I don't know about you, but I have had an interesting relationship with Keeping Up With the Joneses. (K.U.J. from here on out)
Like most kids, I didn't really know too much about K.U.J. before middle school. My childhood was routine oriented; Monday through Fridays were sleepy morning Bible readings, school, Little House on the Prairie, playing outside until supper, winding down after supper, and early bedtime. On Saturdays, we were sent outside to play after watching a cartoon & finishing our chores, of course. After Saturday night baths we got to watch HeeHaw before bed. Sundays were fun days: running around the church building before & after Sunday School, imitating the grown ups during the service and sometimes listening to the sermon more than I'd originally anticipated. Sunday afternoons were big lunches, books, playing outside and cereal for supper. It was a pretty light & free childhood. (Except for having to work in the garden during the summer. Torture.) Anyway, if my parents ever struggled in their own relationships with K.U.J., I never knew it.
I became more aware of K.U.J. in middle school and high school. I think K.U.J. also went by Peer Pressure during those years, now that I think about it. However, I still didn't see what the big deal was. It seemed to me like K.U.J. involved actions that could ruin my life, and I just didn't find it too attractive. I was busy having fun with my friends, playing sports, and trying to be a good student. Every once in awhile I would think that I was missing out on something, and I would feel the pull to K.U.J., but for the most part I lived in my own world.
Keeping Up With The Joneses began to look a LOT different in college. As a student in a Bible College, the majority of the student body shared a desire to grow in Christ and it was, to this day, one of the most favorite seasons of my life. But, looking back, this is when I became aware that even among Christians there were different ways of doing life and it seemed that I could choose which Christian "group" to belong to. I found this to be difficult, especially when I looked up to and respected many professors and friends who had different ways of viewing the same situation. Sometimes those views really put them at odds with one another, and I began to feel the pressure of having to choose a side, even though nobody was telling me to do so. K.U.J. had suddenly gone spiritual, and it would influence my life over the next 23 years.
As I reflect on the last two decades, I can recognize that I have struggled when it comes to decision-making within the Christian community. If I am trusting that each person/group is trying to obey the Lord the best that they know how, how do I make personal decisions? After looking first to Scripture, then to whom do I listen? Whose advice do I take? What place does submission to authority have here? Two people whom I love dearly see this issue from opposite sides - how do I proceed with this decision? What role does the Holy Spirit play in this? How do I resist individualism but move forward boldly when I feel the Holy Spirit raising red flags in my heart?
One good thing that came out of Crazy 2020 was that I had ample time to FINALLY sit down and reevaluate my life in ministry. I had been feeling a change coming for a couple of years prior, and even though I had already taken the first step of preparing for a move to northern Spain, there were still changes that needed to be made regarding ministry. And sometimes the truth hurts. I had to face the hard reality that I had been following certain ministry practices mostly because of two reasons:
1. People I love are hard-core into it and "what would they think if I wasn't?" (K.U.J.)
2. I wanted to prove to those above me that I was following their wishes enthusiastically. (K.U.J.)
These motives are, well..........embarrassing, to say the least. Which also proves why the previous 3 years had been miserable. I had turned into a person that I myself couldn't stand, and it was obvious that others felt the same. That's hard to swallow. But that's a story for another day.
Back to the Crazy 2020 lockdown: I prayerfully came to the conclusion that I was tired of Keeping Up With the Joneses (Missionary Edition).
For so long there had been pressure from all around, always pushing at a pace that was unsustainable. When that was taken away, I found myself getting my bearings for a moment. But then, there came this growing realization/feeling that I hadn't had in a long time, and it was accompanied by a deep sense of joy..........it was freedom! Freedom in Christ! Freedom from a specific ministry system, freedom from comparison with other mission teams, freedom from a prepackaged way of life. Instead, there is joy in obeying the Word of God, peace in discussing life in Jesus with loved ones, and delight in following the Gentle Shepherd. I have a new hunger and respect for the Bible, a deeper love for the Church & its place in society, and renewed trust in the Holy Spirit to lead and to guide.
(A little disclaimer here: All of these changes have been in regard to different views on ministry and strategies in missions and how they have affected me personally. I am not talking about the indisputable essentials of the gospel. May the Lord bless every effort to make his Name known!)
I do not know what the rest of my life holds, but I do know this: my days of Keeping Up With The Joneses are over. Oh, I am not so naive as to think that my mistakes are over - that is only a hope for heaven! But my new aspiration is more along the lines of what Paul says to the Galatians: "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."(5:25) And although keeping in step with the Spirit often seems harder than keeping up with the Joneses, the grace & joy that comes with it allows for a reasonable pace. Well, at least for this slow gal. 😁
**Just for fun, I looked up the origin of the phrase "Keeping up with the Joneses," and found that it was born out of a comic strip by Arthur R. "Pop" Momand that ran from 1913-1940. Enjoy a piece of it below!