Monday, November 3, 2014

Losing Myself in the Shadow of Others

I struggle a fair deal with an inferiority complex.  It doesn't seem to take much to incite me to feeling that someone else is superior to myself.  If I admire another person in the slightest, in fact, then I can second-guess myself at any difference between us, sometimes even those differences where before I would have felt confident in my position or characteristic in question.  It's as though I think just because a man I like or value differs from me, my trait or opinion is somehow invalidated.

Maybe a guy I find really cool is taller than me.  In fact, my anxiety about my height--I'm 5'8", by no means short, but shorter than I wish--began when I had a best friend who was 6'2".  Or maybe a friend I admire has an interest in something that never really interested me.  Suddenly, I may find myself thinking that I should share his interest, not only for the sake of forging one more common interest, which is admirable, but because somehow I feel inferior for not having that interest.  Even with my convictions, one easy way to make me second guess a strongly held conviction, no matter how sound my reasoning, is to have a great guy in my close circle, who is relatively close to me in most beliefs, state or imply that his own convictions are more relaxed than mine in that area.

Why am I like that?

How should I know?  I'm just trying to
find a way out of this unholy bondage!

I think, in some sense, I latch onto looking up to guys I admire in a way that I failed to do with my Dad, that is, the man who raised me (remember, I never met my biological father).  My Dad was wonderful to me, and I loved him very much.  But for some reason, I never looked up to him in the way he deserved.  I thought of him as a good man, a beloved man, a man with whom I felt safe, but I just never wanted to be like him.  I didn't want to imitate him, I had no interest in mirroring his traits or filling his shoes.  I have no idea why, and it's my own loss.  The point is, though, that I think every boy needs a man to look up to, someone he wants to emulate.  It's hardwired into us, because it's by emulating one's father that one learns what it is to be a man.

Since I denied both my father and myself the experience of my emulating him, I think this process just got transferred onto friends and peers instead.  I'm not one to look at my friends like fathers mind you; unless a friend were actually old enough to be my father (and I have no close friends who are), that would feel weird to me.  However, I am prone to looking at a friend the way I might look at an elder brother.  The friend need not even be chronologically older than me; that 6'2" best friend was younger, actually.  But somehow, a friend who exudes confidence and self-assurance, who has many traits I admire, can become the next-best-thing to a father to emulate:  The elder brother that I never had, save possibly my one sibling who died as a miscarriage who may have been a brother for all I know.

Somehow, then, I'm like a little boy whose big brother is his hero, who is always clinging to his brother's words.  When his father's words contrast with his own opinions, the boy re-evaluates his own.  He wants to grow up to be as big as his brother, to look like his brother, to be like his brother, all of which are quite reasonable, since he and his brother share genetics and--just as if it were his father--he might reasonably conclude "That's what I should look like when I grow."  I certainly never had that, from a father or otherwise, as obviously I had no reason whatsoever to suspect that I would grow up to look like the Dad who raised me, not being his biological son.  Problem is, of course, that friends are also not biologically related to me.  Not to mention, I'm grown, so being psychologically stuck in the mindset of a little boy hoping to grow into the shape and form of an older male hero he admires isn't helpful:  The little boy has reason for that hope.  I don't.

One day I'll grow up to be just like you!
Right?  Right???  

Even though I could, perhaps with great difficulty and a fair amount of the "fake it to make it" mentality, alter my opinions and tastes to emulate those of a friend, the problem with that is that I would lose my identity in the quest to become more like the hero I admire.  See, a father or, to some extent, a big brother, has the vocation of forming the mind of the young male in his family.  It is the elder's job to teach the younger, to shape his worldview and, to an extent, his opinions; to introduce him to ways of forming his tastes and preferences.  That's why it's natural for a boy to be so malleable in the face of his father's or elder brother's input.  But for a grown man to give quite so much power to a friend is a dangerous thing.

It's fine and well for friends to influence each other, to form each other, but this must be a very mutual thing.  For it to be so one-sided as my insecurities and inferiority complex would have it to be only causes the one man to lose his identity altogether, to be "absorbed" by the friend he admires.  And such a man is always unstable!  Even if he perfectly emulates one friend today, what happens when another friend impresses him tomorrow?  He will go about trying to emulate everything about that friend.  And then, even more confusing to his sense of self, he will feel compelled to emulate the one friend when in his company, yet the other friend in the other's company.  He will become a chameleon, all the while feeling resentment for those very same friends, because on some level he realizes that he's lost himself, having sacrificed himself to the point of oblivion on the altar of his hero-worship.

At least it has nice flowers!

There are traits worth emulating in a friend.  But these traits are virtues, morality, faith, adherence to sound doctrine, and other objectively imitable qualities.  If I want to nurture a subjective interest just because a friend has it, on the other hand, it should be a matter of bonding with him, not because I think my own initial disinterest in the subject or activity is inferior.  And when it comes to physical traits, who am I to believe that God was having a less brilliant moment upon creating me than when he created a friend who is taller, or who has a different body type?  In fact, even on those things that are objectively admirable, it is not mine to envy the story of another who may have obtained those things sooner or with more ease than myself.  There may be faults or thorns in my flesh that God has deliberately refused to take from me, which He allows to weigh more heavily on me than on a friend, because for some reason He knows that I need a rougher path, a longer path.  So if a great friend seems to have conquered some vice sooner or more easily than I, I shouldn't waste away in despair that this means the friend is "superior," for it may instead well be that God has given the friend some extraordinary grace, to make his path "straighter," which He has withheld from me.  If so, who am I to question Him?  I can only aim to be holier, but I can't seek to measure my own progress by that of another.

The truth is, I have to find out what it means to be me, to be Joshua.  And I need to find this by turning to Jesus, and seeking His design for me.  I need to ask, "What did you create me to be, Lord?  What is it about me that gives You delight?  Please show me what I'm meant to be!"  And I need to pray, also, for the grace of loving this Joshua that our Lord willed into existence, rather than comparing him to other men unfavorably.  Those things that bring me insecurity now, I need to find out if they're things that God wants in me, and if they are, I have to learn to delight in them, for the joy they bring to my Creator.

Years ago I wrote the chorus of a song which I never finished, in a cry of desperation toward this tendency of mine, which was alive and well toward my best friend at the time, as well as some other guys I admired:
I don't wanna keep on chiding me to be someone else,
I don't wanna keep on hiding me 'til I lose myself.
I don't wanna keep pretending, deep in my armored shell:
I'm not me, but I wanna be,
I'm not them; don't wanna wanna be,
What I need is to find out who I am.
May God grant it to be so.

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