So the philosophical question that I want to address is this. Why don’t our efforts at compensating for our insecurities work? Why is it that no matter how successful we become, or how talented, or how intelligent, or how powerful, or how controlling, nothing seems to fix those feelings? Why is that? Most people just assume they need to do a little bit more, or work a little harder, or differently. We rarely think to question the assumption that becoming a little better, or having one more achievement, or a little more success, will surely do the trick. But our experience tells us that this is not accurate.
So here is why I think that is the case. The reason our efforts cannot take away our insecurities is because all insecurity is rooted in a faulty way of seeing ourselves as human beings. These insecure feelings are founded upon something that is not actually true. So what happens when we try to fix something that isn’t broken? Often we make matters worse. When we look at ourselves, we immediately notice our less than perfect selves, or our mistakes, or our negative attitudes, or something else we don’t like, and assume that these are the reasons we feel so insufficient. We then assume that if those weaknesses were not a part of our lives, or if we could somehow compensate for them, then we wouldn’t feel this way. But what if it isn’t the presence of weaknesses or shortcomings that are making us feel inadequate? What if it is the other way around? What if many of the things we experience as weaknesses are actually created, or at least enhanced, as a result of feeling so inadequate? Maybe the root of our insecurity is about something else? So clearly if it isn’t the perceived flaw that is creating the insecurity, then all my efforts at fixing it or compensating for it will not generate the security I am looking for. (Can you see now why I didn’t try this in the sermon?).
Like Zacchaeus we can easily believe that if we had no weaknesses, or nothing about us we didn’t like, we would feel secure and competent. And when we don’t feel secure, we sometimes choose to alter something that we believe will help us feel more capable and sufficient. In Zaccheaus’ case, since he couldn’t make himself taller, he chose to seek stature through power, wealth, and influence. He even became a “chief” tax collector, which is the person in charge of other tax collectors. But no matter how successful he became he still felt small. So he climbed up into that sycamore tree to figure out what he was missing. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with self-improvement. We all have areas of needed growth. But our sense of what must be changed, or how to improve and to what extent, will inevitably be skewed if we see that as a path toward a secure identity.
So here is the point. Zacchaeus wasn’t actually missing anything no matter how he felt. Jesus looked up into that tree, looked past his questionable reputation, called his name, and invited himself to lunch. There was no requirement to become more of anything to warrant the interest, intention and respect of Jesus. And because Jesus treated Zaachaeus that way, and Zacchaeus actually came to see it, he became free from the burden of trying to fix his insecurity through his own efforts and plans. Our well thought out self improvement plans will never bring us the security we think will be the result. But when we embrace our true value, which already exists in each one of us, right now, for free, we can begin to live that freedom toward ourselves and toward others. Which means that true and helpful change is actually possible.
Zaachaeus’ decision to give back any money he took from others dishonestly, was not motivated by an effort to finally become acceptable. It was the result of realizing that his acceptable identity was not rooted in his compensating achievements. He realized that he no longer had anything to prove, anything to hide, or anything to lose, so he could begin to discover a truly free, human life.
His security and value did not rest in a lack of weaknesses or shortcomings, but in the fact that he was a loved, gifted, and precious human being from the moment of his birth. Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this house because he too is a son of Abraham.” Zaachaeus finally recognized that, even in his imperfection, he lacked nothing in terms of a secure value. He was accepted, received and cherished from the moment he showed up in the world. This is what I think it means when the text says that Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came to rescue us when we get lost in that never-ending fruitless effort of fixing the feelings of insecurity through self-improvements and compensation techniques.
When we see each other as accepted without condition and without limits (sawubona), we are free to acknowledge weaknesses, while seeing something of value beyond them (forgiveness). We give one another the power and motivation to live at our best, as we help each other hold tight to our non-negotiable acceptance.
So the next time you are feeling insecure, which we all do from time to time, don’t be tempted to start on a self-improvement plan to fix it. That won’t work. Instead, go hang out with a good friend who loves you unconditionally and can mirror your worth. And once you’re feeling better, feeling at peace, go ahead and start on any growth plan you want. Those plans can work…