Do you like the person you’ve become?
The weight of living is crushing
I was on a run a while back, and I was listening to Bastille’s first album, called Bad Blood. It’s not new at this point, but I really like their music because they their songs bring up interesting questions.
And as I was running, one of those questions hit me like a ton of bricks.
I was listening to the song called “The Weight of Living Pt. 2.” Here’s the lyrics that caught my attention:
It all crept up on you, in the night it got you
And plagued your mind, it plagues your mind
Every day that passes, faster than the last did
And you’ll be old soon, you’ll be old
Do you like the person you’ve become?
Do you like the person you’ve become?
That’s a loaded question. So loaded that most of us don’t want to think about the question at all. But it’s an important one.
Because when we stop to think about it, many of us don’t like the person we’ve become.
We know we want to be better or different or happier, and so we try to come up with ways to make that happen. We have really good intentions to stop gossiping or losing our temper or judging people, or to start doing more nice things for people close to us. We try some things, read some books, do some Googling, and before we know it we’ve got these huge list of stuff, these standards, we think we have to live by.
But when we take stock of our lives next to those standards we’ve created, we often fall pretty short.
No one is harder on us than ourselves, of course. And what we find is that when we look at how we’re doing compared to our standards, we’re not doing so hot. Then we end up shouldering the weight of not living up to those standards.
Which is dangerous. Because what we think of ourselves has the potential to suffocate us emotionally and spiritually.
Where our standards come from
It’s important to get a sense of where our standards for our lives come from, because we all have them. All of us are trying to live up to something.
We’re all trying to live up to some standard in life that we’ve either created for ourselves or that’s been created for us.
Much of that has to do with your family or cultural background. For instance, there are really two main value structures in our culture, two main ways we form our identity — the traditional and the Western.
If you’re in a traditional structure of identity formation, then you draw your sense of self-worth from the community, or from your family. Your sense of value comes from what you contribute to that community and what your place is in it. This is more prevalent in other countries, but many families here in the US still have a strong sense of this.
If you’re in a Western structure of identity formation, then you draw your sense of self-worth from your individuality. You’re not concerned with the needs of the community as much as you are with your own needs. Your sense of self-worth is tied to what job you can get, what kind of life you can make, and what’s best for you. This is obviously the more predominant structure for identity formation for most of us.
Neither is better or worse than the other; this is simply a picture of how the two structures work. But it’s important to know because it helps us understand what standards we’re trying to live up to and why we’re trying to do it.
For instance, a person in a Western setting here in America tries to live up to several different standards. Some of the standards have to do with other people’s perceptions of yourself, but the root of the standard lies in what you think about your performance, your relationships, your wealth, or any number of things.
The tendency is to set up some standard for yourself — maybe it’s a certain car or possession, a particular relationship, or status — and then make that how you judge your value and self-worth.
Then there are the standards that come from a society that tells us to look a certain way, behave a certain way, and live a certain way. And you pick the standards you think will most fulfill you, or help you realize the version of yourself you hope to achieve.
In our setting, then, our standards come from trying to be the person you think will make you happy.
When you realize that identities are formed like this, you realize that you’re not nearly as free as you like to think you are. Much of your ideals and standards are driven by your family heritage and cultural makeup.
And we’re all subject to these things. We’re all bound to these things — these standards we’re all trying to live up to.
Don’t you feel that in your own life?
The weight of living is crushing
But here’s the problem with all of this: If all of us are trying to live up to something, then sooner or later the weight will be crushing. And there is a weight to life itself, isn’t there?
Each of us carries some kind of standard around that we’re trying to live up to, and each one of them is just another burden weighing us down.
Many of those standards we’ve talked about aren’t necessarily bad things, but when you make them your source of self-worth and value then you will always be crushed beneath the weight of them.
A guy that had been a struggling writer once wrote about this once in The New York Times. He was reflecting on the maddening season in his life where he couldn’t write anything halfway decent, and he always had a sense of frustration about his life and his work.
What he said about this time was really interesting. He said,
“When good writing was my only goal, I made the quality of my work the measure of my worth. For this reason, I wasn’t able to read my own writing well. I couldn’t tell whether something I had just written was good or bad, because I needed it to be good in order to feel sane.”
For anyone that’s ever made their work, their image, or their status everything, you know exactly what he’s talking about.
He made the quality of his work the measure of his worth. If he wasn’t a good writer, he wasn’t a good person, and he couldn’t be happy. But, of course, that kind of thinking makes you so neurotic that you never think you’re a good writer, so you’ll never be happy.
You see how this works? The weight of living was crushing him.
What are you making the measure of your worth?
The question for you is what are you making the measure of your worth?
Is it your relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Your social status? Your reputation?
Or maybe you’re not making something the measure of your worth, but there’s something else going on. Instead of making something that measure of your worth, you’re telling yourself lies about how to make yourself happy.
These lies are things we tell ourselves that if we can just get them, then we’ll be happy.
If I can just get that car, just get that girl, just get into that college, then I’ll be happy.
The problem is that if when the lie dissolves, your happiness dissolves along with it.
You tell yourself if you can just get the iPhone 7 then you’ll be happy, so you buy it. But it doesn’t work. (Especially since it doesn’t have a headphone jack.)
You tell yourself if you can just get those shoes or that car or that grade, then you’ll be happy. And when you get it, the feeling never lasts. Something else always comes along and you tell yourself another lie.
Here’s why you need to know about this: Every one of our life-lies can and will be taken from us at some point. And when that happens we will be crushed under the weight of it.
When our lies are exposed for what they are, all the self-worth, all the value we assign to ourselves because of those lies will disappear in an instant.
If all of us are under the weight of living and will eventually be crushed under it, then what can we do? If you don’t like the person you’ve become, what can you do about it?
Jesus can bear the weight
Jesus actually has a very interesting way of talking about this.
In Matthew 11:28–30, Jesus says these words:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30 NIV)
You need to understand the word “yoke” here, because we don’t really use that term. A yoke was basically a harness that connected an animal, like a donkey or an ox, to a tool of some kind. It might have been a till or a wagon.
Regardless of what an animal was yoked to, though, it was a burden to that animal. It was something that weighed them down and made their normal life harder. People would yoke animals to these tools because it was something they couldn’t do themselves. It was too heavy or straining for them to do alone.
Jesus is using that imagery to talk about the burdens and standards we’re trying to live up to.
He’s saying, “I know you’re tired of trying to live up. I know you’re weary from the weight of living. Come to me, and I’ll show you how to take a real rest.”
He’s pointing out that we’re all burdened by something, that the weight of living is on us all. That we’re all yoked to something.
But what he doesn’t say about burdens is that we don’t have to have any. Did you notice that?
Jesus didn’t promise for us not to be yoked to anything — he promised to give us rest, relief from the weight of living, if we yoke ourselves to him instead.
We’re always going to be yoked to something, after all, so Jesus is telling us to yoke ourselves to him so we can learn from him. So we can see how to live our lives unburdened by the expectations and standards of others, because those things aren’t going away.
Don’t you see? Jesus is offering us a way out of making all these standards our sense of self-worth and our sense of value.
He’s saying, “If you don’t like the person you’ve become, maybe it’s because you’ve got yourself yoked to the wrong thing. You’re trying to become the wrong person. Yoke yourself to me instead. Watch me, learn from me, and I’ll show you how to find rest and be the person I created you to be.”
Jesus alone can bear the weight of our standards. He alone can give you a meaning outside yourself, outside of others. He’s the only place you can go to find an identity that’ll last. The only place you can go where the weight of living won’t crush you.
And that’s because of the gospel.
How to measure up
The gospel tells us that God does have a standard, and that standard is absolute perfection, across the board. It doesn’t take long to figure out that none of us can meet that standard.
But that’s the beauty of God sending Jesus for us.
Because Jesus met every one of those standards. He lived the perfect life that we could never live and died the death we should have died. And he did that willingly, even though none of us deserved it.
And when he did that, he made it possible for all of us to meet God’s standard of perfection.
The only way we you receive what he made possible is by putting your faith in Jesus — believing that his sacrifice on the cross was for you and then coming under his leadership of your life. And when we do that, we immediately meet God’s perfect standard. We measure up.
But pay attention to how it works.
Jesus saved us on his own, and made that salvation available to us by faith alone. That means that nothing we can do will ever earn us salvation in God’s eyes. No amount of good deeds or anything else.
Because in Christianity salvation isn’t earned, it’s accepted.
And that’s grace.
That Jesus made a way for us to be saved when we didn’t deserve to be.
And when we make that truth, that reality, the sense of our identity and self-worth and value, we’re able to come out from under all those burdens and standards we’re living with right now.
Because the only standard that matters has already been met by Jesus.
Finding your identity in him is the only way you’ll ever be able to look back on your life and be able to say you truly like the person you’ve become.