A few weeks ago, as part of our routine family grocery trip, I found myself standing in the aisle of our local Co-op looking at the options of chickpeas. In one hand I held the “Co-op Gold” brand. I believe it cost no more than $1.50 per can. In my other hand, I held the ‘Campbells” brand of chickpeas. These were well over $2.00 per can. I stood for far too long wrestling with an inner voice in my head that kept saying ‘Buy the Campbell’s brand! If they are more expensive, it must mean they are better.’ The rationale is quite simple. The bigger and/or more expensive things are, the better they must be. By extension, the more expensive things I own, the better I must be! Modern day marketing is built on such rhetoric.
It would have been nice if my inner argument stopped there. It would have been nice if this was simply a harmless inner banter regarding consumerism and mass marketing. Yet what was really going on, deep within, was an argument about my own personal value and identity. While on one hand I care not for the price of chickpeas, on the other hand, I do care about how others see me. I actually care about this far too much. What would my chickpea purchase say about me? What would the cashier think of me if I showed up at the till with the cheapest can of chickpeas in the store? Would the cashier think I was not successful enough to buy the most expensive brand? Would he or she shake their head and think that I was unable to provide for my family? Would they wonder why I was buying the cheaper brand when a clearly ‘better’ choice was offered?
See, deep down I wrestle with what is called “Impression Management”. I want others to see me in good regards. I want to be known as an intelligent, resourceful, successful individual. I want to be known as a good provider for my family. I want to be someone that people look up to, emulate, and if I am honest, envy. These things come from a deep place of insecurity within. It is the place that tells me that I must constantly compare myself to those around me, and it is only in reference to others that I can find my true value, worth and identity. See, it’s not enough for me to be happy with my work, to be a good provider or to be intelligent within myself, I want to be seen to be these things by those around me. And if buying a more expensive brand of chickpeas fools me into thinking that I am projecting a more successful, intelligent, put-together, blessed image, then so be it.
We see this constantly in scripture. It starts in the garden with the serpent telling Adam and Eve to do that which will make them equal to God. It proceeds through sibling rivalry, to the continual vying for power, to a nation crying for a King, to war after war after war. In the New Testament, we see in the constant taunt to Jesus to ‘prove himself’; It is in James and John’s not-so-subtle request to sit at the two top spots in the kingdom of God; It exists in people asking Jesus if tragedy in life means that God is simply out to get you.
Ask yourself a question, how much of what you do is based on managing what other people will think of you? Do you feel need to purchase the latest gadgets, trinkets, or trends, because having an outdated cell phone, or music player, or car, or purse, is just wrong? Do you join committees, groups, or ministries, in order to be recognized as someone who is trustworthy, competent, or resourceful? Do you keep yourself busy out of some inner need to feel important or needed? In her book “Abundant Simplicity” Jan Johnson states that such activities only serve to mask a neediness of our souls. If we want people to see our clothes, our positions, our clout, or our chickpeas before they see us, then something deep within has gone amiss.
Our value, our worth, our sense of divine favour and blessedness should be based on our identity as children of God, and our openness to God’s presence in our lives. These things are not found in the external things of our lives. Impression management keeps us from uncovering this truth, for it keeps us chained to the sin of envy. In Impression management, we always compare ourselves to those around us. We strive to meet some worldly standard, a standard that keeps changing with the whims of the marketplace. Success and failure become that which our eye is always cast towards. This is why ‘Thou shalt not covet’ is one of the 10 commandments. In coveting, we define ourselves through comparison with others, and thus, take our eyes off of God’s loving presence in our midst.
Thus, I keep chickpeas on my shelf to serve as a reminder that I need to continually put down my desire for approval, for accolades, for acceptance. It reminds me that my identity is to be based on who I am as a child of God. The chickpeas challenge with the question: Can I trust that Jesus is enough? Can I trust Jesus to be in charge of my future? Can I trust Jesus to be in charge of my reputation? Can I trust Jesus to be in charge of my identity? Instead of casting my eyes constantly toward other people and other situations as the gauge of who I am or how loved I am, I am reminded of Jesus’ invitation to cast my eyes and heart always upon him.
Where are you tempted to drift toward image management? Where are the places you are prone to judge yourself – and what is the basis of that judgement? We are called to turn away from Impression Management and see our eternal value in the face of the one who comes to us in love; we see our full identity in the one who kneels down and places his hands in the muck of our lives in order to unearth that which was created as good, strong and beautiful. Who we are is not seen in how others view us, or in the image that we project; who we are is only truly seen in the light of the one who pleads for our wholeness, who works for our healing, and who ultimately gives of himself for our salvation.
So grab some chickpeas, put down Impression Management, and follow the loving pattern of our Lord and Saviour.