Am I Falling into the Trap of Comparison Culture?

Photo of a tree taken in Texas by Anthea Kotlan

From what I see on social media, she’s been living a charmed life. Every project she tackles is successful, her husband adores her, and her children all sing her praises. She works full-time, homeschools, grows organic vegetables, and in her free time, she published three award-winning novels this year. I’ve never seen her in the same outfit twice, and she makes her own gorgeous jewelry which she sells to support orphans in third-world countries.

Maybe you know her too?

It is entirely too easy for me to fall into the trap of comparison while I’m scrolling social media. However, I must remind myself there is so much more to someone’s life story than what I see in curated artfully filtered images.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been traveling in Psalm 37. Today, in this final section, David offers a study in contrasts between two kinds of people, and how they respond to challenges. We have the blameless waiters and the wicked transgressors. One of these kinds of people is compared to a green laurel tree in this passage.

According to the author, Dr. Matthew Sleeth, “Other than God and people, the Bible mentions trees more than any other living thing.” The Bible begins with some tree stories and trees appear at regular intervals from Genesis all the way to Revelation. The book of Psalms, the focus of this blog, opens with the image of a tree with its roots going deep into living water. This tree is an example of how to follow as one who is deeply connected and drawing from God’s wisdom. (Psalm 1)

However, trees can also be problematic. Jesus cursed a fig tree that bore no fruit (Mark 11:13). In the Garden of Eden, God provided trees bearing a huge variety of fruits. Despite all the options, Eve fell into temptation and picked from the one tree God had forbidden. The results of her disobedience still roll out even to this day.

What is the warning tucked into these final verses regarding the wicked and ruthless man or woman? How does he or she appear on the surface?

34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off.
35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found.
37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright, or there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them because they take refuge in him.

(Psalm 37:34-40 ESV)

In verse 35, a particularly ruthless person is compared to a laurel tree. There are many varieties of trees called laurel, but one variety that grows in the Middle East is called an Indian Laurel. I can’t know for sure which kind David is referring to, but perhaps it was one of these. What is noteworthy about it is the description, a majestic shade tree with large leaves. It also remains green all year long.

A wicked person sometimes has large and visible success, provides benefits to others, and is remarkably appealing. However, David warns that God will not tolerate such a deceptive one forever. At some point, this wicked person will be gone in a moment, and no trace of his or her existence will ever be found. For a culture that valued legacy, this was a terrifying warning. As I get older, I have to think more and more about what I will be leaving behind and what I will be remembered for.

How often do I see someone who appears to have all the success, and everything the world has to offer? Not all celebrities are evil. Many are wonderful, generous, and kind. However, people are drawn to the charisma that may go with an award-winning celebrity. Is that person’s heart following God? Do secret sins that damage innocent victims hide behind all the images of accomplishments? Sadly, in recent years we have all seen evidence of this over and over. Someone, on the top of the world, has influence in so many areas. Suddenly an insidious sin or wrongdoing is unearthed. It lay buried beneath the veneer. The poor behavior becomes front-page news and as rapidly as he or she was catapulted to celebrity status, this person drops out of sight.

I think this laurel tree warning serves as a sign to realize that comparison culture can fool me. One who appears to have it all, may not be honoring God. Even in the days of David, there were those who saw the laurel tree people grow big and bold. It is interesting to note that crowns of laurel leaves from the laurel trees were used to celebrate athletes when they won races. However, after the parade of adulation, a wicked person who appears to have everything the world wants will be judged by God. All that will be left of those parades of adoration is the confetti rapidly swept away. The wicked person will simply be gone and very quickly forgotten.

Meanwhile, David describes the blameless waiters as upright people of peace, who wait, keep their way (following God’s guidance daily), and take refuge in the Lord. They know their salvation comes from God’s righteousness, and cling to God as a stronghold in times of trouble. They are delivered from the wicked. Verse 38 shares the promise of a future for these blameless people based on the goodness of God. This seems to point to the legacy of the blameless made possible by God. They will be remembered and have influence into the future.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you hold my life and my future in your gracious hands. Help me to focus on your perspective. May wisdom from you guard my tendency to fall for comparison culture. Let me be found blameless by your grace. May I run to the refuge you provide. Thank you that my life may have a legacy because of you. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

How Do I Keep From Falling?

A stone step trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains

The steep trail took me deep into the hardwood canopy, and then I rounded a corner to catch a glimpse of how far up I had climbed. The valley below rolled out before me, displaying every possible shade of green, brown, gold, orange, and red. October in the Blue Ridge Mountains did not disappoint. So grateful for the opportunity to spend a few days in North Carolina after a recent church planting conference.
I’m not entirely sure which is ultimately harder, the going up or the coming down those mountain trails? While going up takes excellent effort, going down tested my knees and not pitch pell-mell headfirst forward. The success of a hike really lies not in the miles covered but in each step along the way. A missed step could lead to a spectacular descent, Perhaps of the kind that the Psalmist speaks of in Psalm 37: 24?

Psalm 37:23-28 features some amazing promises from God. The first two verses in this section speak about our travels here on earth.

23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way;
24 though he falls, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.

What stops me from being cast headlong? My careful steps or fantastic hiking boots? In this case, it is God’s hand upholding me when I delight in His ways. What does it mean for me to delight in God’s ways? I believe these two things work together. When I am holding onto God’s hand and spending time with Him by reading His word and praying, I begin to want/delight/desire God’s priorities, people, and pleasure. He transforms my heart into genuinely being engaged with His work.

How can I set aside time this week to be in God’s word and pray to find out what God’s priorities, people, and pleasures are?

To get aligned with God’s heart, I must intentionally set aside this time with Him. The world is loud and brash and never stops telling me what I should love. However, the still small voice of the Holy Spirit calls me away to engage with what my Father has for me.

Does this promise mean that I will never fall, fail or stumble? No, it says “though he falls.” So, falling is inevitable here on earth. I will stumble, and I may even fall on the trails or in my life. God will, however, grab me by the hand and pull me back up again, over and over until He takes me up to Heaven.

The following verses feature promises for my children and family members.

25 I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.
26 He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.

Does verse 25 promise my loved ones will never end up lacking their basic needs?
Sadly, no. However, as members of God’s family, my children become part of an extended Kingdom building network. Many others will look out for them and provide for their needs. It is no longer all on my shoulders. Even when my children go through seasons of want and lack, I know that God will ultimately provide for their needs.

Many years ago, a wise friend told me, “Don’t deprive your children of an opportunity to be deprived.” Children who never have to wait to receive something seldom genuinely appreciate what they get. Likewise, a child who earns something will see how valuable it is.

When my children were little, sometimes seeing them not have what they want was more painful for me than experiencing a lack myself. Often children who grow up not having everything they wanted, may have a particular desire to provide for others. A lack of immediate gratification may give a margin for appreciation and gratitude.

Finally, these three verses in today’s passage point to eternity.

27 Turn away from evil and do good; so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever.

God directs me to turn away from evil because He knows I need that reminder. As I live my life on earth, I will always hear evil call my name and try to get my attention. Sometimes it is cleverly disguised as doing whatever I want or doing what satisfies me in the short term. The Evil One knows what my weaknesses are. He prowls around, waiting for a chance to hijack my day and land me in a state of feeling I have a right to follow my own rules.

God loves justice. Not only does He love justice, but He is the only one who can provide it. God has an accurate 360-degree view, and He knows the whole story even when I don’t. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this fact. I can rest, therefore, in knowing God’s justice will prevail. I may never see the wrongs balanced out here on earth, but He is always working behind the scenes.

In this final promise from today’s section of Psalm 37, I catch an encouraging glimpse of a forever dwelling place.

"The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever."

I have become a member of the righteous ones, the Psalmist refers to because I am reconciled with God by Jesus’ saving work on the cross. This is not by my own efforts. My right before God status entitles me to a hopeful inheritance from the Lord that is eternal. This land, I believe, is heavenly real estate where each of us will someday reside with God forever.

During a recent drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, my husband and I pulled over into a scenic overlook and parked the car. Once we hopped out, we could see a panoramic view of Wilson Creek Valley. At that moment, clouds were rolling in, the morning sun was still climbing in the sky. For a moment, it seemed as if Heaven and earth were coming together. The clouds floated low, the mountains rose through the mist, and the sun streamed down in golden and pink hues mixed in with all shades of blue sky and clouds. A glimpse of the heavens shone forth for just a moment.


A photo in the early morning of Wilson Creek Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Prayer
Lord, please share a glimpse of forever with me today. I need to see the place I will dwell in someday. Please align my heart with your priorities and people. Remind me to turn from the evil of this world. Help me cling to your hand as I walk on life’s trails on this side of Heaven. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What Makes You Feel Secure?

“We cannot feel secure until we are seen, soothed and safe.”
Dr. Curt Thompson

With a bucket in one hand, and the other firmly grasped by my grandmother, we embarked on a grand adventure as the sun began slowly setting. Out and about when I would usually be tucked up in bed gave me such a thrill in my six-year-old heart. Once we arrived at the beach, we began a long walk across the stony beach until it gave way to soft sand. Low tide had pulled back the ocean to reveal a stretch of sandy and landscape almost as far as I could see.

Tide pools teaming with life dotted the pathway we traveled, and they became my focus. By the end of the evening adventure, I would be walking back to Twain, my grandmother’s seaside home, with a collection of sea creatures in an aquarium of sorts. The bucket would spend the rest of the week being cared for by me, a budding marine biologist. I would like to tell you that no sea creatures were harmed in my six-year-old adventures, but sadly more than one mollusk perished under my watchful eye.

While I failed in my marine animal management system, my grandmother provided me a season of security in my young life where I felt seen, soothed, and safe.

In this next section of Psalm 37, David reveals more wisdom about how God cares for His people and creates eternal security.

18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; Psalm 37:18 ESV

The Lord knows my days and all my struggles. He sees the bitter and the sweet and the complex efforts. But, ultimately, He is protecting my legacy that will go on beyond my time here on earth.

19 they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance. Psalm 37:19 ESV

God offers to soothe and care for me by providing for my most basic food and water needs. Even in bad times, pandemic times, and times when I lose my way, God offers to set the table before me and spend time with me. His presence is my true abundance.

20 But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke, they vanish away.Psalm 37:20 ESV
21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives; Psalm 37:21

God provides all that I have and calls me to be generous. He notices when I give freely and share what I have with others. This allows me to refuse the lie of scarcity and feel the freedom to live an open-handed life.

22 for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off. Psalm 37:22 ESV

Finally, God promises me He will give me an inheritance of land where I can live in His presence forever. Whether that real estate is on earth or in Heaven, His presence in that place creates a lasting home for me where I find eternal security.

Prayer
Thank you, Lord, for eternal security only you can provide. Open my eyes to see your care for me each day. Help me to live an abundant life. Help me to walk in the peace of knowing my inheritance is safely kept in your alone, forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Perspective Shift

Waking up in a dark hotel room can feel utterly disorienting.

For a moment I can’t tell where I am or even determine where the light switch might be? Those wonderful blackout curtains stand guard against any light seeping into the room. After a few seconds, orientation begins to take hold, and I remember where I am. I can now reach out a hand and try to discover a switch for a nearby lamp. Maybe the lamp is not easy to locate. I try to slowly move across the room in the direction of the hotel door where a faint crack of light seeps in at the floor. Creeping along with my hands outstretched before me, I’m trying to navigate this path to find an elusive light source. Minutes tick passed, and I regret not having a flashlight or phone nearby. When the switch is finally discovered and turned on, the entire room floods with light and it changes everything.

Psalm 37 is categorized as part of the wisdom collection. I’m not sure about you, but I could use some wisdom this week. In these wisdom psalms, David shares time-honored truth about what God has taught him. Last week I looked at the role of anxiety in my life, and how fretfulness does not lead to patterns of befriending faithfulness. This section of the same psalm gives examples of perspective shifts. Suddenly everything seems different when I:

  • Add light
  • Add time
  • Add meekness
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.
7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
9 For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.

Psalm 37:6-11 ESV

Add Light

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. 
Psalm 37:6 ESV

Great lighting changes everything. Good photography, great video, and looking for lost things, are all made infinitely easier and better with a good source of light. Light changes my perspective. In verse 6, David talks about how my righteousness will be revealed by God’s light. Justice for me and all believers will be like the high noon sun. Nothing will be left in the dark. No bad deed will be hidden. As Christ’s follower, I know that the ultimate light of the world is Jesus. He came into the world and set me free through his death on the cross. He will return someday, and when he does it will be like the brightest high noon moment. No one will miss it to be sure. Everything will be set to rights and justice will roll forth.

Add Time

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!

Psalm 37:7 ESV

Have you ever rushed to try to take a photo? You pull out your phone and quickly tap open the camera, and then you take the shot. When I worked as a photographer for a newspaper, I learned the hard way that waiting gets the best photo. A rushed shot will be blurred or composed poorly. I can fix a great deal with a good photo editing app, but a well-taken photo is a gem.

Waiting is another thing that transforms my perspective. In verse 7, David encourages believers to be still before the Lord and wait. How often do I think I want one thing at the beginning of a season of waiting? Later I discover that something else will be better for me and those I love. David qualifies this kind of waiting to be done while being still before the Lord. What does that look like? Waiting is one thing but being still is much harder for me.

The interesting thing about waiting and being still is how much it reveals what God is doing. When I am paused and not moving, only God can work it out. It is no longer in my hands. It is perhaps the ultimate surrender. God knows that if I continue to rush about, I might mistakenly believe that I have effected change. Waiting in stillness reveals that God is the only one working, not me. Waiting in stillness might provide the margin for me to gain new information that I can’t see if I am on the move. Waiting in stillness gives me time to rest and reset.

Add Meekness

But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. 
Psalm 37:11 ESV

While God calls me to stillness, he sometimes calls me to an unlikely activity. In verse 11 the psalmist speaks of those who are meek. Meekness changes my perspective in profound ways. I love to research and read. Sometimes this causes me to arrive at a situation as an expert, full of knowledge. Meekness asks me to consider humility as a better starting point. What if I show up with more of a sense of surrender and less of the desire to control through information throwdowns? Meekness may help me to accept a new way of doing things or help me to see someone else’s point of view. Those who wear a mantle of meekness will inherit the land and be delighted in abundant peace. These promises provide a better way that proves less burdensome on my weary soul.

I serve a generous God who longs to share wisdom with me that ultimately benefits me and my people. Can some simple perspective changes help me access much-needed wisdom? How about you?

Prayer

Lord, I thank you for the illumination of your presence. You promise to provide the night light of your presence in the dark. Please give my path light as you lead me and finally illuminate the whole world with justice someday. Thank you for the time you gifted me with. Help me to spend it wisely and be willing to wait on and for you in all situations. Thank you for the opportunity to choose meekness. You are worthy of my surrender, and you will prevail. Lord, would you bless me with your perspectives on every challenge. May I bring you greater glory every day? In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.

Befriending Fear or Faith?

A circa 1970 pic of my sister and I with atrocious bangs. (I’m the one on the left.)

Was she asleep?

My four-year-old brain struggled to process what had occurred. We were sitting outside the Tutbury* Police station when my mother slumped backward at an awkward angle while her sunflower yellow dress threatened to capsize over her head. I tried smoothing it down and calling to her as people rushed past us.

Earlier that day, she had lost her gold watch. A potent blend of fear of my father’s rage and regret over the loss overwhelmed her, causing the fainting spell. Eventually, a policeman came to our aid with smelling salts.
Fear and fretfulness were part of my daily life growing up.

What do I do when I feel fearful?

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
Psalm 37:1-5 ESV

As an adult, I have a tendency to fret. If there was a fretters’ anonymous group, I might be a member. But, instead, fretting is anxiously anticipating my own inabilities.

  • What if I make a mistake?
  • What if I don’t have enough time?
  • What if I forget?
  • What if I fail in some way that cannot be redeemed?

Fretting is to worry, and it can also mean to wear away at something by rubbing or gnawing. Obsessively fretting can certainly wear a groove in my mind that is all too easy to find and get back to over and over.

Reviewing a past event on repeat leads to a cycle of unending questions.

  • Did I say the right thing? What if I offended her?
  • Did he misunderstand me?
  • Do I need to go back and explain?
  • Often fretting is self-focused, but sometimes it lends itself to comparison.

Fretting about other people’s actions that I simply can’t control is a sign of a lack of boundaries on my part. How often have I worried about other people’s feelings that I could do nothing to fix? (Can you tell I’m reading the bestseller Boundaries?)

In Psalm 37, the psalmist offers an antidote for fretting.

Dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

Psalm 37:3 ESV

Dwell

This word means to remain, stay, linger, and be still. When fear takes the upper hand in my life and triggers a cycle of fretfulness, dwelling in God’s presence brings a needed pause.

Befriending faithfulness

How do I make friends with faithfulness? Spending time focused on my faith and, in so doing, building it up like a muscle. For me, that might mean making a list of blessings. It is all too easy for me to see the glass of my life as half full when it is, in fact, overflowing in ways that I might overlook right away. Reading and reviewing God’s word and seeking his promises can also change my perspective. The next few verses of Psalm 37 are rich with promises of how God will champion me as I choose to focus on faith and let go of fretfulness.

4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
Psalm 37: 4-5 ESV

Prayer

Lord, will you help me to delight in you and commit to your ways of doing life? Give me the ability to trust more and be fretless. Rewire my default setting. May I be found to be befriending faithfulness at every opportunity you kindly lay before me? Amen.

How about you, how do you friend faithfulness in the face of fear?