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Bible Belt Pressures and Other Things We Fall Prey To

What I have found remarkable about living in the Bible Belt is how dangerously subtle pressure is. 

It can fester and grow like weeds in our heart’s ecosystem; without an untrained eye, we might never notice.

The ordinary and ubiquitous pressures of being a person seem only exacerbated by the environment in which we live; each geographical region here in the U.S. has its own unique set of pressures. 

And here in the Bible Belt, plenty of traps ensnare too many people.

Fears, anxieties, and worry dominate the head and heart spaces of those who wrestle to navigate through tumultuous dating scenes, try to figure out jobs and long-term career paths, start a family and have kids, identify God’s purpose and calling on their lives, or simply try to get their lives in order and feel like failures when things don’t pan out how we perfectly envisioned.

How do we effectively identify and deal with the pressures of being a person and destroy the idols we often create? 

Are there any viable options to recapture joy and wonder? 

Or are we left to tread through life begrudgingly — bouncing back and forth from one pain point to another?

As a recovering chronic over-thinker, I can tell you there’s hope.

Call me an optimist if you’d like, but I wholeheartedly believe there is a way out of the darkness—a remedy for our restlessness if you will.

Loneliness: Why Aren’t You Dating Anyone or Married Yet?

If I had a dollar for every time I, or one of my friends, have been asked why we are still single and not dating or married to anyone yet, my piggy bank would be overflowing — big enough to attract the gold diggers.

Family and friends alike persistently inundate us with sincere [but sometimes nagging] questions about how or why we aren’t dating anyone or why we have yet to reach the stage of marriage. 

Insofar as I can accurately articulate the gravity of the situation, maybe one of the reasons for the loneliness crisis is that we have not matured enough in this arena [see Marshall Segal’s book Not Yet Married].

There is, of course, no dating manual in the back of the Bible along with the glossary, weights and measures, and maps.

And so, the unguided heart might turn romance/dating/marriage into an idol that consumes their time and thoughts.

In desperation to keep pace with a timeline we or others have invented for ourselves, we sometimes throw our hearts into the arena with little forethought.

And thus, our generation seems stuck in a rinse-and-repeat cycle:

Download the dating app of your choice. Not get the matches you want. Struggle through the awkward small talk. Maybe go on a casual first date. Nothing pans out. Delete the app. And then repeat the process after a few months. All the while questioning why God has blessed others but not you.

As we become increasingly desperate from the pain of the pressure of finding someone, we examine our standards and question whether they have been placed too high. 

Would lowering them alleviate our situation? Of course not. 

Lowering your standards typically only works out for the person for whom you lower them.

Perhaps we need a perspective shift?

Rather than saying, “I want or need a boyfriend/girlfriend,” what if we reframed the intention to “I want to be/become the type of woman/man who is ____,____, and ____ that attracts the high-valued partner for whom I desire.”

One of the more tragic burdens we bear is believing we will stumble across our dream guy/girl, and then everything will be happy-ever-after. 

What if we took a step back instead of jumping into dating relationships and trying to figure it all out on a whim?

What if we turned the mirror front and center and asked deeply introspective questions of ourselves and what we’re doing?

What if instead of a long list of picks or red flags, we had a list of things we seek to understand about God, ourselves, and the partner we desire to find?

  • Are the things I want in a partner based on superficial preferences or rooted in sound wisdom from Scripture?
  • What are the core values that I desire for myself and long-term compatibility and commitment with another person?
  • Why do I want to date? Am I seeking a relationship with the honest intention of seeing if it will work into marriage, or do I just want to be with someone so I’m not lonely?
  • How can I tell if connection, chemistry, commitment, and compatibility with my partner can withstand conflicts and trials?
  • Is my identity firmly rooted enough in Christ to handle rejection or if things don’t work out in a relationship?
  • How does God need to sanctify me to become a man/woman who is progressing towards maturity for life-long marriage rooted in Christ?

As I hope you can see, this is a vastly different approach than “I want a guy who’s tall and funny” or “I want a girl who is hot and can cook.”

While this may not be a panacea for the problem and pressure as a whole, it just might be a fresh start to turn the tide to undo the unnecessary burden of feeling like we need to rush into things to find someone as quickly as possible.

Maybe short-term loneliness is the necessary price we have to pay to avoid the long-term damage of bitter heartbreak.

Envy: The Trap of Comparison

It is not uncommon to fall into the trap of gazing out at the lives of family, friends, or colleagues and feel like somehow “I should have this” or “How come I don’t have ____.”

John Piper rightly diagnoses envy as the mingling of a desire for something with the resentment that another is enjoying it and you are not.

His insight is profound when we zoom out and realize that much of our stress is generated by comparing our lives with others.

We perceive that the glories and blessings in the lives of others should be ours as well:

  • Your friend or someone you know gets into the law/med school you applied for, but you didn’t.
  • Friends get married, and you’re still single [and sometimes with no prospects in sight].
  • Family or friends enjoy healthy lives while you battle through chronic sickness.
  • You see others start a family and have children who are healthy and well-behaved.
  • Coworkers enjoy the fruit of immense success while you trudge through your lackluster job and try to stay afloat to pay bills.
  • Insecurities flare up as you see people on social media living lives of grandeur or appear to be so much better looking and well off than you.

Our vision becomes clouded with contempt, and we convince ourselves that somehow, someway, our lives have gone awry. 

And, so often, we try to ease our pain with fake smiles and telling people we’re good.

Happiness can often be a suitable mask we wear to conceal the pain of not getting what we desire most. 

We veil our true selves behind curated exuberance — all the while, we unravel with hidden bitterness. 

The Proverb rings very true: envy makes the bones rot [see Proverbs 14:30].

We trap ourselves in a prison of vitriol and animosity for ourselves, others, and, ultimately, God. 

Serious problems emerge when we become so preoccupied with other people and their lives and we subtly forget to live the life God has given us — that He knows best how to bless His children. 

Envious idols are the easiest things to create and the hardest to destroy. 

This is a haunting reality.

Be wary of where your heart’s eyes are fixated. If not on Christ, something or someone will drag you down into disappointment and slowly siphon the life and joy out of your soul.

Have You Figured Life Out by 25???

Perhaps one of the more crushing pressures I’ve seen is this obscure notion that somehow we can [or should] have life all figured out in our mid-twenties. 

What a ruse. And yet, we fall for it.

So much of our lives and decisions orbit around trying to get settled and secured as quickly as possible.

We try so desperately to fit into a cookie-cutter Bible Belt model:

Graduate college. Start dating [and immediately feel the pressure of trying to figure out if someone is marriage material as soon as possible]. Get engaged. Get a great paying job. Figure out God’s purpose and calling on your life. Get married [in or outside a white barn aesthetic]. Get a dog. Buy a house and post “we did a thing.” Find a solid church/Christian community. Start having kids. And so on.

The ominous fear of failure to live up to this timeline and those expectations becomes a boulder our shoulders can never truly bear. 

Optimism slowly fades with each passing year and the stress grows exponentially as all of a sudden the aspiring 22-year-old is now 25 and “behind schedule.”

And then, we begin to doubt ourselves and wonder if there is something wrongwith us. 

We create a veneer of satisfaction and try to hold ourselves together with scotch tape truths of “I’m doing just fine”, or “I’m happy where I’m at right now.”

Meanwhile, we are fearful, anxious, and worried beyond measure that the life we dream and long for has, or will, pass us by.

We don’t stand a snowball’s chance in July if we think we can live the life Jesus offers while we are consumed by our fears, insecurities, or anxieties. 

Sometimes, I wonder what life would look like if we actually allowed Scripture to diagnose our hearts and speak the power of truth into our restless souls.

I am haunted by the truth that we think too little of the God of the universe and diminish His power by putting Him in a box of misplaced expectations.

Our joy in Christ is exponential only insofar as we don’t cap it with the innate will to be in control — easier said than done, of course.

Rebuilding in the Rubble 

Every glass house breaks when you throw a big enough rock at it.

Pressure can only build up so much before the burdens break our backs and we fall into ruin.

But what if something can pull us out, or if there is long-term healing, a medicine for our maladies?

I am absolutely convinced the person and work of Jesus Christ lays a firm foundation for rebuilding in the rubble.

We often forget that we serve a God who meets us where we are, a God who redeems and rebuilds in the ruins.

All of our weariness, wounds, and worries find their healing and peace in Christ.

Is this easy? Not even in the slightest. It’s hard, but God’s grace is sufficient.

It will take time and courage to persevere through the undoing of pressure upon our souls to breathe in the new life Christ offers. 

Ernest Hemingway said it best: Courage is grace under pressure.

And in this present age with so many burdens and pressures, we need courage. But not courage in ourselves — but in Christ.

To be clear, Jesus is not offering self-help or self-improvement; He is offering an entirely new self, one made in His image. 

The intimacy our hearts long for will not find its ultimate fulfillment in some stranger on a dating app or in who we date or marry, but in Christ.

Envy will die only in gratitude for God’s grace and mercy poured out to us in Jesus Christ; and this gratitude is the glue of joy that holds us together in hard times.

Anxiety will be vanquished as we receive the grace to trust God’s character, and that His faithfulness is bigger than all our fears and insecurities, and that, as we relinquish timelines, outcomes, and ultimate control of our lives over to Christ, we begin to sense the truth of His promises [see Matthew 6:25–34].

The Hebrews writer says that Jesus is able to sympathize with us in all of our weaknesses [see Hebrews 4:15].

Therefore, we do not have to bear our burdens alone. We can, instead, bring them to the throne of King Jesus. We should, as one theologian said, turn every care into prayer.

I think we are quick to forget what David says: “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you” [Psalm 55:22].

The combination of fear/anxiety/worry/insecurity when we try to live out scenarios in our lives — whether it be in thought or action — is not what God intends for us. 

So what if we asked God for His grace to accept His will and trust in His new morning mercies day by day?

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him’ ” [Lamentations 3:21–24].

What would it look like to cast every pressure and burden of our hearts before our heavenly Father?

“I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” [Psalm 34:4–8].

What if we built our lives firmly grounded on Christ and His sufficient sovereignty, which is bigger than any fear or burden?

“You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again” [Psalm 71:20–21].

The beauty of Jesus is that He calls us into a life of abundant joy — a joy that sustains us in both the pleasures and pains of life.

We don’t have to settle for and live in the Bible Belt pressures. We can live in the peace of His presence.

 


Salvation – Eternal Life in Less Than 150 Words

Please Read/Respond to Comments – on Medium

AuthorJaron Alexander | BCWorldview.org 

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