In the early fall I polled people in a short online survey about how they think God sees them, and what growing as a Christian looks like. The survey idea was born out of a Bible study conversation on whether our sin and slow progress in the Christian life disappoints God.
Our Hypothesis and the Contrary Result
We thought age would be a factor in people’s perceptions of God’s view of us. We were right- just not in the way we expected.
It was our assumption that the longer you’ve lived and the more you’ve sinned, the more likely to think God is disappointed in you for not being better already. However, it was predominately younger Christian adults – millennial respondents – who felt like God was disappointed in them.
Why Millennials Feel Like They Are Failing
Considering Millennials have come of age with the Internet, their response actually makes perfect sense. Like Generation Z behind them, social media with the comparison culture and pressure to be perfect it breeds has had a greater influence on them than past generations. Therefore, not measuring up to what is seen on social media has led to greater struggles with worthlessness among younger adults than what those older have collectively experienced. And when shame and disappointment color our self-perception is it any wonder we would think God must be disappointed in us too.
To understand practically how this plays out, let’s just consider Pinterest’s impact. Obviously Pinterest wasn’t around when women my generation and older were newly weds and young moms. The only way I knew what homemade creative snack, crafty teacher gift idea, or cute costume others came up with was seeing it with my own eyes IRL or in a magazine or hearing about it from a friend. It was the same for what was trending in home decor, fashion, party planning and weddings. But today we discover these things by scrolling through Pinterest, blogs, or other social media platforms. Enter millennial mom who sees how an adorable and crafty Insta-famous blogger has beautifully decorated her house, while perfectly schooling her kids in the ways of the Lord and it’s not hard to see why she might feel like she is failing.
How This Translates to God Being Disappointed
While this may seem unrelated to God and my survey, let’s tease out the common millennial mindset to see the connection.
The person described above is living under the weight of shame. And when the internal comparison game gets going, it happens in a million other ways – not a good enough spouse, parent, housekeeper, decorator, stylist, professional. Whatever it may be the feeling of being less than, not measuring up, and needing to perform better begins to define how one sees themself. So if it is true in these contexts, can you see how the same might apply in how one relates to God?
For the Christian millennial (and anyone else) struggling to be a good enough Christian (as if that were a thing), they fear God’s disappointment in all the ways they fall short – not going to church regularly enough, not spending enough time in his word, not reaching out to neighbors, not being a good enough spouse or parent, and the list goes on. They think surely God must be very disappointed, because this is how they feel about themselves.
And the church is not helping. Instead of pointing Christians to the perfect work of Jesus as our sufficient covering that ensures God is well-pleased, teaching often focuses on what we need to do, how we can improve, and steps to take to get better. No wonder we live under such guilt and shame when we think the victorious Christian life is what we must attain.
Why God Is Not Disappointed
The good news for Millennials and the rest of us who are in Christ is his perfect work was enough. God is not disappointed, because he looks at us as he sees his Son.
Jesus lived the perfect life that we could never live. So upon the great identity exchange of his death, he became all of our sin, and we got all of his perfection. This is the Good News of the gospel. So whether you are a millennial or not, if you live in the reality of thinking God frowns upon you, I hope this advent season you will gaze upon the One who was sent as the ultimate expression of God’s love for you. In Jesus we are free from looking to our own performance because the Father’s look of love has already been secured.