Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Please Stop Challenging Me on Facebook

Have you been challenged on Facebook recently? There are a lot of challenges out there, the Ice Bucket Challenge only being the most pervasive. I’ve seen people responding to “Forty Days of Gratefulness” challenges and “Thinking Positively” challenges, among others. A friend was even “challenged” to list his ten favorite books. In each case, people are supposed to challenge others in turn.

Why are we so addicted to challenging each other all the time? Facebook is only the most recent—and readily available—forum for our challenges. People have been slapping each other in the face with gloves and throwing down gauntlets for centuries.

I remember taking one of those personality inventories just after high school—a day-long series of tests that is supposed to reveal all the details of how you tick—and being told in the summary session that I wouldn’t enjoy a career in the NBA (that’s the career I’d suggested that I’d be most excited about) because it wouldn’t sufficiently challenge me. The data interpreter suggested that I consider designing ergonomic furniture instead.

Perhaps your parents, in an effort to disrupt a budding relationship that they didn’t like, suggested that the guy or girl you were dating wasn’t right for you because they didn’t challenge you.

I like the idea of being challenged more than I actually like being challenged. A constantly challenging relationship seems like it’d keep me interested. Like practicing a jump shot or a difficult recipe, a challenging relationship seems like it could lead to great satisfaction. A challenging job seems like it would stay exciting. Unfortunately, those things really lead to exhaustion. My friend who was challenged to list his ten favorite books on Facebook isn’t doing it because, as he said, “it’d end up being the ten books I’ve read in my life…and half of them would be by Michael Crichton.” The challenge wasn’t exciting; it just made him feel bad.

We are quick to take up a challenge—and to pass it on to others—because it excites us…at least at first blush. We like the idea of seeing how we stack up. Can we think of three things to be thankful for so many days in a row? Can we think positively for a week? Are our favorite books impressive when compared to the lists that others have produced? But just because we are quick—and happy—to take up a challenge doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

Challenges are, at their core, law-based. The basic question that they ask is: are you good enough? We all like the opportunity to show that we are. We hate realizing that we aren’t. For some of us, challenges like those on social media give us the opportunity to succeed. We’re capable of dumping a bucket of ice water on our heads, giving money to a deserving charity, comimg up with a list of things we’re thankful for and a list of great books we’ve read. But can these internet accomplishments answer the pressing question that our challenge culture asks? Are you good enough?

Life is challenging enough. “Are you good enough?” is already a rabid dog nipping at our heels. Paul chastised the Galatian church for trying to “finish by means of the flesh” what they had begun “in the Spirit” (3:3). It feels almost like a Pauline echo to say something like: Why are we challenging each other so much on social media? Isn’t life hard enough?

For my part, life is hard enough. It’s a challenge, and it’s often one that I feel like I fall short of meeting. My joy comes from the knowledge that I have a savior, Christ Jesus, who has stepped up to all the challenges that knock me down. When life presents a challenge, he is my ready support, stepping into the breach when I fall. When I see a challenge on my horizon, my widened, fearful eyes search desperately for my savior. Praise God, he’s promised to be with me always.

I’m happy to tell you what some of my favorite books are. Please don’t challenge me to do it.

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