Before continuing, consider glancing over one of my earlier blog posts, Enough, as it relates and might help open your heart up to this rant.
There are two different ways that we live life: without an audience and with one. Times without an audience are any times when we are alone or aren't posting. Times with an audience are any times where we're around people or are posting on social media. It’s true for everyone that we experience life in both ways but depending on who you are, you may switch between the two every other week, every other day, or multiple times within the span of a day. (There can also be seasons in our life where we are within a ‘desert’ of sorts when it comes to the circle in which we surround ourselves with, where - for months or even years - the pool of people in our lives is dry). We all have audiences, we all have times where we’re on display in front of them.
When those audiences are absent, we get anxious. What you look like, your diligence with your workout or diet, your success in school or in something you’ve been working at, your latest purchase, or your quiet time with Jesus can’t be applauded when no one is watching. When we’re not receiving validation from those outside sources, thoughts like “No one cares,” “I should just give up, no one will even notice,” or “I’m worthless,” circulate. Not being showered with compliments or being hyped-up by those select people whose opinion matters most to us, means we feel empty if they are our source of worth. And as humans, we'll do anything to not feel that way.
On the flip side, the same is true. When those audiences are present, we can still get anxious. When it seems like everyone is watching, the pressure to perform causes us to work harder at things like our appearance or our success. With all eyes on us, thoughts like “Everyone is going to notice,” “People are going to love me once I…,” “ I’ll be worth it once I do/say…” are more than likely running through our heads. We try to impress those around us because we trick ourselves into thinking that if we just try hard enough, we can feel accepted and worthy.
Since it is inevitable that we will switch between the times when we don't have an audience and do, a vicious cycle is formed. As I said before, as humans, we will do anything to be accepted and feel worthy. So to not feel empty, we look to ourselves and to the world for value. The cycle starts with that alone time, where we work out and eat healthy and study hard and buy new clothes and makeup, where we try to build our way to that image of who we want to be so that when someone comes along - when we have an audience - we're ready to show them how great we are. Then we get filled with surface level encouragement which then gives us happiness for a couple hours until we then crave more love and attention.
As I emphasize in my rant "Enough," trying to fill that hole in our heart with worldly recognition is a empty pursuit. Slowly, yet surely, it drains us socially, emotionally, and physically as the effort we put in only builds us up for a fraction of a second before we need more.
So how are we supposed to get out of this "cycle"? How do we stop feeling the pressure to perform, stop looking inside ourselves and in the world around us for validation?
For me, artist NF sums up my struggle within his song "I Miss the Days" when he says-
"Need to get rid of what's detrimental, but it's hard to let go
Ever since I walked through the doors of high school my freshman year, I've felt the pressure to perform. Whether it was for my friends or boys I liked or my followers on Instagram, I have had a constant need to be loved by others. Not only did I get temporarily filled up with value by them, but they pushed me to become better. I was constantly forcing myself to eat better, train better, look better, post better, write better, get better grades, and be a better person. NF is basically recapping my high school experience. It's always been hard to refocus my efforts off of people pleasing when they push me as an individual.
But this past summer, God convicted me.
To preface, the friendships I make are deep, loyal friendships. I only have a few people that I call friends because I tend to invest a lot into them. So when one of those friends moved away about a month ago, the small circle of people I surround myself with, seemed to dwindle. I started to get unreasonably anxious, beyond "I'm sad that my friend moved away", and I didn't know why.
Over the course of a couple days of praying about it, I came to the realization that I was stuck within that vicious cycle of performing, but I needed to know how to get out.
I work out in one of the back rooms of my house. This is one of the walls of that room.
Every time I work out, I find myself starring at that empty frame to the right. Taking up almost the entire space, your eyes just happen upon it. Once I started reflecting on the anxiousness I felt from not having an audience, God used this frame to show me something.
Let's say that this frame is us. If we wanted to, we could put a painting in it so that whenever passerbyers see it, they admire us. You could also but a mirror in it, reflecting your image to the world. But God calls us to actually leave the frame empty so that he can fill it with the image of Jesus so that when we are on display for the world, all that anyone sees is Jesus.
For when we don't have an audience: Multiple times throughout the New Testimate, Jesus is seen praying by Himself (Matthew 14;23, Luke 6:12, etc.). Just as well, Matthew 6:1-4 states-
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Jesus sets an example and clearly tells us that when we don't have an audience, we should allow God to sanctify us so that His Kingdom may be glorified. We should leave our frame free for God to fill us.
For when we do have an audience: Paul in 1st Corinthians 9:19-23 says-
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone,to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
The same is true when we have an audience as is when we don't have one: we should be a reflection of Jesus. If we are an empty frame being filled by God, we are able to live mission oriented, living fruitful lives as our focus is not on gaining the approval of people for our own sake but the Kingdom's. Paul is the perfect example of this, even though he is becoming like the people around him, his frame is full of Jesus, so when people look at him they are able to relate to him but also see how different he is as he radiates this image of Jesus, causing them to start conversations about God.
And I believe God calls us to be like Jesus, praying alone and blessing others in secret. And to be like Paul, where his mission was to grow the Kingdom of God rather than build his own following.
I know this was a long message that ended with a short conclusion, but the idea is really simple.
Who are you when no one is watching? You're preparing for when that audience comes along, sure, but are you getting ready to perform in front of them or present the life changing reality of Jesus Christ?