I don’t envy basketball-superstar Kevin Durant one bit.
If you were online at all in the last couple days, you probably noticed a little bit (or a lot depending on who you follow) of conversation around Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors, one of the top teams in the NBA. Durant has played for the Oklahoma City Thunder since 2008. Earlier this year, the Thunder were a few minutes away from making the NBA Finals only to ultimately lose to Durant’s new team, the Warriors.
I read all sorts of opinions yesterday about Durant’s choice.
All of my friends from the Bay Area were giddy! But not everyone was positive.
One guy wrote, “Durant now epitomizes the cliche – if you can’t beat them, join them!”
One commentator said, “”It’s the weakest move I’ve ever seen from a superstar, plain and simple.”
Another person called the move “pathetic.”
Personally, when I read the news on Twitter, my jaw hit the proverbial floor. It shocked me, though, when the comments about Durant’s decision went beyond right/wrong, good/bad or wise/unwise to assessments of him as a person. This shouldn’t have surprised me but it did.
I can’t imagine being in the spotlight to the point where people feel the empowerment to assess not only my decisions and performance but my value as a result of these two.
Yet, this is our world. We may not have each of our decisions assessed as nation-leading trending topics on Twitter but we do get assessed on a daily basis.
Every time we meet someone new, we have the “So, what do you do?” conversation. When we meet someone new, especially this is a guy meeting another guy, the first question we’re asked is “so what do you do?” From that question, we assess value, assign categories and begin to determine worth.
As a pastor, I get another level of “fun.” An awkward follow-up for me is regularly “so, how big is your church?” As if the size of my church is equivalent to the value of it! As if the size of my church is equivalent to my value as a pastor! It’s crazy – at any large gathering of pastors or church leaders, the “size” question is often the first question asked. It’s the way pecking order is set. And it’s totally dangerous.
I believe two of the greatest battles facing men and women in our culture are idolatry and insecurity. Tim Keller, a pastor and author in New York City, defines idolatry as “whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”
We constantly look to things and people for the sense of self, security, meaning and purpose we were designed to receive from our Creator. We feel totally unstable because we look for anchors from people and things which are never going to provide stability, much less solid moorings.
As I think about Kevin Durant today, and the way he has been picked apart today and will be picked apart in the future should the Warriors fail to win this upcoming season, I think you and I aren’t much different. Sure, we may not make $27 million this year with an option for $27 million next year. We don’t have $300,000,000 endorsement deals for shoes. But we have all the ingredients for insecurity and idolatry in our lives.
3 Mantras To Battle Insecurity and Idolatry
I’ve found 3 mantras which help me battle insecurity and ensure I’m not building an idol in a place I should be worshiping God.
1. “I am not other people’s opinion of me.”
We’re born with a God-given need for affirmation and validation. We need to know we’re okay. This desire, though, often leads us to the place where we’re constantly polling others around us to determine our worth and value. Yet, no amount of likes, comments, retweets or emojis can define or establish our worth and value. (After all, they don’t call them “vanity metrics” for no reason.)
Consider this. Just because people get to commentate on your actions publicly doesn’t make their commentary worth reading nor valuing. I’m not trying to be cold and callous, but I think social media has the potential to bring out the worst in us. Gossip and mean-spirited critique used to left on the back porch or the dinner table; now it is visible to all and can go viral in seconds.
I’m not sure who said it first, but I wholeheartedly believe in this quote. “If you live for the approval of others, their criticism will destroy you.” We are not other people’s opinion of us.
2. “I am not my performance.”
This is a challenge if for those of us who do what I call “public work.” It’s also a challenge if we get evaluated intentionally or regularly by other people. Today, it seems like we’re only as good as our last at bat. This kind of performance-amnesia means we can easily begin reaching for one more trophy or one more award or one more win to secure the insecurable. Right before his last Super Bowl win, a reporter asked Tom Brady how many Super Bowl trophies it would take to satisfy him. His response? “Just one more.” The wealthy and infamous businessman John D. Rockefeller was once asked, “How much money do you need to be happy and satisfied?” He replied, “Just a little bit more than I have right now.”
More is a mirage. When we define ourselves by our performance or achievements, by our successes or our failures, we set our hopes and security on something which will drown under the weight. We are not our performance. We are not our failures and we most certainly are not our successes.
3. “I am not my position.”
During the Great Recession, I read countless stories about the rising depression among American males who had lost their jobs – and with them, their sense of identity. Nearly a decade later, the suicide rate among middle-age white American males is skyrocketing. For many of them, position has not led to a secure sense of self and life (especially work) has not worked out as planned.
The ladder doesn’t go high enough to validate us completely. When you define yourself by your job, losing your job means losing yourself.
I dealt with this bizarre experience on a very micro level recently. I took two weeks off between the end of my tenure as the pastor of one church and the beginning of my tenure at another. A buddy called me one day and said, “So how does it feel to be unemployed?” He was being sarcastic, but I became surprisingly anxious while filling out medical paperwork later that day. When asked for my occupation and current employer. I wrote my new church even though i didn’t go on the payroll for another 10 days. I didn’t want to write “unemployed.”
Jon Acuff says, “When you confuse your work with your identity, you mistake feedback as a personal attack.” When we are our position, not only do we live needlessly unsettled lives but we also miss out on growth because we fight back against feedback. Our identity is bigger than any position or title.
Ask Yourself Hard Questions
Maybe the most basic way to determine whether the source of your identity is secure or not is to ask, “what would happen if IT was taken away? What would happen if I couldn’t do/be/have IT any longer? Who would I be then? Would I be okay?”
For several years now, I’ve been pursuing an identity rooted in God’s unconditional love, as I seek recover from living from a performance-based identity which led me to live with frustration and great fear. More than any other, this book (which I’m currently re-reading) helped me in this pursuit.
As I begin my new role as the lead pastor of a church in Prescott, Arizona, the subject of identity is not only an area of personal focus, but it’s at the core of my first sermon which I’m working on this week. You can watch it live here on Sunday, July 10 (or check out the video archive later here).
A Mantra for You (and Kevin Durant)
If I was Kevin Durant’s friend, I’d share the following words with him. I want to challenge you to read these same words and own the truth of them. Let them define who you are today.
I am not other people’s opinion of me. I am not my performance. I am not my position.
I am loved by God for who I am, not what I do.