“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” — Nelson Mandela (Former President of South Africa)
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. –Matthew 5:15-16
I’ll admit something personal. Breaking the power of envy is near and dear to my heart. I don’t know why, except that I want everyone to be free to be themselves, all of who they are, to the glory of God! Since we carry the light of God, He calls each and every one of us to shine as brightly as possible, which includes exercising our gifts to their fullest measure.
Hiding our gifts and who we are can keep us from our highest and our best.
Destructive envy can cause many different things to happen, but here I focus on these two:
- Hide one’s light under a bushel to avoid someone else’s envy.
- Inspire an envious person to force a “bushel” over someone else’s life.
LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE
Believe it or not, the threat of envy can cause people to try to be less than who they are, especially women. In general, our society teaches women to take care of other people in a variety of ways, including helping them to feel comfortable. God made women, in general, to be more relational, which is not a bad thing. But, we don’t want to let our consideration for the feelings of others to keep us from being who we truly are. God wants us to honor both ourselves and other people.
…do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. –Philippians 2:4
More often than not, when a woman senses someone else feels uncomfortable or threatened by how she is or by her accomplishments, she’ll naturally try to make that other person feel better. Sometimes, mistakenly, she may think she has to diminish her own light to help another person to shine.
But, the truth is I can’t give to someone else what I don’t have. God tells us to love people as we love ourselves! (Matthew 22:37-39) I can only encourage others with the freedom to shine, when I first give that permission to myself. Conversely, if I try to cover up my light and deny my authentic self, then I’ll have fewer resources to give to those around me. Granting everyone the permission to shine brightly makes the world a better place and the Church more effective! Never forget God gave us our gifts to build up others!
Regardless of how we respond to envy, God calls us to be all that we can be, without compromise!
HIDING YOUR LIGHT TO FIT IN OR MAKE OTHERS FEEL BETTER
On issues of envy, the bell curve teaches us why some people may not live up to their full potential. (See picture of the bell curve at the bottom of this blog post.)
Think of the academic spread of a typical junior high school. Most students fit in the middle of the bell curve. They take regular education classes. The ones in the middle “get” one another, since they have similar IQs, interests and levels of understanding. The majority of the bell curve resides in the center with 68-95% of the people.
Then, special education recipients land on either side of the middle majority: developmentally delayed on the left and gifted and talented on the right. The IQs are listed on the bottom of the chart. As you look to the right of the bell curve, students with an IQ of 130 to 145 comprise only 2% of the people. The rarest of the rare with an IQ of 145 and above make up 0.1% of the people. Consequently, as you go further to the right of the bell curve, you’ll have fewer and fewer true peers.
I use academic/intellectual giftedness as an analogy for giftedness in general.
IN JUNIOR HIGH, WE ALL WANT TO FIT IN
For example, if you have an IQ of 135, only 2% of the population may understand your interests, talk at your level, keep up with the quickness of your mind, or even find your jokes funny. These kids may finish their work early and read books under their desks to pass the time. They may have well-developed and sophisticated interests and find conversations with most middle schoolers shallow and unengaging.
Of course, these outliers, on the edge of the general population, won’t fit in as well as if they were towards the center of the bell curve. Additionally, Tall Poppy Syndrome, where people want to “cut down” those who excel in school, work or whatever field, makes it even more difficult for those already set apart and alienated from their peers.
Why would you excel even more when you know it’ll only further distance yourself from others? No, you may not want to under those circumstances, which is one of the reasons why gifted people hold back.
Consequently, students mask their abilities to be like everyone else.
HOW SMART GIRLS VANISH AS TEENS
Additionally, smart girls, from middle school on, trade in their intelligence and true interests for the values of the majority, which can include sports, clothes, hair, makeup, pop culture, celebrity crushes, partying, etc. They won’t express their unique interests and academic ability for fear of appearing too different or too weird. In the midst of peer pressure, being different doesn’t come across as “cool” and “interesting,” but “bad” and “wrong.”
At a time when acceptance from your peers seems all important, gifted people become less of themselves to fit in more and to make others feel more comfortable. Over time, they may lose themselves under their self-imposed masks.
I bring this up, because both boys and girls/ men and women have much to offer the people around them. We all need the encouragement to shine and to reach our full potential, especially those most prone to hiding.
THE INCREDIBLES: A MOVIE ABOUT HOW PEOPLE SUFFER FROM HIDING THEIR GIFTS
This movie shows what happens when people hold back their gifts and become less of who they really are. Each family member has had to suppress his or her superpowers in order to fit into a society that doesn’t want them. In the movie, bad press and lawsuits come against the “supers,” forcing all superheroes to go into hiding or the “witness protection program.”
In last week’s blog post, I shared how the X-Men, mutants with superpowers, hide, because they’re a threat to society. In The Incredibles, superheroes go into hiding, because they’re a threat to society. Interesting how we have the same theme running through both. Consider why.
What are we saying about people with gifts? Do we have a problem with them, because our society wants to maintain the illusion that everybody is equal?
MEET THE PARR FAMILY
Members of the Parr family develop problems as they hide their powers from the world.
- Bob Parr spends his days at a monotonous insurance job crammed in a cubicle. Even there, his micromanaging boss prevents him from truly helping people with their insurance needs and being the “hero.” He longs for the glory days and feels most alive fighting crime undercover with his friend, Frozone. Boxing in his superpowers and larger-than-life personality brings a dark cloud over every other aspect of his life, where he exists mostly zombie-like on auto-pilot.
- Helen Parr becomes a stressed-out wife and parent, with a narrow life and limited vision She no longer focuses on larger causes that go beyond her family, but tries to live a “normal life.” Since they’ve had to relocate a number of times due to Bob’s heroic “escapades,” she focuses on keeping the family hidden and manageable. She doesn’t realize that most of the family’s problems stem from living their lives in hiding.
- Violet Parr, the family’s junior high school daughter, not only can turn invisible, but, ironically, feels invisible at her school, because her superpowers keep her from fully expressing herself. Insecure and sullen, she has little idea of who she is and what she’s fully capable of doing. She exists as a shell of herself.
- Dash Parr, their young son, gets into trouble at school. He last got caught using his powers to pull a prank on his unsuspecting teacher. Since he can’t focus his powers in a positive direction, Dash fritters away his gifts. He’s frustrated he can’t go out for sports and has to hide his abilities, because he intuitively understands his powers are good and meant to be used.
- Jack-Jack is blissfully happy, because he doesn’t yet realize he has any powers and is too young to understand what’s going on.
Here’s where you can see a glimpse of the problems in this superhero family:
Through the course of the movie, members of the family flourish as they come out of hiding, risk their lives for what’s right, express their gifts and fulfill their true calling and destiny as a crime-fighting family.
THE BELL CURVE ALSO APPLIES TO THE CHURCH
People who go hard after God will find fewer people like them as time goes on. The more you progress and develop as a disciple of Christ, the less you may identify with the majority of people who call themselves Christians. Your growth will cause you to move further away from the majority in the middle towards the right side of the curve. As you draw closer to God, He may plant within you directions and passions other people just might not understand.
Grasping the reality of the bell curve makes it easier to accept the disconnect that may happen as you break away from the pack and run your own race.
HOW WILL YOU RUN YOUR RACE BEFORE GOD?
When hard-core disciples for Christ stop to look around, kindred spirits may be few and far between. Inevitably, their God-given standards and spiritual disciplines set them apart. Also, their friends and family may participate in things they’ve long since given up for the sake of righteousness and going further with God. So, even though, everyone believes in the same God and the same Bible, their individual relationships with God differ drastically. If this trajectory continues, fewer people will understand the dedicated person’s radical commitment to God. They may even call it legalism or “being a Pharisee.”
In every area of life, people want to be accepted and welcomed as a part of the group.
These people, then, have a choice: Do I run harder after God, which will mean less possible connection with the people around me OR do I slow down and try to stay with them, so that I can have a sense of belonging to a group that accepts me?
GO FOR THE GOLD OR SETTLE FOR THE BRONZE
I’ve often been tempted to relax my standards so I could fit in better with a group of people. I’m not saying that others need to have my standards or that I should impose my standards on other people. I’m simply saying revelation, understanding and consecration tend to build in layers upon one another in a person’s life. If I press further into the light, the more God can reveal himself to me and the more I can see my own sin. If I repent, the closer I can get to God, the more revelation I receive, the more I’ll consecrate myself and the cycle goes on and on.
My level of “pressing in” and consecration influence how far I go with God. The farther and faster I run after God, the fewer connections I’ll have with others, because not everybody has that same zeal for God.
I’ve also been tempted to give less than my best to make someone else feel more comfortable. Growing up, I played sports with the neighborhood boys. As a result, I grew up with a healthy sense of competition. At times, I’d win. Most boys didn’t have a problem with me winning, but, then, there might be that one boy who felt badly, because he was beaten “by a girl.”
This pattern has followed me throughout my life in one way or another. Many of you may feel the same way. Even though winning has become less important to me, “doing my best” may still cause others to feel uncomfortable, whenever I stand out from the crowd or winning is a by-product of my gifts and diligence. This dynamic doesn’t just apply to me, but to everyone.
DON’T GIVE INTO PEER PRESSURE, NOT EVEN FROM THE CHURCH
It’s difficult to believe, but even “running hard after God” can threaten people who you’d think would be happy for you … church people, ministry people. As a result, some may take out their “measuring sticks” to compare your spiritual life to theirs. “Toning things down” and slowing down can become common responses to the comparison and discomfort one feels from others. Remember, when a person hides because of another person’s envy, he or she may feel the need to make the other person feel better.
Do you ever feel that pressure to conform to the norm, even in Christian circles?
As you can see, “hiding your light under a bushel” can happen in a variety of ways.
Love Series: In a World Full of Envy, Be All that You Can Be, Part 2BURIED TALENTS WON’T PRODUCE FRUIT
Here’s a scene from The Incredibles where Dash intentionally doesn’t win, but comes in a close second.
Think of how much mental and physical energy it takes Dash NOT to win the race, but to be just good enough to come in a close second.
Keep in mind, God never wanted us to live less than who we are! Satan wants us to live in hiding. The enemy would much rather have us bury our talents than multiply them for God.
NEW TESTAMENT BELL CURVE
(You may want to refer to the picture of the bell curve again at the bottom of this page.)
Jesus’ ministry also reflects the normal distribution of people on a bell curve.
The middle majority belongs to the masses who followed Jesus and ate the loaves and fishes. (For example, John 6:1-14)
The seventy who went out two by two to do the works of Jesus and the one hundred and twenty praying in the upper room waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit represent the above average 14% of the population. (Luke 10:1-24; Acts 1:1-16; Acts 2:1-21) These disciples demonstrated enduring loyalty to Jesus and His cause long after the crowds ebbed away.
The farthest 2% on the right were the twelve disciples Jesus also called to be apostles.
The fewer than 1% of the people were Peter, James and John as part of his inner circle.
You see, the bell curve has both real world and Biblical applications.
GOD’S BELL CURVE
One important question: How would God place people on the bell curve from His perspective?
He makes it clear throughout the Scriptures that what He wants most is relationship and intimacy. We move further to the right of the bell curve, as we grow deeper in our relationship with God.
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” –Jeremiah 9:23-24
UNDERSTANDING AND GROWTH DEPEND ON RELATIONSHIP
Even among Christian brothers and sisters, differences in the bell curve can keep people from really relating to one another. One of the twelve apostles would have a much different perspective and relationship with Jesus than one of the five thousand Jesus fed with the loaves and fish. Conversations about Jesus and the revelation of God between them would reveal huge differences in their levels of understanding. One person’s knowledge would far outstrip the other, not just because Jesus spent more intimate time with that person in particular, but because understanding builds upon prior understanding.
Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. –Matthew 13:12
This dynamic has little to do with how many years one has been a Christian, who’s who on the church organization chart or the amount of education and/or training you received from a seminary or Christian ministry. Once again, it has mostly to do with one’s personal relationship with Jesus, rate of understanding and level of consecration.
OTHERS WILL RECOGNIZE YOUR INTIMACY WITH JESUS MORE THAN YOUR TITLE
Though Jesus gave his closest friends the designation of “apostles,” that title meant nothing to the power structure already in place. When the religious leaders of the day arrested Peter and John, they saw them as “uneducated and untrained men,” not as exalted apostles. The thing they noticed most about these men, however, was that they had been with Jesus. That one thing made a world of difference, qualifying them to stand as apostles and to work God’s miracles. (Acts 4:1-14)
Since God looks upon the heart and not the outward appearance, God’s bell curve differs from man’s bell curve, even in the Church.
Hang in there with me, everyone! We discussed the common theme of people hiding their gifts and true abilities (reflected in these superhero movies) for a reason. Hiding remains a real issue that affects many gifted people, which is why I’m taking the time to unpack it. Next week’s post will be In a World Full of Envy, Be All that You Can Be, Part 2.
REFLECTION AND APPLICATION QUESTIONS
- Do you ever remember a time where you “hid your light under a bushel?” What was your motivation to hide? How did you feel about the situation?
- If God gave us these gifts and intentionally made us who we are, why is it so destructive, then, to be less than who we are? From God’s perspective? In our own personal lives? From the perspective of the Body of Christ and the world?
- If you’re a woman, have you ever felt the need to hide your light, because of someone else’s discomfort and feelings? Are you currently “hiding your light” in some way? Of course, it’s important to consider other people, but what will you do to also honor yourself and how God made you? How will you live your highest and best self in the face of envy and potential feelings of discomfort from other people?
- Does living your highest and best automatically mean you are proud, boastful, look down on others, etc.? Reflect on your personal answer to this question. If it doesn’t mean those things, then why do people have a problem with confident people who exercise their gifts fully and completely? Do you think our egalitarian society has made it so being “super” is elitist or bad? Why or why not?
- In one way or another, we are all still in junior high. We all want to fit in with people. Has the need to be liked and accepted ever stopped you from going further in God and your level of consecration? In your entertainment? Standards? Personal habits? Ways you spend your time? Pray through the different categories of your life and submit them to God. If you’re being held back by a need for acceptance and being part of the group, when you feel you are ready, repent and pray that God will set you free from these hindrances to run the race without restraint!
- We discussed the movie The Incredibles. How can hiding your gifts and true ability negatively affect your life? If you’ve never seen the movie, watch the movie in light of this subject of hiding one’s gifts. If you’ve already seen the movie, watch it again.
- We all have a choice to make: Run harder after God, which will mean less possible connection with people OR slow down to stay with those from which we want acceptance. Is there a way to reconcile these two realities? If not, which will you choose? Remember, we’re counting the cost. Fewer and fewer people will be to your left and right as you run this race as far and fast as you can.
- If you’ve decided to run “a race of one” before the eyes of your Father in Heaven, what plan will you put into motion to make this a reality? How will you break free from the negative impact of envy, groupthink and the need to be accepted by others? What steps will you take to go from strength to strength, faith to faith and glory to glory?
- What verses and passages will you study in order to defeat all that would hinder you from being your highest and best self?
- Did something in this blog post resonate with you? If so, why? What is God trying to communicate to you? Take it to him in prayer and wait for his answers and understanding.