My wife loves chick flicks. She watches the same girly movies over and over and over again. It’s almost like having the Hallmark Movie Channel on our TV all the time. Their movies are all the same six elements just set in different scenes. There’s a baker, wedding planner, party organizer florist. There’s a banker, lawyer, store owner. There’s a competition or a land purchase. There’s a conflict. A meeting. Falling in love with the enemy… Snow, Spring, Fall, and horses. Don’t deny it. You know they sit around a dart board randomly choosing their next movie this way.
Well, last night wasn’t a Hallmark flick, but it was close. It was Mona Lisa Smile. The female version of Dead Poets Society is my take on it. At some point during the movie, the young female antagonist is getting married. The protagonist is at the wedding and her associates point out the Joneses. One of the characters explains that those are the actual Joneses that the saying “keeping up with the Joneses” is based on. In typical fashion, they are certainly playing the part very well. They are polished, put together, seem to have it all, and are the crème de la crème that everyone wants to aspire to be. There’s only one problem. They aren’t all perfect. As the movie goes along, the son of the Joneses cheats on his wife, causes a divorce, and is the catalyst for the antagonist to change sides and run after the protagonist in typical predictable movie magic.
What can we learn from the Joneses in this movie reference? A lot actually. I will tell you that it’s been a relatively tough lesson for me to learn and one I still find myself struggling with often. You know the adage is not about anyone specific I hope as the movie suggests. There really is no actual Jones family that everyone aspires to be. We all have our own Jones family that we look towards. They can be a personal or a professional Jones. You weren’t expecting that I bet. It’s true though. You can look at someone that seems to have it all like a neighbor with the fancy car and the manicured yard, a family member that is more successful than you living the dream while you’re trying to scrape enough money to make a down payment on a house, or it could be someone in a similar role at another organization that seems to be rocking it out and you’re comparing yourself thinking you’re not anywhere near their caliber. Maybe you’re just the type that has a Jones family in more than one arena of your life. Are you trying to keep up with the Joneses and the Joneses and the Joneses and… I bet you’re tired. I know I was.
I’ve been able to overcome this sense of inferiority and trying to live up to some standard that I was unreasonably setting for myself. Mostly. I used to be the worst kind. I wanted to BE the Joneses that everyone wanted to aspire to. What a foolish endeavor. Also, what a trap. Listen, there will always be a Jones that has more and is better at something than you. Even the Jones you’re trying to achieve has a Jones they are looking at and trying to achieve. It’s sort of human nature at it’s worst. I’m not saying you shouldn’t always strive to be better, but there is a better model to target than Jones. If I may for a moment, I will Jesus-Juke you. The target goal should be Christ, not man. I wish I could say that this is the ultimate purpose behind this post, but I’ll just be honest and tell you that it isn’t. Not exactly anyway. I want you to be Christlike. I want to be Christlike. More importantly, I want you to figure out who you are and what your now is supposed to look like. I want you to stop striving to be someone else or something else.
If you’re spending your energies, resources, time, money, or whatever you have on trying to keep up with or be the Joneses, you’ve already lost. I’ll say it louder for those in the back. Striving to be someone else, other than who YOU are supposed to be is a failure. For one thing, look at the example from the movie. They weren’t exactly the perfect picture they seemed to be. They were ultimately just as imperfect as you and I are. Maybe they spent so much time working on their outward appearances, the surface, that they forgot to instill values in their son’s heart that would keep him from having an affair. I know, it’s fictional. It’s art. Art imitates life. This fictional theme has played out in a lot of real life peoples’ families every day. Stop trying to present yourself in a certain way and try to work on being the best you that you can be. The best you isn’t the most polished, the most perfect, the most presentable. That’s not real. Even the best of the best have days they just can’t get through anymore and they have to toss their hands up and scream. Or they put their hand in their heads and they cry.
What about professionally? Isn’t it what you should do to try to be the best and climb the ladder? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. I serve at a mega-church. If you’ve read any of my posts, you probably know that. Well, did you know that not all mega-churches are the same? There’s a belief that they are, but that belief is inaccurate. The mega I was at before did productions, conferences, concerts… The mega I’m at now is much larger and doesn’t do any of that. Usually. It’s actually been a welcome relief to have most of my weekends back so I can actually rest and take days off. Do I miss it? Sometimes. Do I like the trade off I get by not doing it? Most certainly, yes.
I have a friend at a very large church in Houston. He’s always sharing photos of what they are working on. It’s production on a scale or at least very close to a scale that I’ve done in the past, but I’m not doing now. His team is redoing their stage, their lighting, their projection. They have LED walls, haze, consoles and equipment to rival any concert house. The end result is always amazing. It’s always exciting to see what he’s doing and it brings back a lot of memories. It’s really easy for me to look at what he’s doing and look at what I’m doing and compare them. In that moment, he becomes Mr. Jones. It’s not his fault, it’s 100% mine.
Keeping up with the Joneses is at heart, a comparison game. Yes, the deadly comparison game. I won’t lie. There’s a part of me that looks at the differences and wonders if he thinks we are just a back road bumpkin team that shouldn’t be called a mega if we aren’t doing what he’s doing. For all I know, he’s sitting there thinking he’d love to be where I am so he didn’t have to do that kind of stuff. I know it’s very taxing and exhausting work. Either way, from my perspective, it’s not right for me to look at what he’s doing and be discouraged that I’m not doing it where I am. We are in different places.
That’s the key thing about the Joneses mentality is that whether you’re trying to be them or beat them, you’re forgetting about where you are and who you are really supposed to be. So what if you’re not driving the newest or nicest car on the block. That’s a hard one for me to say out loud (in print) because I really like cars and I really enjoy having a new and nice one. Who cares if your house isn’t the biggest in your circle of friends. Or your neighborhood doesn’t average a certain square footage that someone else’s does. It’s not important if you have a title that competes with your brother or your best friend. It doesn’t matter if your team is doing what someone else’s team at an entirely different organization is going.
I could keep giving you examples of what doesn’t matter. I’ll switch to what does matter. What matters is that you are happy being who, what, and where God wants you to be. Be Christlike, yes. That’s a command for all of us. Stop trying to be the Joneses. You’re missing out on something really amazing because you’re in the trap. You can’t see how great you have it now because it’s not what they have over there. So what!
I heard a good reference to the grass being greener cliché. I’ll clean it up a bit though for general viewing audience. If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it may mean there’s just more “fertilizer” over there. You know what fertilizer used to be made out of. Manure. Don’t play in the manure just to make your grass look nicer. Don’t live your life unhappily because you think it should be something different than it is. If you’re working hard, doing the best you can, and serving where God wants you to be, then keep at it. For all you know, you ARE the Jones to someone else. Make sure part of who you are is encouraging those around you. Maybe we can stop this perpetual habit we have as people to want to be someone else or something else when who we are in Christ is enough.