Okay, this is me admitting how much of a nerd I am. It is very rare that I ever have music on when I’m driving in my car, because, truth be told, most of the time my head is too loud and drowns everything else out. (And, let me put this out on the table to show that the next few paragraphs are not indicative of where I ACTUALLY am, but where I WANT to be: when I have music on, my tendancy towards fantasy or fanciful thoughts are much more prevelant).
So, anyway, all of the following thoughts have evolved out of a thought that struck me on my way home the other night (at the corner of Cherry and Outer Park, to be precise, though I’m sure that doesn’t matter).
I am not sure I can remember where or why this thought pattern started. With me, my mind is truly so stream of conscious sometimes that I can’t keep up. But when I finally did slow down for a minute, the thought that remained in my head was about living vicariously through others. I think I may have just seen a romantic film of some sort, or I had just seen a cute couple in the store, or something, but whatever it was it made me smile. And not in the “aw, aren’t they cute” kind of smile, more in the “I’m picturing myself as her” kind of smile. In essence, I was deriving pleasure from the experience of someone else.
Okay, enter me being a nerd. This got me thinking so I decided to look up the actual definitions of a few words. And in doing so, I’ve found the subtle differences in them, but realized the absolutely fine line, and I mean fine, between them.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines “vicarious” as “felt or undergone as if one where taking part in the experience or feelings of another.” For years I’ve said things like “I’m going to live vicariously thorough you right now.” In college, if a friend was done with finals and just relaxing for the rest of the week, I would revel in her laziness. If someone were to go to a party or out on a date on a night I would stay in I would want to hear about all the details. As a friend recently commented, he likes to go to weddings because. as a single man, he can live vicariously through the joy of the bride and the groom. There are so many instances when I hear people in our culture engaging in and endorsing “vicarious living.” We read People Magazine to hear about what the stars are doing, we watch movies and television, wishing for the lives of the actors and actresses on screen. We get the most advanced video gaming technology so we can pretend to be Tiger Woods swinging the 9 iron, or Kelly Clarkson singing the next American Idol hit. We award children with “queen for a day” and “king for a day” awards. Why? Because the life of someone else always looks better than our own.
And that really got me thinking. Never before had I seen anything wrong with that. I’ve commented before on the unrealistic picture of love that Hollywood creates in their Romantic Comedies. But I’ve never looked at dreaming about being the lead in the movie as potentially wrong or harmful. When I was a child and teenager, my life was alternately rough and boring. As an escape I’d spend hours creating different lives for myself in my head (all of you who think I live a lot in my head now, you should have seen me then. I spent hours, and I mean HOURS, just starring off into space). I like reading about why Reese and Ryan split, or which girl Brad’s with this week. I like playing the video games where you get to pretend to be someone else, and gosh-darn-it, I enjoy a good romance in a novel every now and again. It’s just harmless entertainment, right?
But what slips in over time as I thoughtlessly engage in these activities is a huge dissatisfaction with my own life and a largely jealous and coveting view of other people’s joy and happiness. And as I’ve been struggling with feelings of invisibility, inadequacy and insignificance I’ve realized that this is a terribly harmful way to live.
The Random House unabridged dictionary defines “covet” as “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.” To be “jealous” is defined as “feeling resentment for someone because of that person’s success or advantages.” And “lust” is defined as “an overwhelming desire or craving.” Now, most people would agree that to covet or to be jealous or to lust are bad things. However, I want you to look at how closely they line up with some ideas that we don’t neccessarily see as inherently harmful or wrong.
A “wish” is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “a desire, longing, or strong inclination for a specific thing.” After the definitions pertaining to a series of images, etc. experienced while sleeping, the AHD defines “dream” as “a wild fancy or hope” and then as “a condition or achievement that is longed for; an aspiration.” Now I’m not in anyway saying it is wrong to wish or to dream, but I am saying that you have to be careful to constantly examine yourself, your motives, and your actions. I had a conversation with a friend of mine tonight about whether or not it’s healthy to wish for or dream about your wedding, or your husband, or your children. And my answer was that I don’t believe that it’s inherently wrong. God wants to give us the desires of our heart (He also wants those desires to line up with his). But he can’t do that if we don’t have any desires. So to truly desire, in your heart, to be married, and be excited about that possibility one day is not inherently wrong.
The trouble comes, I’ve found, in NOT stopping there. Rather than being excited about the plans God has for us and resting in His promise that they are Good plans, we start creating what would be, in our heads, the perfect way for God to give us those desires. And once we start guessing at what God is going to do, it’s so easy to quickly spiral downwards. Let’s pull out some of the words from the above definitions. Let’s say you start with a wish or a dream. You have a desire or a longing. Left unchecked and unguarded, that desire can quickly become overwhelming, transforming into an ugly, all-encompasing lust. And unfortunately, once you’ve let sin get a foothold, it’s much easier to let it in the door than slam the door in it’s face. You begin to desire wrongfully, to covet, and once realizing you do not have that which you desire, you begin to harbor bitterness towards those who do have it. Very quickly you go from desiring a God-honoring marriage relationship with a man to wanting the God-honoring relationship with a man that your friend next door has. And hating her for having it. Girls, this tendancy we have to live in the world of wishes and dreams is, I think, a core reason why we’re so mean sometimes!
And it’s the reason I’ve decided that vicarious living is simply a way of giving ourselves permission to start on that path of wishful thinking and fanciful dreaming. To live vicariously, to allow myself to dwell on what it might feel like to have the feelings or experiences of someone else? How can I NOT then covet what she has? How can I NOT then resent her, even in some small way, for having or being what I want to be. How is it possibly God-honoring to dwell on how I wish I were someone else rather than wishing for and dreaming about and taking steps towards becoming the person God made ME to be? Because it’s more culturely acceptable to say I’m living vicariously through so-and-so, rather than “I covet what she has,” does that make it an okay thing? I think not. I think, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll call it what it is: lust for what someone else has. And I’m tired of lusting. Because you know what the problem with lust is? It’s insatiable. Once you’ve allowed yourself to go there, you have to go further and further and further to feel as if you’re quinching it.
And I’m tired of listening to lies. I’m tired of hearing “if only you had THAT” in my head. I’m tired of wishing I could be someone else, somewhere else, something else! Of course I struggle with feelings of disappointment in myself, inadequacy where I am, invisibility within my relationships. DUH! How can I feel adequate when my energies are spent trying to be someone else rather than being me? How can I be visible in a relationship when I’m just a shell of a person. The problem with lusting after someone else’s life vicariously is that you loose more and more of yourself as you try to become more like the person/people through whom you’re living. How can I possibly be happy where I am and with whom I am if I’m constantly trying to be someone else?
So, anyway, those were my random thoughts in my car on the way home from some time when I was sad I didn’t have love in my life right now (even though I had a smile on my face picturing myself as if I did). It’s odd the things we think about sometimes, especially in my head 🙂 If you need something to be thankful for today, be glad that you don’t live in my head. That is something NOONE should covet 🙂