overscheduled and overtired, you dread what you once enjoyed. Overextended and over-budget, essentials find their way to negotiable status. Daily living takes on a frayed look, tattered around the edges, which you most likely recognize because you’ve been there before or you’ve been there a while, and you’ve already read the words of clergy, life coaches, psychologists, and bloggers giving you permission to let go. So why is it so hard?
Jesus took the Pharisees to task for the heavy burdens they laid on men’s shoulders, but in modern times, we do it to ourselves. We clamp our fists around commitments, keeping them firm in our grasp even to our own detriment. Like the Pharisees of old, we’re reluctant to let go of the things that are on the “outside of the cup” – the appearances we keep up for everyone else’s benefit. The inside of the cup is the contents of one’s character, and is the part that really counts with Jesus.
When choosing where to let go, here’s a Matthew 23-inspired guide to knowing the difference between the inside and outside of your cup.
- Building Substance or Making Appearances? When I was a teen, I didn’t think about volunteer work at all – until it was time to fill out college applications. As I listed my accolades for review, I felt ashamed of the hole in my resume. Looking back, volunteering for the sake of filling that gap would have only served to puff up my pride. There will always be opportunities to serve, but if the motive is simply to be seen helping, consider laying it aside until it’s your heart and not your resume that needs to lend a hand.
- Intrinsic Value or Extrinsic Activity? Jesus pointed out the temple gold was hardly as important a thing to swear by as the temple that sanctified it. As for me, I’ve slogged through books that I thought would make me smarter, spent money on gadgets to become a better cook, and joined organizations to be more well-rounded. These empty goals led to wasted efforts. Start with God’s specific calling in your life and let your activities grow from it. Let go of the activities and commitments that aren’t supported by real values.
- Acting with Integrity or Going through the Motions? The Pharisees tithed on everything right down to their garden herbs, but neglected the larger matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. For chronic list-makers and schedulers, doing the easy stuff first can be great for motivation. Doing the easy stuff only leads to shallow understanding, shallow commitment, and shallow relationships.
Whether managing our homes, kids, careers, church membership, education, volunteer work, or hobbies, some of the toughest aspects of life to surrender are the “outside the cup” parts that people see. When we’re looking to simplify life, that stuff should be the first to go – and yet pride makes them the hardest to turn over. If this is you, consider Psalm 23. When your cup is running over with blessings, all the good inside overflows and the efforts of life become a ministry to everyone around.