Must have the precious.
-- Gollum in The Lord of the Rings
I looked like a Q-tip in junior high school—so pale my skin seemed to have a bluish tint, and with a big wad of white, curly hair on top. I went mostly unnoticed, was picked last for some sports, and was scared to death of females. But something happened between my eighth- and ninth-grade years. I didn’t see anyone all summer, and when I returned to school I was a head taller than everyone. I remember guys saying, “Dude, what’d you eat all summer?”
Thanks to my height, I was convinced to go out for the high school basketball team. Expectations ran high. My first game, in front of two high schools, I got my first rebound and went up strong to score my first two points. I ran down the court awaiting the roar of the fans, but there was only silence—then laughter. I realized with horror that I had shot into the wrong goal. I was devastated and henceforth labeled a “dork” for an entire year.
But things began to change as I progressed through high school. I grew a few more inches, gained some coordination, and added some basketball skills. By my junior and senior years, I was popular, a star athlete. I drove a sports car, was voted Mr. CCHS (Chilton County High School) by the high school student body, and dated Ms. CCHS. I was the life of the party and had a posse of guy and girl friends called The Coolin’ Crew and Their Little Sisters (okay, you can stop laughing now). I got basketball scholarships—first to a junior college, then to a Division I university—continuing on in popularity, academics, and athletic success. And the girls! Oh my, the girls. I’m ashamed to confess that I took advantage of many offers that came my way, and some obliged my offers as well, if you know what I mean.
It was all about “me.” “Me” was my “precious.” “Me” was my god. I became what every teenager, college student, and twentysomething wanted to be. I reveled in the attention and the lifestyle. I had only one problem: I was sick of “me.”
I grew up in a Christian family. I had to go to church every Sunday, no excuses. I hated church; I thought it was boring and cheesy. I was the little kid who knew all the verses and all the church answers. I viewed God as an angry and bitter tyrant, yet the thought of Jesus was beautiful to me. I appreciated his sacrifice on the cross. I think I truly loved Jesus but just didn’t want to obey him. In high school, my Christian life, or lack thereof, could be summed up by a button that I pinned to the visor of my car: “How much sin can I get away with and still go to heaven?” I wanted to live a life centered on “me.” Popularity, basketball, and girls were the trinity I lived for. No matter how much attention I got or how many balls I dunked, three-pointers I scored, beers I drank, or girls I “dated,” I was haunted by misery, emptiness, and an unsatisfied life.
I clearly remember an experience at a Baylor University basketball tournament where God began to break my heart. During the pretournament banquet, I was named an all-star student athlete by Jim Nantz of CBS Sports. Later we met in the lobby of our hotel, and he invited me up to his hotel room to hang out for a few minutes while he took care of some pressing business. We chatted about basketball and my future. Before I left I asked for his autograph to prove I’d spent time with him. He penned his name on a CBS Sports cap and handed me a business card for a clothing line he was putting out with his old college roommate, pro golfer Fred Couples.
I giddily walked out of his room and into the elevator. Once the doors closed, I read the words he had signed: “Jarrod, thanks for being a good role model. Jim Nantz.”
Just one problem: I was anything but a good role model. Everyone within an arm’s reach of my life thought I was the perfect young, popular, successful, Christian student-athlete. But anyone close to me, especially me, knew I was all about my “self.” I was plastic. Though there was nothing spiritual about Jim Nantz’s words, God used them to begin drawing me to himself.
After college, still searching for that elusive happiness and satisfaction, I developed a new blueprint for happiness. My goals were to get a nice job, purchase a new sports car, get married, adopt a Chihuahua, and buy a new Harley, a new boat, and a big house with a big deck and a big garage to house my new Harley. Even in pursuing and getting some of these things, I was still left with an abyss in my gut. Why? Because I wasn’t made for those things.
I’ll share more about my past later, but let’s hit the pause button here. What does your blueprint for happiness look like? Though I didn’t really put this together at the time, my focus on buying, achieving, and succeeding acted as painkillers for what I most hurt for in my life: peace, relief, fulfillment, joy, purpose, unconditional love—the stuff of life that careers and Harleys can’t give.
Have you been chasing after the “stuff” of the world in search of that satisfaction that comes from achieving what you were made for? It’s easy to stay caught up in the thrill of the chase. But the chase will never end. It’s rewarding to achieve and accumulate. But the shine will always fade before you, the attention turn from you, and the applause dissolve around you. What do you believe you are made for? What are you pursuing to distract you and numb you from your need for God? Surf the web of your thoughts, your passions, your relationships, your time, and yes, your money—and you will reach the homepage of that which you have believed you are made for.
There’s a story in the Bible in which a teacher of the law happened upon a group of religious leaders who were bent on trapping Jesus. These leaders made every attempt to expose Jesus with their cunning questions each time a crowd gathered. If they could get Jesus to criticize the government or break religious laws, then they could have him arrested. Jealousy ruled among these leaders. Jesus was stealing their show. He was becoming a threat to the status quo. He was a menace to their enjoyment of power, authority, and an esteemed lifestyle.
One would think that, upon hearing this O’Reilly Factor–like debate, the teacher of the law might have been taken aback by Jesus’ answers. After all, he heard them debating and recognized that “[Jesus] had answered them well.”
The questions with which they were bombarding Jesus had to do with taxes, marriage, remarriage, and heaven. I can’t really speak for the teacher of the law, but I wonder if he was tired of this philosophical stuff and wanted to get to the meat of life and existence. I wonder if he finally recognized that his power, and authority, and esteemed lifestyle had left him empty. So, upon a pause in the debate, the teacher of the law clears his throat and asks, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important one?” (Mark 12:28).
Could his question be one of searching? Translated in today’s language, could he be asking, “What is it that should consume my life? What is the purpose of my existence? What is it that I should bank my life on every morning when I wake up and every night when I lie down? What am I made for?”
I bet a hush came over the crowd when they heard this question. You could probably hear the “shhhhhhs” all over the place. This may not be a Jeopardy question, but it is a sincere, searching appeal for truth. Consider that perhaps this isn’t a sneering question to back Jesus into a corner but a seeking man’s plea to get his life out of the corner. Does that hit home for you?
Do you think Jesus smiled when he heard the question? This man had just “clicked online” to Jesus’ heart. Though he asked Jesus about the greatest commandment, little did he know that within the greatest commandment Jesus would reveal the greatest fulfillment.
“This is the most important,” Jesus answered (everyone’s leaning in now . . .).
Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:29–30 HCSB)
I imagine everyone just squinted their eyes and stared at Jesus. “This is nothing new. We’ve been taught this since Vacation Bible School at the temple!” they say. And that’s precisely our problem too: we’ve heard it all our lives, but we haven’t believed it. And that’s precisely the reason we haven’t obeyed it. We may say one thing but do another. We act and behave according to what we really believe.
But Jesus wasn’t finished. “The second is”—there go the “shhhhhhs” again—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31 HCSB).
Just two sentences . . . that’s it. That’s all. In two sentences, Jesus gave the key to life. Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Borders, and even Christian bookstores in America are lined with aisles of books by authors attempting to answer the “What am I made for?” question with self-help, self-esteem, self-love, and self-health. Think about this: maybe the reason so many self-help books continue to be published and purchased is because they aren’t working. They never truly satisfy that mysterious, voracious craving within us for something better, something more, and something perfect.
Notice that in this great commandment Jesus doesn’t mention one word about “self.” As a matter of fact, he pointed in opposite directions from “self.” I’m convinced that if Jesus lived in America today, you’d never discover a self-help book authored by him, nor a self-help talk show hosted by him—Christian or non-Christian. Jesus is the antithesis of our “self” worship. We’ve got a good handle on the self-matters, self-help, and self-love. What we don’t have a handle on is what we’re truly designed for: Jesus’ commands to love your God and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus’ answer is not the love of self but the love for God and love for others. This is the key to freedom, the key to joy, the key to fulfillment, the key to purpose. The key to life is that we’re not made for “self,” we’re made for God—and made to give away our lives to other people.
After having listened to the tapes, read the books, watched the talk shows, and exhausted yourself trying to improve “you,” aren’t you just tired? Tired in your soul?
Are you ready to quit living for yourself? Well, of course you’re not. Neither am I. As Bill O’Reilly puts it, “the spin stops here.” Granted, we need to love ourselves as God loves us. But let’s get honest—we love ourselves way too much. And that is precisely the problem.