When I go away on a trip, I like to pack so that I will be prepared for anything. And I like to pack waaaay in advance.
If I was able to do things in my ideal way, I’d have everything neatly laid out in my suitcase 2-3 nights before the typical night-before packing job. It stresses me out to pack the night before a trip...so I like to do it way ahead of time. I like having time to think about what I forgot, make lists, and wash my favorite items so that they can all come along.
My husband is the complete opposite. He, as well, prefers to not pack ‘the night before.’ What he chooses to do instead, though, is to pack 5 minutes before we leave. THAT SAME DAY. Whereas my clothes have sat neatly stacked for 3 nights in the suitcase, his get shoved in, pretty much on our way out the door. No thought to how clean his clothes are, no preference to any particular pair of jeans. If we’re going for 3 nights, he might bring 2 shirts. I, on the other hand, would typically bring 6. I enjoy packing all kinds of items ‘just in case’ to keep me happily ready for any situation, be it 80 degrees or 40. He’s fine no matter the circumstances in whatever shirt he happened to grab.
All this to say: his method is unbelievable to me. The end.
So anyway, we went on a trip to visit my sister a couple of months ago. When it came time to get dressed for church, he probably wore the same jeans and shirt he had worn the day before on the roadtrip there. I, on the other hand, was in a quandary. I had carefully planned and packed my outfits for each day we’d be there. I had tried on various outfits for Sunday in the packing process and had opted for a dress. However, while getting dressed, I remembered that her church was alot more casual than I was used to, and I suddenly realized that the dress would be too formal. So I threw together another outfit. (By ‘threw together,’ I mean I deliberated between various options for 30 minutes).
It wasn't what I had pictured myself wearing on Sunday morning. It was fine, because I had obviously prepared for such a thing to take place by packing several nice sweaters ‘just in case.’ But it wasn't what I had planned. And do you know what I ended up doing for pretty much the whole time we were at church? Glancing down at my clothes. Deliberating about whether my outfit looked good or not. I even went into the bathroom...not to USE it...but to look in the mirror. At my outfit. I did one of those ‘jump up and down a few times to try to see the bottom half of yourself in a small mirror’ type of numbers.
When I find myself in a situation like this, there are so many options for what I conclude. One option could be that I could not even notice that I'm inordinately thinking about my apparel. I could consider it normal, find nothing strange with the fact that the constant background thought as I chat with my sister’s church family is what I'm wearing. Or I could solidify my anal commitment to pack my suitcase 3 days ahead. I could vow to always be even more prepared, and I could freak out if ever I have to <gasp> prepare the night before.
I have another option, though. I can tune into my thoughts, focus on what’s going on ‘inside of me’ and start to ask questions of myself. I could examine what I’m valuing and why. For example, these are helpful questions for this situation: ‘Why are my clothes so important to me right now?’ ‘Is it in balance or excessive that I'd be peeking at my boots from different angles throughout the whole service, trying to catch a glimpse of myself in the windows as I play with my 2 year old afterwards, and jumping in the bathroom?’ ‘What am I wanting my clothes to do for me?’
If I answered those questions right now, on the spot, I'd say: My clothes are so important to me right now because they're not just simply covering my body. They've come to mean something more than that in this moment. Next, it’s pretty excessive that I'd be so consumed with my clothes. I could be focusing on the people around me, focusing on God and what His thoughts are in this moment, but I can't because I'm lost in halfway paying attention to what’s going on and mostly contemplating the way my jeans enter my boots. And lastly, if I were honest about what I want my clothes to do for me, like I said, they're not just providing covering anymore. I’d say that I am wanting my jeans to provide me with worth. I want my clothes to prove I'm valuable. I want them to give me significance and security.
In this situation, the clothes have become all about my worth. I’m internally asking the question, ‘Am I good enough?’ I’m not sure that in and of myself, that I'm good enough, that I'm valuable enough to be approved of, to be wanted, to be accepted. I feel that my clothes need to save me. They determine if I have worth or not. If I’m a loser or not. If I’m significant, valuable and safe.
The truth is that clothes can never do that for me. A word I've learned over the past years is that my clothes can become for me a ‘False Savior.’ They might promise me safety, security and worth when I carefully lay them out 3 nights before the trip, or when I see them in store displays, or when I see someone else wearing something and I think, ‘I need to buy that.’ But they never deliver. There’s never a lasting safety, an unchangeable worth afforded to me. The significance they assure me they’ll bring is a shaky confidence that leaves me silently obsessed instead of having my eyes open to what God is doing all around me.
Anything can become a False Savior. It happens to us all the time, in all kinds of everyday situations. Something (in my case, it’s often clothes, food, a relationship, the goal of having people like me, people’s opinions, and so on) tells us that if we have it, we’ll have the good life. Our lives will be ideal. But I’ve found that it’s never really true. It never really gives me what I want it to.
Think about it. What does that typically look like for you? What are things that you trust to make you feel significant? What promises to bring you safety? What becomes more than just itself and starts to define your worth for you? And does it ever deliver??
Maybe this New Year can be a year where we take more steps as a Church to intentionally turn away from what has falsely promised to give us significance and safety and fall on the Savior who alone can deliver what He promises.