This may be a very non-food related post, and I offer my apologies upfront. Recently I have been confronted with some hard truths about myself. There are always things about myself I want to work on, but so often those things are petty. Things like, eat more greens, say the F-word less, do more yoga, run a little farther... etc. Those things, while important to a degree, have often kept me blinded from bigger, more important issues. Like issues of the heart. You know, the issues that are hardest to change and most painful to admit.
Here is what I have been confronted with. I thrive most on admiration from other people. I get my "highs" on being complimented, on being told I am right or on people admiring me. This is not inherently bad, because it is normal to appreciate a compliment. But, to have ones self-esteem wrapped up in how I think other people perceive me can be a dangerous thing. Let me tell you why...
Pleasing people is an impossible and unsatisfying way to live. It ultimately leaves me feeling empty and worthless. I will never ever be "good enough."
Take for example eating habits. It is SO easy to get on my high horse about how great it is to live vegan. It is SO easy for me to see that I have it right and other people have it all wrong. I say, "eat vegan, it is the only way to be." And of course I am going to get the support and validation from other vegans as well as other people who can see that it may be a good choice. So, all of a sudden I can get my self-worth and value based on the idea that I am right (vegan) and other people are wrong (carnivores). Or, another way to put it would be, "I am a better person because I am doing things right, and you meat eaters are not." I would say this and find a whole slew of people who would come to me and say, "right on, Vegans Rock!" BAM, instant self-esteem boost! Instant validation.
Ha. This high of being "right" does last forever. I have found this out first hand. As soon as you commit to one thing, in my case veganism you will discover a whole new way of eating or living that is actually "better" than the one you initially thought was best. Take for instance my transition from vegetarianism to vegan. I used to think that vegetarian was the way to be. Now, I have shifted my support to the vegan camp. Five months into a vegan challenge and already I am getting the message, "oh vegan is good, but... raw is really the only way to go." Holy crap! Are you kidding me with this? I have discussed this question in other blogs, but I will say it again, when is enough, enough? When can you stop and say, "I am good now."?
This post isn't about deciding when enough is enough. I have already touched on that elsewhere. This is about being careful not to let your identity rest upon the approval of others. As soon as we get into an us vs. them attitude about food or anything for that matter we are setting ourselves up for trouble.
Vegan living has to be right for me, regardless of how people perceive me for that decision. I have to be okay with my choice and who I am because of that choice. I cannot push that choice of mine onto other people. It is one thing to live a certain way and have people ask, "Why?" or "What is your purpose" or "Is it worth it?". Then I can say, this is what I believe, this is why and this is what it has done for me. People can listen to your story and have the freedom to make their own changes in their own time. The worst thing I can do is try my hardest to persuade someone to go vegan who is not ready to commit. I know from first hand experience that this only drives people further from your point.
The only reason I would try and force someone to see my point, or desperately try to persuade them to my side would be to get them to admit that they are wrong and I am right. I am looking for validation. I want to know that in the me vs. them battle I am victorious. This "winning" makes me feel important and valuable. I have the answers and you don't... nah-nah-nah-nah-nah.
The reality is, if I am truly living out my beliefs and me beliefs are based in truth, then people are going to see that and want what I have. Like a faith in God. If I am living in the love of God, my life should reflect that and others will see that I have something different or special in my life. This should make them want to meet God, not me forcing a pamphlet down their throat and telling them they are going to hell if they don't come to Church next Sunday.
I truly believe, as I said above, that the harder we try to get people to admit they are wrong the more evidence there is that what we are really trying to do is validate our own selves. Kind of like those bullies in middle school who tried really had to make nerds feel more nerdy, just to cover up their own insecurities.
Here is how I am trying to apply this to my own life. (This is simply what I am striving for, I am not saying I have arrived quite yet.) My identity is not in my vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. I am not more "right" than anyone else when it comes to eating habits. I am not special or unique because of how I chose to eat. My value is not based in how people perceive how right or wrong I am for what I consume. However, if I were to be honest I would admit that when I first started this vegan challenge I was on a big ol' high from all the compliments I got and all the admiration I was receiving for what a "strong person" I was for making the commitment. That has since faded. In the world of foodies I am no where near the top, and even if I were at the "top" it still wouldn't be enough.
So, instead of working for the approval of other human beings, I have shifted focus. I want my worth and identity to be tied up in something more, something eternal. My real worth is in Christ. He died and conquered death because He loves me more than anything. That is an identity that can never be taken from me. There will never be a new fad diet that will top that. I am secure in who I am in Christ. That needs to be enough. At least if I want to be happy. Do I believe that what I chose to eat fits with who I am as a child of God, sure. But do I believe that God loves meat-eaters just as much as He loves me?