Why the perfect life is exhausting and lonely.
People congratulate you and admire you. They say all kinds of lovely things about you, but you don’t believe them. In fact, the more they mention your achievements, the more it proves your point: They don’t even know the real you.
You’re desperately lonely. Nobody really understands you. Nobody even really sees you. They all think you’re fabulous, but for the wrong reasons.
And it’s not that you’re a bad person. It’s just that people aren’t seeing the real you. What’s going on? Why does it seem like you scream inside your skull, but nobody even knows that you’re in pain?
It is possible to become expert at “living your life”, yet die on the inside.
There are people who do well at school, university, or business. They’re good at sports, drama, or whatever their hobby is. People think of them as successful. People like them. But that person never really connects with all the success or adoration.
To them, it’s like the success doesn’t even really belong to them. The loneliest moment is when someone’s making a fuss over them – like when they’re on the stage getting an award, being cheered. It’s tedious for that person, exhausting. They want to be somewhere else.
This is because deep down, they know the truth: It’s not them that is being cheered; it’s their avatar.
That person built the avatar to satisfy other people’s expectations. Maybe their parents had high expectations of them at school. Perhaps they were good at sports and people started to expect great results. Their life starts to be designed according to what others expect. Somewhere along the line they realise that they’re not doing these things for themselves; they are doing things to satisfy everyone else.
From their point of view they can’t break everyone’s heart by telling them that the academic achievements, or sports (or whatever it is that others want for you), are just not that important. “I mean, these people love me”, is the rationale, “They want the best for me. I can’t just say, ‘I don’t care about that thing’. It would be cruel!”
So they build an avatar. An avatar is like a cardboard replica of yourself. It’s perfect: just what people want to see. It is purpose-built to satisfy the expectations of others. Here’s how it works:
You put the avatar through the motions of succeeding at whatever she is being expected to do, and she succeeds. Everyone is impressed!
People love the avatar. She’s just what everyone wanted from you. They adore her. They congratulate her… And they don’t even realise that she’s a fake.
At first it even gives a wry sense of satisfaction! And in truth, it’s very impressive. Imagine living life through an imaginary, remote-controlled replica of yourself… and succeeding at everything!
But the problem is that you start to feel sad that your closest friends can’t even tell the difference between the avatar and the “real me”.
Shouldn’t they be able to see past the deception and notice how desperately lonely I am? Don’t they get it, that when my avatar is being congratulated, I’m in pain?
Then the person can start to resent their friends for missing the clues. They wonder if they will ever have a real friend, one who can see them for who they really are. One who isn’t fooled by the avatar.
The love of a friend can’t benefit someone who has an avatar, because the love isn’t being given to the person. It’s being lavished on the avatar.
It’s lonely. In fact, it’s starvation.
The Perfect Life
The “perfect life” of the avatar is full of smiles. And why wouldn’t it be? You’re giving people precisely what they want. They wanted the “perfect” you, and you’re dishing it up. You’re winning awards, being congratulated, and people think you’re terrific.
But the more they like you, the more trapped you are in the perfect life. You’ve got to keep it up, or you’ll let them all down! Imagine if you failed… It’s just too horrific to consider!
So you keep going.
This is the curse of “the perfect life”.
I’m losing me
Eventually, the avatar is living your whole life for you. The real you never even comes out of the darkness. The avatar is so much more successful and likeable than you anyway, right?
It’s hard to remember who you really are.
All I knew for sure was that I was losing me. I was dying on the inside. Is it possible, I wondered, that I’m already gone, and beyond reach?
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
There can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
The Illusion is Shattered
You are not invisible!
It’s not that you can’t be seen, it’s just that your avatar is what people want to see, so they naturally will see it. It’s like the magician, who provides a hand gesture according to what you expect (like throwing something into the air), but actually does something different (dropping it into his hat). Everybody wants to believe that he threw it, so that’s what they think they see.
“We don’t see things as they are,
we see things as we are”
– Anais Nin
Most people, most of the time, are looking for things that affirm to them whatever they think reality is. In your case, they think the reality is that you are living the perfect life, so that’s what they’re seeing. Show them your avatar, and they’ll believe it because they want it to be true.
Jesus was able to see directly through people’s avatars:
The “Woman at the well”
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. – John 4:28-30
The “rich young ruler”
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” – Luke 18:22-24
This is because, to Jesus, it didn’t matter what the person’s life looked like on the outside. He was looking at their heart.
Is there any hope for me?
Yes. Yes, there is.
Jesus said, “I do not accept glory from men” (John 5:41). What a stunning thought…
Imagine if we could honestly say that about ourselves. The truth is that we care very deeply about the glory (praise) that comes from the people around us. We seek it! But imagine what life would be like if that wasn’t a consideration. Imagine if we were only interested in doing what was right, fair, and good for everyone, without worrying about what anyone else said or thought…
This is the reverse of having an avatar. An avatar is created because it becomes so very important to satisfy the expectations of others that expressing yourself becomes irrelevant. Modern Psychology calls the problem an “External Locus of Identity”, meaning that we measure our own worth according to what others think. Jesus operated in the reverse: He expressed himself, sometimes at the expense of the approval of others:
He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:65-68
Jesus did not act according to how others thought he ought to act, he acted according to what God instructed. Is this still an “External” locus of identity? Well it would be… except that Jesus found his identity and God’s identity as coterminous: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). And he went on later to pray for us, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you … I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:20-23)
Jesus prayed for us to have the same experience of our identity being found in God, and the presence of God to be found in us, which is therefore not an “external” locus of identity. In fact, it is the proper locus of our identity, because it places our identity in the identity of our creator.
But how do I get that?
There are two essential things to consider:
What is your identity?
Your identity is what God says it is. He made you in his image (Gen 1:27), so you reflect God himself in an intrinsic way. You are wonderfully created (Ps 139:14), which is true irrespective of anything you have done since.
Your identity is not dependent on your activities, achievements, mistakes, or choices.
How do you locate it correctly?
Your true identity is found in God. Is God found in you?
If God is not found in you, then there is a gulf between “you” and the seat of your identity – your maker. This is called “the Transcendence of God”. It means that God is not the same thing as ourselves, or the created universe.
But Jesus died and was resurrected. In doing so he created a spiritual home for the faithful, in which there is proper relationship with God. It involved God’s Spirit being “poured out” on the church (Acts 2). In this way, God is present in the Church, and as a believer, we are part of that Church. Therefore this relationship includes God’s presence and involvement in the very essence of our existence, both individually and corporately, to the effect that God’s identity is part of ours, and vice versa.
In that relationship, the locus of our identity is both internal and transcendent. Both human and divine.
It all comes down to this: Do you believe/put your trust in this?
If you don’t believe it, then you’re staying where you are. You can try locating your locus of identity “internally”, but you will find that it’s like trying to pull yourself off the ground by your bootstraps – there is no point of reference. I mean, how can you base your identity on “yourself”, when you don’t even really know who that is? You create a circular definition: “I am who I’m trying to be”.
… or try locating your locus of identity in a transcendent God, but you will find that this is an external locus of identity, and you will endlessly be trying to live up to whatever you think God requires of you.
But if you do believe it, and trust in this, then you will consider what God said: He has said that you are wonderful, that he loves who you are, and that he and you should be sharing your life together. And he has said that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
“I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Even as he spoke, many believed in him.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:28-31
Because seeing your avatar for what it is, is the easy bit. The harder part is putting the avatar down.
The avatar was made by you, so it’s pretty clever.
But you were made by God, so you’re a miracle.
You’re worth so much more than your avatar.