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International Drive, A Commentary on Life
by Jim Barringer
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September is a melancholy time in central Florida. The unfathomable masses of tourists who descended on Orlando for the summer have departed back to whichever miserable, rainy European country they came from. Gone are ten thousand rental cars, which doubled my commute time to work; gone are ten thousand out-of-towners in front of me in line at McDonalds and Books-a-Million. The electric atmosphere of excitement and vibrance that carried us through those long summer nights is gone, leaving only a deflated shell of a town, with gift shop owners standing forlornly outside their stores, counting down the seconds until next year's summer starts and the money rolls in again.

It's very unnerving to me, having spent most of my life in places that tourists would never in their lives pay to visit, to see a place that's so totally dependent on other people for its livelihood. In a way, you could say that Orlando is really defined by other people. It lives or dies based on the way other people approve of it, support it, and throw their money at it.

People can do the same thing, although it's usually much subtler. All you have to do is think back to middle school and I'm sure you'll remember the goofy people who didn't really have much of a goal in life other than being liked by other people. They'd say or do stupid stuff, usually the stuff the rest of us wanted to but were too afraid, and their reward would be the approval, at least for a few minutes, of their classmates.

As we get older, we get craftier about these things; we stop caring as much about what people on the whole think, but we care infinitely more about what a few select people think. I knew several women in college who were profoundly unhappy unless they had a man who could satisfy them and tell them that they were worthwhile. Unless they were hearing it from a man, they didn't believe it about themselves - they were letting those men define them.

Some vestige of it persists well into later life. Watch TV for half an hour and I almost guarantee that you'll see some commercial for a product designed to make women look younger, slim down that pudgy gut, take the gray out of a man's hair, grow back that hair when it decides to go walkabout, etcetera. More than we're comfortable admitting, many of us are still defined, at least in part, by what other people think of us, and it genuinely matters to us that we're attractive, appealing, and acceptable to our fellow humans.

In business, this is almost a workable model, because although Orlando will be dead from September to March, the moment spring break arrives, the tourists will be back with a vengeance and all will return to normal. The approval of foreigners is never withheld for long; it always returns. But it's dangerous to live our personal lives this way, because we can never guarantee that other people will approve of us five minutes from now, let alone next year. If we base ourselves on having other people approve, then we end up in a vicious chase cycle, where we have to anticipate what people will want from us, and then do it, and then bask in their approval for a few seconds before doing it all again so that we can keep winning approval.

It's also vastly different in business, because the thing that tourists provide - money - is all that a business needs in order to survive. But the thing that people provide to me, approval, is not what gives me meaning in life. Other people cannot fill up my soul nor tell me who I truly am. Why should they be able to? I am me, and another person cannot establish my identity.

The only reason this is an issue at all is that we come into our lives disconnected from our true identity, thanks to not having a relationship with God, which in turn is thanks to our sin and rebellion against him. God, as our creator, is the only one with intimate enough knowledge of our souls that he can speak with authority regarding who we truly are at the deepest core of our being. If we came into this life in touch with God and knowing our true identity, we would not have this problem. Until we learn our identity from him, though, we will continue to struggle, unable (for obvious reasons) to find it outside of the God who alone can provide it.

So we turn to people for the answer, because we instinctively feel that people, made in the image of God, are the closest we can get to God's opinion without actually asking him. It almost makes sense, in the twisted way that the fallen life almost makes sense a lot of the time, so close to the truth but so fundamentally broken.

But a person who relies on other people for their sense of worth and satisfaction is doomed to unhappiness. A person can tell me who they want me to be, but they cannot tell me who I really am. I can playact, try and sculpt my personality so that I will earn their approval by being who they want me to be, but I will be someone other than who I am at the core, which will make me unhappy and leave me empty even as I believe their approval will fill me up. It's truly a vicious deception.

It gets even worse at this point, because when we do ask for God's input regarding our identity, he will tell us who we really are, and inevitably it will look almost nothing like the person we've been playacting for our entire lives. We face the prospect of having to completely ditch our old personality - the thing that was earning us the approval that we felt we needed - and instead embrace this person who God says we are instead. I can see why that's a terrifying concept, and why so many people, even Christians, have a hard time drumming up enough faith to undergo the process.

Yet here again we face a stalemate, because until we're being true to who God says we are, we can never be satisfied in life. We can be satisfied that people are happy with us, but we can only do that by either pretending to be who they want us to be, or else deciding who we want to be and then making friends with the small number of people who appreciate that personality type. Either way leaves us empty and unfulfilled, especially compared to how happy and fulfilled we will be if we're living out of God's true identity, meaning, and purpose for our lives.

Humans simply don't have the ability to speak identity and meaning into our lives. We were not designed to provide those things to other humans. We were designed to receive true identity and true meaning from God, the only one who is equipped to provide them. There is great danger in relying, however lightly, on other people to affirm that we are acceptable, worthwhile, or attractive. Such a thing is bordering on infidelity to God, by turning away from him and toward something else for satisfaction.

In John 10, Jesus told us that he came so that we might have life, and have it to the fullest. The only obstacle is us, chasing after our own lives, our own sources of identity and meaning, rather than the fullness of those things that God can provide. God has done all the hard work. He dreamed us up, placed us on earth with meaning and purpose already built-in, and provided free salvation for us so that we can have a relationship with him. Why should we doubt that he is capable to speak to us about our true identity? Why would we want to look anywhere else for the answers to what our lives are really about?

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Member Comments
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Gay L Hall 18 Sep 2009
Amen again Amen! "Why would you want to look any where else". Really People! God has never created anything without purpose, but few know their pupose for their creation! It is so sad! Loved it once again Jim and keep them coming. God bless you, brother!


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