I blinked at the screen, stared at her words for a few seconds, then rattled off a joke to change the subject. Her words echoed through my mind, and I had no idea what to do with them. Me, someone people would want to be like? A role model?
No. Obviously she was just being nice. And of course, I tossed around the seemingly rhetorical question in my mind: "Why would anyone want to be like me?"
So here's one of the most basic facts you need to know about me: I am not perfect. Nobody is, right? But somehow, the idea of having someone -- especially a younger person who's still figuring themselves out -- look to me as an example of how to behave is terrifying. I mean, how do you even do that? As the fourth-born child out of five and the youngest girl, I never felt much pressure to be an example for anyone. (Firstborn children, my cap is off to you for getting through life with the myriad of expectations placed upon you just because you happened to be born before any of your siblings.)
But I mean I am really not perfect. At least from my own perspective, I have a lot of flaws, some of which I'm on the road to conquering, others not so much. In fact, it seems like the longer I live and interact with others, the more aware and self-conscious I become about my own shortcomings. Having a few invisible physical and mental illnesses only compounds this. Because here's the deal -- I am literally brain-damaged. Not in the sense that I got in a car crash and bashed my head against something or anything like that, but because since I was in high school I have had parasites crawling through my body, burrowing in and eating away at whatever they found. And part of what they found was my brain and nervous system. As a result, even though they're clearing out of my blood bit by bit, I'm still left with a flaky brain and a tendency to be less than normal in my behavior (not that I ever really was in the first place). Depression saps my motivation. Anxiety paralyzes me and compels me to run into the arms of the many sources of procrastination which I've discovered. And brain fog sees to it that, on those rare occasions when I have both the motivation and the confidence to work, every word written or edited is... is, um... What was I going to say, again?
Oh, right. It's a struggle. That's what I was going to say. Except I was going to use much better words and some kind of original metaphor to make myself sound clever.
Anyways, you probably get the picture by now. Whatever flaws I might have had as a "normal" person are exacerbated (though not caused) by all the stuff going on in my brain and the rest of my body. Where I might have once been a little nervous about sending someone a message after extensive silence between us, now I tend to avoid conversations altogether just so I won't have to deal with my brain saying, "But what if they don't want to talk to you? What if they want to talk to you but you're not interesting enough? No, don't say that or they'll think -- uggggghhhhh, why on earth did you say that? That was the stupidest possible way to answer that question. Just close the chat window and run away to watch Netflix with me and never try to talk to people again." Where I might have been a little flustered to see that someone challenged my strongly held belief (oh, woe of all woes), now I panic and have to resist the urge not to lash out or dissolve into tears over the perceived rejection of my point of view.
In fact, if I were to believe everything my addled brain tells me in an average day, I would believe myself to be the:
1. Least reliable
2. Most irrational
4. Most cowardly
5. Most ignorant
6. Least interesting
7. Most awkward
8. Most annoying
10. Most paranoid
11. Most temperamental
...person in the world.
So why, out of all the ~7 billion people on this planet, would anyone choose to look at me and want to model their lives and behavior after mine?
I have no idea how many people out there actually look up to me and how many just say so to be nice. I don't know what I look like from the outside, any more than most of the people I meet know how I see myself from the inside. The truth is, most -- if not all -- of us are our own harshest critics. It's easy to look at someone you admire and think, "Wow, they've really got their lives together," because they have a nicer car than you, a larger group of friends, or a Bible that's a lot more heavily highlighted than yours.
But I don't live inside your head. I don't know what thoughts cross your mind as you roll out of bed in the morning, what you notice first when you appraise yourself in the mirror. I don't know whether your comfort in social situations is natural or whether you're just really good at faking it. For all I know, if I compared my list of my own perceived flaws with the one you've made for yourself, yours might be just as long or even longer.
And yet if neither of us ever took a gander at the other's list, we would never know. We would probably just hide our lists behind our backs, smile and laugh pleasantly, and pretend we never felt insecure about anything in our lives.
And most likely, we would believe each other. Because even as we're aware that everyone is human and you should never judge a book by its cover, still we do it every day.
In fact, I believe this happens a lot, especially in this digital age where nearly everyone is on various social networks, posting and tweeting and snapchatting all the most interesting parts of their lives to everyone else. We spend ages searching for the perfect profile photo, then touch it up a little just to make ourselves look a little better and more put together. We take a few extra moments before posting our statuses to make sure everything is worded in a way that will make us look as clever, spiritual, funny, [insert preferred descriptor here] as possible. Everything gets filtered through our own ideas about what people like or don't like about us and what we could do or say to make them like us more. And the more we use that filter, the more impressive we appear, and the less our insecurities show through to anyone observing us.
This phenomenon also occurs in face-to-face interactions, though, not just online. Isn't it only human, after all, to want to be the best version of yourself that you can be? And if you can't be perfect, you might as well try to make others think you are, right?
But no-one is perfect. We all come with our own baggage, our own insecurities about who we are, what we are, and how other people view us. Listen, it doesn't matter how amazing and confident and put-together someone looks on the outside -- everyone, from your next-door-neighbor to the guy sleeping on a park bench to the celebrity whose face you have as your phone's wallpaper, has insecurities. Their life might seem perfect, but they have bad days, too. They just might not air them out for everyone else to see, or if those days do come to light, it usually wasn't their desire to allow that.
That's a big part of why the idea of being a celebrity is frankly terrifying to me. Because you get little to no privacy. As a living, breathing human being with a beating heart and a brain capable of forming thoughts and emotions, you have insecurities just like everyone else. The difference is that, when you're a celebrity, everyone is watching you. Everyone expects you to be perfect, and they're constantly looking to you for inspiration on everything from their hairstyles and clothing to getting ahead in their careers and having the best relationships possible.
And if you fall short of their expectations, everyone is disappointed. Everyone looks at you and shakes their head and says, "How could you? You aren't supposed to mess up like that. You're a role model -- you should know better."
And right there, that is why the idea of being anyone's role model scares me. Because I'm not perfect. I'm not even good at pretending to be perfect. The closest thing I can do is to try and behave as normally and respectably as possible and apologize when I mess up, hoping beyond hope that everyone will forgive me when I inevitably slip up and disappoint or hurt them in some way.
Because it happens. Always. The people who love me unconditionally stick with me anyways no matter how much I let them down, but that doesn't mean I never do anything that falls short of their expectations for my behavior. I can't help it. I am human, and I am flawed, and no-one is more aware of this fact than I am.
Well, I suppose there is one person -- the only perfect person who has ever lived or ever will live.
You know where I'm going with this, don't you? The only perfect human ever to walk the face of the earth since the first humans committed their original sin is Jesus Christ. He was fully human, but was -- and is -- also fully God. God knows everything and everyone. And on top of that, you know what I went and did when I was a kid? I asked Him to come into my life and pay the price for all my sins and stupid mistakes, to work in me and make up for the imperfection that has always been a part of me. So I don't even get the luxury of pretending that no-one knows what I've done or what makes me feel insecure, because He's right there in my heart (figuratively speaking), and He's around all the time, nudging me when I'm headed the wrong way, and waiting patiently for me to come back to Him when I disregard His directions and take the crooked path anyways. He's so thoroughly perfect and patient and all the things that I am not, and just thinking about it makes me a little weak in the knees, because how am I ever supposed to match up to that?
Here's the simple answer: I'm not. Well, of course He wants me to try. But I will fail, because I am human, because I am me, and anyone looking to be exactly like me in every way will either fail in the same ways or be disillusioned when they see me stumble. Anything good they see in me is not really mine, but rather is the result of Jesus standing with me, holding me up when I'm weak, telling me which way to go when I feel thoroughly lost.
But maybe that's been the point all along. Maybe it's not about what people see in me so much as it's about what they see through me. I fall short of perfection daily (strike that -- multiple times a day), but Jesus is still with me, and even when I don't see it or try to forget it, He's shaping me and the course of my life to accomplish His purpose, even when I'm not being particularly cooperative about it. He works all things together for good, even my laundry list of flaws and insecurities that I try so desperately to hide behind my back.
Well, I'm airing a few of them now. And my desire is that when you see me open up about my life and some of the areas where I fall short, you aren't disillusioned by my broken nature. Instead, I want people to look at me and see Christ's light shining through all the dark cracks in my soul that mark me as the damaged creature that I am.
Because that's the gist of it, digressors. Jesus is the ultimate role model, the one person worth emulating in His entirety. If you see Christ-like attributes in people you know, by all means strive to adopt them, but not because a fallible human possesses them. Rather, do it because what you see in them reflects Jesus and His pure perfection. Lift the weary when they fall, not because a celebrity you like helped that one person one time, but because "what you do unto the least of these, you do unto Me." (Matthew 25:40) Be "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 103:8), not merely because your one friend has a skill for it, but because that's how Jesus is and how He wants you to be. Be honest and sincere, and "whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as doing it unto the Lord, and not unto men" (Colossians 3:23), because this isn't about other people, right? It's about Jesus and trying to emulate Him, in recognition of the fact that He has never failed and never will.
Will it be easy? Probably not. Will you mess up? Most definitely.
But in this way, when someone does choose you as a role model (because let's face it, even though you're not perfect, God designed you to be pretty amazing and someone out there is bound to recognize it), they won't just see your mistakes or some front you've put up to make yourself look good. They'll see your imperfections, true, but they'll also see how God uses those imperfections to bless others around you, and that will encourage them to go to the source, to the ultimate role model you so openly emulate.
This is, ultimately, my goal. It might seem incongruous, but as proud as I am, as strong as the instinct may be to stuff all my imperfections into a trunk and shove it into the back of a closet somewhere, ultimately I hope people understand just how imperfect I am. I hope they see that I have...
1. Bad days (but He gets me through them)
2. Insecurities (but He works through me anyways)
3. Temptations (but He always offers a way out and forgives me when I fail)
4. Bad habits (but He motivates me to attempt change, even if it's a slow, bumpy process)
5. Fears (but He gives me courage)
6. Weaknesses (but He gives me strength)
7. Misgivings (but He encourages me to forgive)
8. Doubts (but He gives clarity)
...and that if they consider me to be any kind of role model, it's really not me they're seeing. It's my Savior and the continual work He is doing in me (and in those around me) to make me more like Himself and show His love and goodness to those around me.
And, dear digressor, if He can work through me, an overly emotional, depressed, anxious, bitter, often disturbed human being... what might He do through you?
"I am crucified with Christ:
nevertheless I live; yet not I,
but Christ liveth in me;
and the life which I now live in the flesh
I live by the faith of the Son of God
who loved me,
and gave Himself for me."
Galatians 2:20 (KJV)