I’m sure we’ve all experienced that emotion one way or another – even if we aren’t yet aware of it. It’s easy to get drawn into the assumption that everyone must find that particular thing as easy as we do, and we rush ahead without thinking that maybe, they don’t.
As someone who aspires to write for a living, a creative person who writes a lot and has always found writing relatively easy, I have an active imagination. I am able to step back and see the bigger picture, I am able to imagine new possibilities, new perspectives, new ideas.
One habit we people with big imaginations can find ourselves drawn into is daydreaming. Until recently I used to think everyone did this to the same degree I do – or have done – and it was only when I read part of a book by Don Miller talking about this phenomenon, that I discovered that actually not everyone does daydream. He found this as much a revelation as I did.
I am often told I can often be ‘in my own world’ a little and get easily distracted – probably not the best character trait – but it did come as a shock to hear that not everyone daydreams.
I believe we are all creative in our own way, we all have imaginations which we can use and although some may be more naturally gifted in that area, there is a creative side to all of us. After all, we’re all made in the image of God aren’t we, and God we know is creative. So if we are in the image of God by definition we have a creative element to us, whether we are in tune with it or not.
Now although not all of us may daydream to the extent writers clearly do, we all indulge in a bit of fantasy. We all have dreams about what kind of life we would like to live, where we’d like to live, what we’d like to achieve, what relationships we’d like to have.
All of us engage in this at some point in our lives. Indeed, its all around us all the time.
Our consumer culture feeds us these messages about what’s important in life and what our lives should be about, and these penetrate deep into our subconcious. Advertisers are the best – or maybe we should say worst – at doing this.
Don Miller said in an article he wrote that the average US citizen, according to official statistics, encounters about 3000 advertisments on average each day. A truly staggering figure, and although I’ve done no research myself, I would say that the stats for the rest of Western society aren’t far off that – certainly in the UK I suspect it’s very close to it.
If you think that’s a high figure, well stop a moment. Think of all the billboards, TV & radio adverts, advertisements at sports and concert venues, newspaper and magazine adverts and of course the internet. We may not even be aware we are encountering many of these, but we do. And they try to tell us what life is about.
They try to get us to dream the dreams they want us to. Often the thoughts and dreams we think are ours are just those fed to us by the consumer culture we live in, by people who want us to buy their products.
People accuse the church of forcing their ideas on people – now in some cases that may be true, but at least they are being honest about it. Advertisers and coorporations want to indoctrinate you into their ideas of what life is all about equally as much, if not more. Its just they do it far more subtly and deceitfully – an, it must be said, to much greater effect.
They want us to live in this fantasy world in our minds, rather than engage with reality. They want us to always be dissastisfied with who we are or what we currently have, so we will buy their product, which of course will solve all our problems.
They want us to believe that its what we consume, rather than what we produce or our character or actions, that defines us.
Honestly though, I think we often prefer to live in a fantasy world. I mean in some ways its much easier. We’re in total control of it – or at least we think we are – and we can forget about the harsh realities and hassles of life and console ourselves with the fact that we have the lastest trendy product. It’s very seductive and easy to believe. Even as a passionate follower of Jesus, sometimes you get to a point where you just think it would be easier to give in to all of this.
Even when you’re aware of these things and are actively trying to live differently, it’s still easy to get sucked into a fantasy, the religious ‘Christian’ fantasy which has been perpetuated by some churches.
This would be the fantasy where we imagine what we could be if only we were the perfect Christian, or somehow get convinced that the more holy or righteous we are, the more we impress God, the more we ‘do the right thing’ or am seen to do the right thing, then the more blessed and accepted we will be by Jesus and His church.
Sometimes it’s when I’m caught up in worship and I start to imagine myself doing something different – or more important, in my mind – in church than I am doing, or I fantasise about what will happen when God has sorted me out and everything in my life is how I want, and how thankful I will be to God in that moment.
You ever had any of these fantasises, or anything like them?
Then of course there’s the illusion of the identity we often put on for church. Now if you’re a Christian, I’m certain you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s not even a fake self necessary, but it’s an idealised version of yourself, of who you would be if you weren’t, well, you. It doesn’t have all the imperfections that you know about yourself and maybe your partner or best friends & family know.
In my case, it can be like I am living almost as two identities, if not more. There’s the one I put on for church, the one who always does and says the things I’m meant to, who does things up front in church and serves one or two Sundays a month, and goes to home group. This is the best version of myself, the self that I would love to be all the time. This self trusts God, puts God first, and although he has struggles and difficulties, always responds the right way.
Then there is the worst kind of Christian fantasy. The perma-grin, ever-happy Christian.
Maybe you’ve met Christians like this. I’m not judging them or condemning them or saying God isn’t at work in these kind of Christians – that would be foolish and unwise to say.
But being brutally honest, there is in my experience a certain type of Christian who seem to live in this dreamworld where God has made everything okay in Jesus (which is actually true, but not in the way they think) and despite difficult things everything is okay now and we should all smile all the time and be happy, because God has taken care of it all (again, true, but not how they think) and its all alright now (a total lie – the world isn’t alright now at all and they aren’t perfect either, no matter how right their beliefs are).
They act like there’s no problems in the world – death, pain and suffering are all out in ‘the world’ and don’t effect them at all and are to be kept away from, apart from praying for the victims of them. This kind of Christian doesn’t talk about pain and suffering too much, they kind of keep it hidden, and the always seem disconnected from reality. Social justice isn’t really something you hear about from Christians like this, except in a very patronising, third-person kind of way.
Maybe this is just me being a cynic, over-generalising or having been around churches too long, but you can’t tell me if you’ve been around churches long enough that you haven’t met people like this.
I’m not denying that God is at work in their lives or has blessed them, or uses them, or that we shouldn’t celebrate what God has done and is doing – as you can see, its clear God is at work in them and there is some truth in what they say and experience, of course there is, and we should praise God for what He has done in their lives, of course we should. No one denies or doubts that.
The issue for me is that Christians like this seem a little disconnected from reality, and to me anyway it seems like they never admit to ever doubting or questioning God, not even in a healthy way, and they don’t like to admit or talk about their weaknesses or be vulnerable, even in church or before God, because that would shatter the image they seem to project and would somehow lessen their worth to God or mark them out as immature or somehow worth less to God. It’s the world of the Christian bubble, and if you go too far in you can forget what’s on the outside, and that there are real issues people are dealing with, that it doesn’t always work out and God has things for us to do – and that Jesus hasn’t come back yet.
The truth is I might be wrong about this – God knows their hearts, and it’s not my role to judge, and as I’ve said I don’t doubt that God is at work in these people and that there is truth to much of what they believe and how they interpret their faith, as I’ve said.
But personally, I think God would love them to be more honest with Him and more in touch with the problems of the world, and be participating in doing something about them, rather than locking themselves away in some idyllic ‘Christian’ fantasy land which seems to think we are in a perfect world now – and we’re not – and that’s probably what makes me so angry when I encounter Christians like this, that they are just ignorant of real issues in a sinful world which God calls us to sort out, and act like we’re in heaven already, when we’re clearly not. It’s not honest I don’t think, and I don’t think it’s the way of Jesus.
You see its okay to celebrate, to worship, to share amazing stories of what God has done, to smile in church, like the perma-grin Christians. Those are good things and things we should do. But if we are doing that from a place of total honesty about the reality of our lives and of the issues in the world that concern God, the worship surely has more meaning, more power and more authenticity – that we know how bad things are, that we aren’t perfect, that we have doubts and insecurities and fears, but that even in the midst of that, we still choose to worship and serve God and engage in relationship with Him, we still choose to build His kingdom.
This issue of who we really are, and being honest with ourselves and with God, is a a massive one, and it’s a very important one. Because without total honesty with God and ourselves, I don’t believe its possible to undergo real, substantive change – and without that, we are never going to be able to be the people God designed us to be.
We need to learn to be naked before God – in a metaphorical way of course – to throw away the fig leaf and be totally vulnerable. Jesus practiced this physically for us on the cross – where He was crucified, naked and vulnerable, and exposed before God for us. He showed us physically what we need to do with our lives.
That’s ultimately how we grow, how we are fully reconciled to God
I’m going to end this blog post here. I’ve written way more on this subject, which you will see in the coming weeks, but this seems a good place to take a breather and ponder what we’ve already reflected on. I want to discuss further this topic of being honest with God and ourselves, and delve a little deeper and also offer some practical guidance to take this forward.
So keep reading for some more blog posts on these kind of themes in the next few weeks, and feel free to let me know your thoughts and questions on the subject, I’d love to get some feedback.
As you go into the next week though, ponder on these things.
How many different versions of yourself are there? Do you think any of them are the ‘real’ you?
How much do you let yourself be affected by the culture we live in?
Are you afraid to be honest with God about who you really are? If so, why?
Do you know that God knows the real you, the one you hide, but also knows the you that you can be that you might not even realise exists – and that whatever your background, insecurity, doubt or fear, He knows about it and can deal with it?
Are you willing to throw away the fig leaf?
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