Like most people, I grew up having role models. These were men and women that I grew to respect and admire for a courageous stand they took, for the difference they made, for a successful achievement they made. When I was little, most of these examples were people from history. I loved reading biographies and immersing myself in the stories of brave individuals who changed the world.
Early on, my role models included Dolly Madison, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, and the late Queen Elisabeth (The Queen Mother) of England. All of these women played an important role in their nation's history by using their God-given gifts to bring hope to others. Three of these women spent a portion of their young years tending to the wounds of others. All four of these women lived through a war and saw its affects on their communities. I read all that I could about them...because something told me inside I'd one day have to put such things into action later on in life. I wanted to be like them. Strangely enough, my own life would one day mirror theirs in that I would live through a war in much the same way and would find myself tending to the emotional wounds of others, all the while recalling the example of my female predecessors who had done the same.
As I grew older, though, I began to look beyond historical figures for inspiration. Sports figures and contemporary people became equally interesting to me. I followed several of them closely. I read articles, watched interviews, and read books. I even made myself a scrapbook of quotes from these people on success, leadership, and the like.
But then came the letdowns...
As happens so often, I tasted the disappointment of observing the public downfall of several of these people. One was found to have cheated in his sport; another had private addiction problems. I was crushed. They seemed to have it all. If only they hadn't made such foolish choices, I thought!
So my solution was to look to Christian examples. I found other figures who inspired me that acknowledged and followed Jesus. Now, I thought, I would find the guiding role models I was seeking. Because these people know God, they can't disappoint me...
But eventually, they too, had their downfalls. One at a time, word broke of marital affairs, hypocritical living, etc. I was disillusioned. My own walk with God was unstable at the time, and I was looking for others who would show me what a purposeful life looked like. Now that these professing Christians had let me down, I didn't know who to trust anymore. Is anybody worth my admiration anymore??
In time, I would come to realize that, in a sinful and fallen world, it's actually unrealistic to expect people to behave rightly. Human nature, at its core, is set against everything good. More than that, it is set against God. And unless He grants grace to live differently, human beings will continue to return to the fallen aspects of their inner being. If you live life thinking that everyone is basically good, honest, and kind, then you will probably find yourself disappointed along the way...because eventually, people's true colors show, and you'll discover things about them that let you down. Because everyone makes mistakes. And nobody is perfect. And nobody can love anybody or set the proper example for anybody rightly unless God intervenes.
I've come to see that it's really wrong of us to set each other on a pedestal and expect one another to be the perfect spouse, the perfect parent, the perfect child, the perfect pastor, the perfect role model, the perfect...well...anything. Because, apart from God, there isn't any such thing. We're merely human beings trying to fight our old selves and change into someone better thanks to God's grace. There will be moments when we let each other down. There will be times when we can't see eye to eye. There will be times when we hurt each other...deeply. A wrong word said, an improper action done, a selfish thought conceived...we're all subject to such things. Even though we try to put our best foot forward for one another, our pride masks the fact that we have weaknesses and faults running through our veins constantly. Nobody...no matter how hard they try...can or ever will live "the perfect life." If we were more honest with each other, perhaps we'd spare one another such letdowns. Maybe we'd go into a dating relationship with the attitude that there's nothing we can do to impress the other person. Maybe we'd enter marriage with the perspective that there will be days that we don't love the other person. Maybe we'd parent with the knowledge that our children will sometimes bring us great disappointment and grief by their actions. Maybe we'd attend church realizing that sometimes the pastor will get it wrong. But, with the understanding of all these things, perhaps we'd pray deeper for others. Perhaps we'd be humbler about our own achievements, realizing that if we amount to anything in this life, it is the gift of God. Perhaps we'd forgive a littler quicker, knowing that we have no right to judge others for their sin...because we've got our own heart issues too. Perhaps we'd be a little more cautious as to who we emulate, knowing that the only One truly worth emulating is our Creator.
In his book, "Shaken," former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow writes,
"We have this tendency to idolize people, to think they're perfect or have a perfect life or a perfect marriage or a perfect body or a perfect family or a perfect job. Many of us see other people for what they choose to put out on Instagram or Facebook. The perfect selfie (that took fifteen shots and a few minutes of Photoshopping). The perfect picture with their spouse (that doesn't include a snapshot of the huge blowup they had the night before). The perfect record of the athlete on the field (that doesn't reflect his hardship in caring for a child with a life-threatening illness).
When we get caught up in these fake worlds, we can become disillusioned. We forget that each one of us is human. Flawed. We all have bad thoughts. We all struggle with things. We all need grace. And we all need Jesus. Every. Single. One. Of us.
So instead of viewing those you admire as perfect and incapable of messing up and calling them out in judgement when they do, place your eyes on Jesus instead. He is perfect. He is the one constant who is forever doing right, forever loving, forever faithful, forever unchanging. Humans are flawed and limited, but God is not. We are human, He is not. Look up to God, not others."
You see, when He becomes the focus of our admiration and devotion, when He becomes most paramount, when He takes the place of all others, then we free those around us to be themselves without unrealistic expectation. We remove the burden of having to live up to all we want them to be, and instead just accept them for who they are...flaws and all. We then come together in a community of common brokenness before God and acknowledge that none of us "have it altogether," as we often wrongly assume.
The world is starving for real, authentic people. People who know themselves to be weak and inadequate, who feel the real struggle against fear...who are simply striving to live daring lives of faith in a challenging world. The best way we can be the soul-healers of our day is to talk about our imperfection and His perfection. About our own shortcomings and His never-ending mercy. About the times we've come short, and He's pulled us through. The answer is always Him. Every single time.
Having mentors and examples to look up to is great. We all need that. But do so with caution, knowing that people can never supply what He can. People can never be what we often want them to be. Let our expectations of others be realistic, and let us free each other up to be ourselves as we look to the only One who is truly worthy of our devotion and praise.