One brisk, late fall morning when I was thirteen, I had the perfect outfit planned: a too-big hooded sweatshirt over a pair of denim shorts, my carefully beaten-up sneakers, and a matching scrunchie for my wrist.
(Don’t judge me. In the ’90s, that was the look.)
“It’s not even forty degrees,” my mother said with a shake of her head, obliterating my hopes for the day before I’d even gotten out of my pajamas.
“I know. That’s the point,” I replied, to her bewilderment. The outfit made perfect sense to me, from a meteorological perspective. It was cold – hence the sweatshirt. Later, when it warmed up to the sunny sixties, the shorts would make sense too. I’d chosen the original dual-climate gear – and I mostly wanted to wear it because it’s what everyone who was anyone wore to school.
“Why would you wear a sweatshirt with shorts when there’s frost out?” my mother wondered as she pointed me back to my closet to try again. “That doesn’t even make sense.”
To look cool and like everyone else was not an answer that would suffice for her, even though it was true. It wasn’t that she was anti-trend or anti-fad, necessarily; she didn’t complain when I decided to wear a baggy blue-and-white striped shirt to the high school football game or when I wanted the perfect princess-style dress for prom. Rather, as I grew she was bent on teaching me to question myself: to examine my motives for wanting to be a part of the crowd, and to be honest about what that desire might cost me.
It’s a discipline that has served me well in the years sense, particularly in my Christian walk. Because Christians aren’t exempt from peer pressure, and adult Christians aren’t either. Every day we face a thousand subtle influences that can determine how we behave in church, what kind of Christians we permit ourselves to be, how we spend our money, and how we relate to other believers and non-believers. There’s a danger in not considering those choices or how we make them; there’s a danger in going along to get along, or simply doing what seems most popular.
The Bible warns believers repeatedly against false teachings, deceivers, and empty philosophies (2 Peter 2:1-3, Romans 16:17, 1 Timothy 4:1-5, for starters). And half the battle against such things is being aware of why we think what we think, and why we choose what we choose. As with my sweatshirt-and-shorts oufit, because everyone else does is not adequate spiritual grounding for decision-making. It’s worth the time it takes for us to interrogate ourselves – to ask about why we want to do what we do, and what that desire is costing us.
Because my mother raised me to believe that I didn’t need to be in lockstep with the world around me (or at least that I wouldn’t die if I wasn’t), I internalized the following truths over the years:
– What other people think of you is not always important.
– Just because a lot of people do something, it is not inherently right or correct.
– Often, other people are not thinking about you in the least (even when you’re convinced they are). You are not the center of everyone else’s universe.
– Embracing what you believe or what you really matters to you will last longer over the long run than a trend or a fad that you follow for popularity’s sake.
In our Christian walk, it’s worth abiding by those same principles. Rather than marching in lockstep with the world around us and even with other believers, it’s better to return to the Source: the Word against which we might test our choices, our ideas, and our plans.
Certainly believers have a lot in common, and we might find ourselves making the same choices as a lot of other believers by mere virtue of our common principles and goals. That’s fine and good. But it’s also important to realize that a desire for uniformity – to be like everyone else just for the sake of belonging – should never squash God’s calling, God’s purpose in our lives, or the beautiful, unique role in the church body that is meant for each one of us.