What is your favorite parental duty?
Maybe it's teaching your child something important, like riding a bike. Or fishing. Or perhaps you relish the chance to impart wisdom about the world? Serving others side-by-side with selfless abandon.
I like eating my kids' leftovers at a restaurant.
It's a dad's job. Sheer bliss for a guy who loves kid food. I once had corn dogs for every meal of the day. At age 37. My personal theology states that each time Audrey fails to finish her chicken finger basket, an angel gets its wings. All in the spirit of teaching the kids that food is not to be wasted.
Unfortunately, there is an unwelcome corollary to this fatherly task. And I'm not talking about the shameful feeling you get after eating your own Dairy Queen Blizzard and then downing the two Peanut Buster Parfaits that you forced your kids to order.
It's eating leftovers at home.
I have a slightly irrational fear of food gone bad, so anything sealed in Tupperware can be intimidating. Even if it's only been in there for a day or two. On top of that, as a dad, I am often required to build a meal from random items to help make room for the next batch of food.
Case in point: Today's lunch was a virtual tour of the world, consisting of two tablespoons of taco meat, some BBQ pork, Cajun potato salad, and a fortune cookie.
You want fries with that?
I took my meal into my office. There, I browsed Facebook while I stuffed my Facehole, praying for a peaceful resolution to the United Nations conflict erupting in my lower intestine. As I scrolled through my newsfeed, I saw a beautiful photo of a recipe my friend was making for dinner. Fresh salad, broiled chicken, baked apples, and a broccoli rice casserole that would make any church potluck jealous.
The picture was perfect. The chicken glistened like Fabio's chest at a romance novel photo shoot. Steamy and golden brown. The salad looked like it had just been plucked from an exotic rainforest garden. The casserole was cheesy and bubbling. And I'm convinced the apples had been Photoshopped to resemble Beyonce's backside.
I knew that no chef in the world could make food that looked so wonderful. It was pure fantasy. But that didn't change this simple fact:
I now hated my lunch.
My potato salad was a bit bland. The taco meat wasn't "taco-ey" enough. And my fortune cookie didn't even contain a real fortune to guide my future. It just said "you have a deep interest in all that is artistic."
You don't know me, Confucius!
But it didn't stop there. I scrolled through more posts. People on vacations to exotic destinations. Families dressed to the nines for a photo shoot. A beautiful couple standing outside their new home. Remodeled bathrooms and kitchens.
I looked at myself. I was sitting in my messy office eating leftovers from a plastic plate. My jeans were ripped. By accident. I was sporting paint-splattered Crocs and dress socks. I had a runny nose and a used Kleenex in my left shirt pocket.
Then, I started to reflect on my relationships. Gabby and I have hardly spoken in a week due to sheer busy-ness. I still haven't read Audrey the horse book like I've promised for the last two days. Jake was hungry last night, but I put him to bed without a snack because I was too lazy to unwrap a cheese stick.
A cheese stick?! Really?! Who am I?
It's in these moments where we move past hating our lunch straight into hating our lives. We feel inadequate. Staring at sanitized lives on our computer screens where no one is clicking my "like" button.
And we're not alone.
A number of recent studies have found that passive viewing of Facebook content can decrease life satisfaction and increase feelings of depression. Research suggests that the more time you spend browsing social media content, the more likely you are to fall victim to a phenomenon known as "social comparison." By itself, this wouldn't be bad. But the phenomenon is compounded by the fact that people tend to share information that shows them in the most positive light.
I checked my own timeline for a glimpse of my real life. Sitting like a slug on the couch. Feeling insecure about an upcoming business meeting. Saying something stupid and hurtful to my wife.
Funny. Didn't post any of that. Must have forgotten.
We share the joys of life. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. Good news brings smiles to faces. The problem comes when we start comparing everyone else's highlight reel to the cutting room floor of our own lives. It doesn't help that we tend to "friend" people who are very much like us, so we mistakenly believe that our comparison as a valid one.
Newsflash: it's not.
Unfortunately, that highlight reel we see becomes the benchmark for our own expectations. And these unrealistic expectations pervade every waking moment of our lives. And when my life doesn't look like the pictures, I feel like I've been punched in the gut.
But it's not Mark Zuckerberg's fault.
My overblown expectations create a voice in my head, and it screams at me. Day in. Day out. And I judge my worth by whether or not my life measures up.
And it can't.
Because dinners burn in the oven. Kids get sick on vacation. Stuff breaks. Husbands and wives argue. Junior loses the big game. Mom loses the big job. Dad loses his keys. And his cool.
It's called life. And it happens to all of us.
But that voice in our head still screams.
You're not enough.
Wanna know a secret?
We're all just fighting for something we already have. Like looking for the pen that's tucked behind my own ear. I scan my page for "likes" in hopes of finding a sense of peace. To drown out the voice in my head. My voice.
But I'm looking in the wrong place.
The approval I seek already exists deep inside me. It was put there by the one who made me from the dust of earth. Created in His image. Perfectly flawed. Wonderfully wounded. And, as inferior as I may feel on the outside, the Almighty loves me to the core. The corn-dog-eating, cheese-stick-hoarding, Croc-wearing, snot-nosed, narcissistic child of God.
And there is nothing I can do to change that.
But I can change something.
I can choose to be the voice that uplifts. The God-voice for others, to help them see their own beauty within. To drown out the voice of expectation and inferiority.
And I can choose to listen. To hear that voice. His voice. A faint whisper. Ever-present. Saying,
You are worthy.
You are enough.
You are loved.
Scott Dannemiller is a writer, blogger, worship leader and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church. He writes the blog The Accidental Missionary, where this post first appeared.
Follow Scott Dannemiller on Facebook: facebook.com/theaccidentalmissionary