Play The Part: Don’t Let FOMO Ruin The Show

Author playing a part in costume for Nativity
Not playing it well. I’m the far left of the herd.

We are led to believe that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part we have played. The playing it well is what matters infinitely.

C.S. Lewis, The Last Night

 

I’m not sure if the role was wrong or if I just played it wrong, when I played a donkey in the pageant back in third grade. A donkey was a step up from white-tight, cotton-ball sheep or a gaudy, gold cardboard star. But it was nothing compared to Mary or even to a shepherd.

At least shepherds were people. Donkeys were just beasts. Plus, I resented the fuzzy brown hood and those tan, straight-leg, corduroys. I was a sulky donkey. I did not play the donkey part well.

When Uzziah Played The Wrong Part


Around 750 B.C. Judah’s King Uzziah wanted a new role. For the first 40 years Uzziah played the king part—his God-given role—like a pro.

He set himself to seek God…as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper (2 Chronicles 26:4-5).

God helped him against his enemies and he became very strong. Engines on towers, irrigated farmland, and his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped. But
Uzziah wasn’t content to be king. He stole a part not given to him. He took the role of priest. 

But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense…But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests and they withstood him and said, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense.’ (2 Chronicles 26:16-17).


They were right. The fragrant, smoky offering part was assigned to Aaron’s priestly line. It was not in God’s script for his kings.
So the 81 confronted Uzziah and said,

“It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God.”

Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. (2 Chronicles 26:18-19)

Because King Uzziah stole a role not his own, he lived leprous and alone for ten years until he died. 

Don’t Let FOMO Ruin The Show

It sounds extreme. But Uzziah is a type. His sinful overreach—incited by his fear of missing out on a better priestly part?—was written down for our instruction, that we might have hope (Romans 15:4). Uzziah warns us to master the FOMO that tempts us to take a role not assigned to us.

The fear of missing out,” writes blogger Jon Bloom, is “the Thing”-or the part- we think we need to be happy. In a word, it’s coveting. And coveting isn’t limited to material “things,” making it so illusive.

It’s a shape-shifter that assumes whatever form matches our current vulnerability to feeling like we’re missing out. Today it might be coveting someone’s income, tomorrow it might be coveting someone’s achievement, the next day it might be coveting someone’s harmonious family, next week it might be coveting someone’s opportunities or church or advanced degree or capacities or interior design or . . . you name it.

This is why we often experience Facebook and Pinterest as purveyors of “missing out.” They point out all the things that we don’t have. They remind us of what we are not. They show us where we have not been. 

But the root problem isn’t social media or marketing. The root problem, says Bloom, is deeper. It’s “our active sin natures that tell us that idols satisfy. That fear that we are missing out is coming from inside us” (James 4:1-2).

So how do we fight FOMO?

Stage Tips: Play. Your. Part. Well.

That’s simple. Stay in your lane, on your stage. Focus on playing your assigned role well.

1. Play-work, take- an active part in salvation’s story. It’s on stage at this second in you. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12b-13

2. Play yourNot my part, or your best friend’s, or your fantasy role. Play your actual, factual, realio-trulio God-given part. Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. 1 Corinthians 7:17

3. Play your part. It’s not a one-man show. You’re only part of this grand play. But it is an important part. God picked you for this role. God arranged the parts in the body, each one of them as he chose… there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:18-20

4. Play your part well.  Not grudgingly, but cheerfully; not half-heartedly, but whole-heartedly. And whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing you will receive the inheritance as a reward. Colossians 3:23-23

But what if you’re in a role you didn’t want? If you didn’t tryout for this part?

But I Didn’t Tryout For This Part

My friend Jenny was new to her 50’s and working her way back to university when brain cancer hammered her husband. The youngest of their three sons was still in school when Phil went home to Jesus. Then her oldest married married a lovely lady with a lovely young daughter and suddenly Jenny was Nana frosting sparkly pink princess cakes.

A few years ago Christian author and speaker Nancy Leigh DeMoss, also in her 50’s, shocked us with this announcement:

No one could have been more caught off guard by this turn of events than I. In recent years, I have found myself in the most settled, contented, healthy, fruitful place of life and ministry ever. I did not have the slightest inkling that He was about to call me to step out into a whole new realm of faith and service…

For decades, I have [served] as a single woman, wholly devoted to Christ and His kingdom. Over these months, it has become clear to me that the Lord wants me to continue telling that gospel story . . . as a married woman.

Like Nancy, and Jenny, we’re often caught off guard when we find ourselves playing parts for which we didn’t tryout, and in roles God chose us to play.

Play Even The Little Parts Well

Brother Lawrence lived in a French monastery in the mid 1700’s. The Practice of the Presence of God tells of his “great aversion” to kitchen work and how he prayed “for grace to do it well.”

He is King Uzziah’s antitype. After fifteen years in the kitchen, Brother Lawrence wrote: 

Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; I rise happier than a king.

The Author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2), and the Director of our hearts (2 Thessalonians 3:5) wrote us into this grand play with just the right part. He casts each role, to the praise of his glory (1 Corinthians 7:17, Acts 17:26-27). He placed us on the perfect stage to make God look great.

Even if sometimes we fail.

About That Donkey Part

I’ve cameoed in that donkey part more than I care to admit in the years since third grade. I’ve written before about how brutish I’ve been—with infertility, church conflict, in relationships that try me. My FOMO on other roles, roles I would have chosen for me, gives me some sympathy for King Uzziah. l do not always play my part well.

But always if I look back to the Director, his grace frees me to play my part. But there’s more. In every act, He holds my hand and guides me

Please know God picked you for your part. He is with you. He wants to guide you through.

When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Psalm 73:21-24

On Comparing, Scarcity & Working Your Little Territory

Man planting little territory

Cut comma, delete clause, better word. First impression! No typos on this one, Abigail. Big breath. Triple check.

Read it out loud. Read it again.

Breathe. Post.

Scarcity

Is it wrong to want more influence? Is it bad to try to build your tribe? And is it sinful to want more opportunity to make a bigger mark for God?

It all depends.

It depends first of all if you’re being, what Paul David Tripp calls, a glory thief. If you’re craving the credit for what only God could create, or wanting your tribe to dote on you and hang on your words rather than worship God, you are a glory thief.

But there’s this other piece I’m learning. S L O W L Y learning. I am learning that while it isn’t wrong to approach Mom’s apple from a position of scarcity—because there are a limited number of pieces— it is both irrational and wrong to approach ministry and writing this way.

Because there is plenty of ground to go around.

Comparing

On Friday, I wrote the big **Intro Post** to the Hope*Writers group I joined four months ago. Four months of build up to make the perfect first impression that could connect me to the “right people” and help launch the MORE MEEK book before long. That’s what the deleting and cutting and breathing and re-reading were all about before I hit post.

Saturday evening I looked back at the post, back at the group. I looked back like Lot’s wife and I started comparing. Not only the meager likes and tepid welcomes on my intro post with the massive likes and red hot welcomes on Amy’s intro post, but my life with her life.

There, I said it. The Green-Eyed Monster still isn’t dead in me.

You see, Amy was working for the campus organization that I almost joined 20 years ago. She is doing what I love do as her job. Plus Amy has a real book published by a real publishing house.

Silent tears kicked off a short-lived, impromptu pity party on Saturday night.

Yes, I know. Ug-ly.

Tend Your Territory

Enter Jonathan Rogers into my ugliness. The words of his post were God sent for me that Saturday night, when I started comparing my writing with hers.

Rogers describes urges his writing readers to switch from a hierarchical orientation to a territorial orientation. A hierarchical orientation is fueled by comparison. Instead of comparing and thinking better than, more than, think of faithfulness tending your land. Because comparison, we know, is the thief of joy.

Writing, like running (and, for that matter, like football) requires discipline and work and a willingness to do hard things when a thousand easier things present themselves. But the goal of all of that work and discipline is to get better, not to get better THAN. Other writers are your allies, not your adversaries…

If you’re a writer, forget about your place in the hierarchy. You don’t have a place in the hierarchy because there is no hierarchy in any meaningful sense. What you have is a territory—a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground.

The Draft and the Marathon: Hierarchies and Territories

Please be encouraged. Because we all have a patch of God-given territory. It’s ours to tend. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.

So tend your little patch of ground that is uniquely yours. Tend the girlfriends who want to spend time with you. And tend the growing sons who need you even if they don’t want you. Tend the home that needs your gentle stability. Attend to the readers and listeners God sends you.

Tend, tend, tend. Tend them.

Two Prayers: Both/And

Remember the prayer of Jabez? It’s buried in an obscure passage in a rather obscure Old Testament book. The genealogy is humming along, when after forty-four names, the name Jabez breaks in. And in 1 Chronicles 4:10 we read,

Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.

Jabez prayed for more territory—for me that might look like more people to encourage with God’s Word, more Bible studies, more readers, and maybe, getting that MORE MEEK book in print. What would enlarged territory look like for you?

Pray for it. But remember, too, the words of Psalm 131—that little prayer that King David prayed,

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

Both. Pray for an enlarged territory. Pray that your little patch of influence for Christ, please God, would increase.

And. Pray for a calm, contented soul that is not so preoccupied with too great things that it cannot give thanks in everything.

Fellowship With Christ Or (Pity) Party Alone

After a three month build up to that big first impression intro*post, which 5-6 hours of deliberation, I did the deed on Friday. Then came the sore dejection and deflation on Saturday when I compared my post, and my life, with Amy’s.

Then I got to tending. I started the Bible study prep in the Gospel of Matthew for my little Sunday afternoon territory. And as I prepared this little patch of ground that God has entrusted to me, I started to see that even though my envy is ugly, God isn’t afraid of ugly. So neither should we be. Jesus touched the unclean and made them clean. He deals in beauty made from ashes.

It was getting late and I was still straddling the fence. But my choice distilled to this: Do I stay at the party or blow the joint with the meek and humble Jesus? Do I compare or choose fellowship with the man of no reputation? I can’t do both.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth— as in Can anything good come out of Nazareth? — little backwater Nazareth. There was nothing in his appearance that would attract us to him. Not to mention that his own family thought he was crazy. Oh, sure, he didn’t feel the exact same deflation I felt at Facebook post. But in Hebrews it says, He was tempted in every way as we are but was without sin.

He knows. Which means he can sympathize with the likes of you and me.

All Glory Be To Christ

That was Saturday night. Then came Sunday morn.

God wasn’t done speaking to me about envy and legacy. He speaks through his Word. Sometimes his Word is expressed through man’s lips or song lyrics that remind us of God’s truth.

And it just so happened that on the first Sunday of the new year we sang a song that starts like this, and this pity-party throwing, would-be glory thief was all undone.

In the best of ways.

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders strive
To you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn
All glory be to Christ

All Glory Be To Christ

Woman hoeing little patch of ground
My Mom tends her territory with a little help from the boys.

Do you? Rejoice with Those who Rejoice?

Woman skeptical of friend's new dress

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

In the span of two hours, they came. Bing-bing, bing-bing.

First, the text: Please pray- my brother was just in a hit and run. Taken by Flight for Life. Might be head injuries and for sure broken bones. Please, just pray. I moan- I can’t help but moan and wince in pain- and pray.

Next, the post: One more pumpkin in the pumpkin patch, was how a cousin’s pregnancy announcement came.  No, even at 43, the empty womb hasn’t said, “enough.” Still, I push, Congrats on such a precious gift! 

Then: It was one year ago this weekend that we lost our baby. I was only 12 weeks along, but I can’t stop thinking about her. The tears just stream. Instantly, my own eyes water. I can’t help but hug this friend.

Last: I just started at my dream job this week, she said with glee. In fact, the board actually created the position for me. It’s a perfect fit. I swallow hard, My job is not a perfect fit. Especially not this weekStill.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

Natural or Supernatural?

Is it easy for you? I mean, rejoicing with those who rejoice? Does that empathy come naturally?

For many of us, it’s the weeping part that’s easy.  After all, it’s a rare person who is not touched by the sight of someone in distress.

But sharing others’ joy can be hard, especially if their success is right near our wheelhouse- or would-be wheelhouse. I admit: when ugly envy besets me, it suffocates my joy-sharing empathy.

John Piper details several reasons we might not rejoice with those who rejoice. And rock bottom for most of us with this problem is the life-choking weed of pride. Because the self-preoccupied- whether with disappointment and hurt or with a sense of superiority- find it hard to rejoice in another’s success.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains why so many of us find it harder to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep.

Because the one rejoicing has probably had a great success or bit of good fortune. Then this element of competition comes in…. It’s innate within human nature. We want to become high and great and important. It is one of the main things that happened to man after the Fall: he became proud and self-centered…

And so we find it easy to sympathize with people who are not successful. They are not in competition with us. We feel we are in a better position. We’re up and they’re down, so we can afford to weep with them. It’s more or less natural.

Yes, for me the weeping part is natural. It’s the other that’s supernatural.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

If you can’t feel the joy?

Fake it till you make it might not sound like sage spiritual advice. But I think it might be.

For so much of my own spiritual stretching has been related to those times I’m called not only to do, but to feel a certain way and I can’t seem to feel it- like joy.

At those times, I return to this practical advice from C.S. LewisWhat are [you] to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.  

Rejoicing doesn’t always feel like 100% authentic Abigail. Rejoicing with those who rejoice can feel like pretending. The joyful kind of empathic love doesn’t always come naturally. We know that the natural is opposed to the spiritual, that the flesh and the spirit conflict.

So no matter if sharing the joy doesn’t feel natural. God’s rule is simple: Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. Don’t waste time worrying if you feel the joy. Do not worry if it feels artificial to smile and say abouthis huge new house, or her wedding gown or his all-star son- That’s great!

Saying it might feel fake. But that’s okay. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

A Very Fine Nature

Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success. What Oscar Wilde- a paragon, by the way, of a natural, self-preoccupied life- called a “very fine nature,” I call a  “new creation.”

You’re absolutely right: No one can ever do this for himself. No natural man cannot do this. Only the new creation can. It’s only as we work out while the Spirit works in that we can genuinely share the joy.

It’s only by grace through faith in Christ that I’m able to set aside my hurt and disappointment and pride so I can rejoice with those who are rejoice in things that aren’t mine.

Or are they? Can others’ joys be mine?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones again,

One trademark of our faith is that we are members of the same family and the same body. Nothing can happen to them unless it happens to you. When one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it [1 Cor. 12:26]. Whatever happens to the other  is really happening to you. The body cannot be divided into segments that are not connected. No, no- the body is one and organic and whole. An infection in the little toe can soon cause a headache.

When we show the joy, we might be surprised to find our friends’ joy really does become ours.

But who ever said anything about the Christian life being easy? Who ever guaranteed no growing pains? 

Not the Apostle Paul. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me (1 Cor. 15:10). In fact, I’ve heard it said, that there is not more thorough test of our profession of the Christian faith than just this, that we:

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

Joy Comes

Back to bing-bing #4. Remember that conversation with the friend who just landed that highly-satisfying, custom-fit job? I smiled, leaned in and asked,

So can you show me some of your work?

She did. She took me to an amazing website she’d built. And it was. It was a perfect fit for her passion and skill.

Then by some miracle of grace, it came. Genuine joy- the feeling not just the showing- welled up in me and I really did,

Rejoice with those who rejoice. 

Do You Begrudge Generosity? Or Do You DIGLI?

“God loves inequality…

In terms of gifts, talents, abilities, opportunities, blessings, God is unequally lavish, at least according to our standards, and that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” 

–Joe Rigney

Why Differences Are Good

Differences mean inequality. While many would have you think otherwise, the inequality inherent in our differences is actually a good thing.

In beauty and intelligence, in wealth, in health, and in family of birth, we’re all different. By each of these measures, we are not equal.

But such inequality is not a design flaw.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made (Psalm 145:17). Since God gave his gifts this unequal way, and He’s always loving and righteous, unequal must not be bad. The opposite must be true.

In God’s economy, unequal equals good.

Definitely, yes–we’re equal in the sense of bearing God’s image and are each of us fearfully and wonderfully made. But since differences were arranged by Creator-He clearly dispenses his gifts in diverse and disproportionate ways, He must love inequality.

The body analogy helps us if we stall out here. The body shows us unequal does not mean unimportant.

And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. (1 Corinthians 12:16-18).

God scatters grace and mercy as he wishes on whom he wills. He is lavishly, unequally loving toward all he has made.What do you with this truth?

What do you do when you brush right up against God’s gifts and blessings to others?

Do you say, It’s so unfair and envy? Or, As you wish, Lord, and DIGLI?

The Great Leveler

Contrary to popular opinion, inequality does not need a fix. We need not level the playing field. Five is not equal to three and that doesn’t make either digit a more necessary number. The world would not be better off with just fours.

Dorothy Sayers said, Envy is the great leveler. And that it always levels down. Envy and the resentment would have us lower the blessing bar to the lowest common denominator. If I can’t make a six-figure income, you shouldn’t either. If my kid can’t be a champ, yours shouldn’t be either.

Not Digging Our DIGLI

No, the world does not dig our DIGLI. They don’t get our happy dance and would ban the chance to dance it if they could.

We redistribute to make wealth more even and push our women to be combat-ready rangers. We used to have a valedictorian. Then came two and a few, and a dozen. Now let’s scrap the whole thing. And forget the youth league MVP. All the kids get a trophy.

If we believe the world’s lie, that unequal needs a fix, we can’t.

But if we have eyes to see unequal as God’s gift, we can and will DIGLI.

When I DIGLI

I love secondhand gifts. When God’s grace to others overflows to me, I’m not too proud to DIGLI.

I DIGLI when I listen to my friend Shari play piano and gaze at how she can paint.

Shari’s Sheep

I DIGLI when a service tech looks under the hood and can fix the clunk while I wait.

I DIGLI when one son soaks up a poem and recites it so easily and the other knows who needs a hug and just how firm it should be.

I DIGLI when in Tolkien and Lewis transport me to Middle-earth or Narnia.

I DIGLI when my cheeks are sore from laughing at Tim Hawkins’ yoga pants.

I DIGLI. Do you?

Do you Delight In God’s Lavish Inequality?

You’ve got to have faith to love God’s scattered grace. You must believe His Word is true to DIGLI.

Eyes of faith see his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he

But I don’t always DIGLI.

When I Don’t DIGLI

I don’t dance that happy dance when I compare. When I compare, I either start to covet what she’s got, or to complain about what I haven’t got. Both are ugly, both sin.

God’s lavish inequality is revealed not just in scattered gifts, but in how he administers mercy, too. The way God relents and forgives, how he just–swoosh–erases others’ punishment, that inequality of mercy can bring out the Pharisee in me.
And Pharisees don’t DIGLI.
We become self-righteous, “equality” seekers who don’t dance when we say,
  •  Why does Sam get dessert? You said if he didn’t finish his broccoli he wouldn’t get dessert and now you’re letting him have ice cream. That is not right!
  • I’m not so sure that’s how it should be, I reasoned. Why did the she get picked when I worked so much harder? That is so unfair.
  • Isn’t this what I said? That’s why I made haste to flee; I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful… yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.

It’s hard to swallow God’s grace sometimes. When I compare, I choke on mercy.

How to Dance the DIGLI

But we’d be so much better off on our happy feet. These three truths help me to delight in God’s lavish inequality.

  1. Embrace the body analogy. When I see someone with gifts and abilities and blessings, do I give thanks to the Giver of all gifts, who arranges all the parts of the body as he sees fit? Do I delight in his secondhand gifts?
  2. Find yourself in the Bible stories. Are you Cain or Abel? Saul or Jonathan? Are you Jonah fuming under the shriveled vine. Do you cry, “Your mercy is too great. No fair.” Or rejoice with the blessed?
  3. Give thanks. Envy cannot coexist with gratitude. So anchor yourself in God’s grace with gratitude, says Rigney. Be grateful for gifts God gave them. No wrong has been done because God blessed them. His grace won’t run out.

As You Wish

Do you remember how Princess Bride starts?

Nothing gave Buttercup as much pleasure as ordering Wesley around, Grandpa read.

Farm Boy, polish my horses’ saddle. Farm Boy, fill these with water. Please fetch that jar.

“As you wish,” was all Wesley ever said.  

Then one day Buttercup was amazed to discover that when he was saying,

 “As you wish,” he was really saying, “I love you.” 
 
It is that simple. Wesley’s words of true love and devotion should be ours, too. When we trust God, we can dance the happy dance.
When we DIGLI we are really saying to God, the Giver of all good gifts, As you wish, Lord. Which is really saying, I love you.

Dear Lord, please help us to rejoice in the ways you
dispense your gifts. Forgive us for our envy and discontent. Help us to say, and to really mean, “As you wish.” Help us delight in your lavish inequality.  For the praise of your glorious grace, amen.Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?

–Jesus, in Matthew 20:15