How can we resist the temptation to impress others -- to show off or act in a way that's unlike ourselves?
I recall a few occasions in my own life when I tried to impress others. The most memorable circumstance was when I tried to impress all the hot boys on the beach. It was the summer of 2005, and I had been surfing for a few years by then. I had been practicing how to do a certain curve with my new surfboard, and I wanted to show off my move on a larger wave than I was used to. There were guys to my right and left, and my friend was cheering for me to take the next big wave.
When I knew a few of the guys were looking, I caught a wave that was twice my own height. I tried to swing my surfboard to my left, but I realized that the crash of the wave was pushing me to my right -- something I was not used to. Still trying to impress the guys, I attempted to steer down a steep slope on my right foot, although I was a lefty. This incident didn't end up how I imagined it. I remember feeling the sharp fin of my surfboard gouging into my thigh.
It's interesting that during and after the crash, I was still focused on other people's perceptions. I was only thinking about how dumb I looked in front of beach stud #1. I knew he had been (and probably still was) watching my hideous wipeout. I wasn't thinking about whether or not my leg would be all right or how expensive it would be for my mom to get me stitches. Instead, I was thinking about how everyone was going to think of me now that I had made myself look like a fool.
I now think it is horrible how easily people are affected by the way others see them. I know I certainly was. But I've been thinking a lot about the fact that God made us all equal, all perfect, with no blemishes or disabilities. So why do we think we have to show off? Why do we give into this temptation, even if we know there could be a painful punishment as an outcome?
Maybe we do this because we're only paying attention to what we want as an outcome rather than thinking through the effects of our choices. When we don't think through things, the outcome can be very different from our hopes -- as it was for me. But the unfortunate outcome can also be very helpful because we can learn from our mistakes.
One of the best lessons we can learn is to see God as our shield, to follow God's commands. We have a story in the Bible that shows what happens when we don't follow God's commands. God had told Adam not to eat "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen 2:17). But a talking serpent told Eve that it was okay to eat from the tree. In fact, the serpent continued with lies, telling Eve only what sounded good in order to persuade her to eat from the forbidden tree: if she ate from the tree, she would know as much as God. That certainly sounded impressive! And Eve fell for it, and so did Adam. As a result, they got kicked out of the Garden of Eden.
Both Eve and Adam had a choice. Eve had an option to listen to the serpent or follow God's law. Adam could have supported his wife against the serpent. Instead, he blamed her for his own disobedience to God's command. If we, as children of God, do not help each other avoid the pressure to do something impressive, to be someone we're not, to be even better than God, then we're not really loving our neighbor, as Jesus taught.
At the same time as we love our neighbor, we also have a way to avoid the pressure to show off or try to make others think we're cool. We have the sword of God.
Therefore, put on every piece of God's armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God's righteousness…. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:13, 14, 17 NLT)