Jen Oshman: Cultural Counterfeits
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Ever feel unsatisfied? Author Jen Oshman acknowledges our cultural counterfeits are hollow and leave us feeling unsettled–but where should we turn?
Jen Oshman: Cultural Counterfeits
Jen: We cannot be self-made people; we were not made to be. We have a God who is our Creator, and who also died to save us; so who we are has everything to do with whose we are. It’s so important that we lay that foundation: that we acknowledge that we have a God who made us. “How did He make us?” and “How did He make us to thrive?”—we’ve got to be asking [those questions].
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I’m at this social event; and this stranger—who had just found out that I’m a marriage author and a radio/podcast marriage cohost—comes over because she heard this and says, “I’m in my second marriage. I have one question for you: ‘What’s the problem with marriage?’” I’ve got like 15 seconds to answer this.
Ann: I remember this. [Laughter]
Dave: Well, she didn’t ask you; she asked me. What would you say?
Ann: Well, years ago, I would have said, “Oh, I know the answer: it’s my husband.” [Laughter] I think a lot of women would say that: “Oh, there is one problem in our marriage; it’s my husband”; but that is not true. That’s not what you said either; is it?
Dave: Well, it sort of gets at what I said. I mean, I was scrambling—but I looked back at her—and I said, “Selfishness.” The funny thing was—I could not have scripted this—she looks back at me; she goes, “You are so right; my first husband was so selfish.” [Laughter]
I looked at her, and I said, “I’m not talking about your first husband; I’m talking about you.” And then I said, “I’m talking about me.” I think, when I said, “I’m selfish too,” it gave me an audience. She was like, “Oh! Well, let’s talk.”
I think that is at the core of all of our problems, whether it be marriage or not. So today, we get to talk a little about that with Jen Oshman, who has been with us before. Jen, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Jen: Thanks, you guys. It’s so good to be here. Thanks for having me back.
Dave: I think the last time you were here, we were in a pandemic.
Jen: We sure were. We were just a few months in.
Dave: We still are; aren’t we? [Laughter]
Jen: Now, we are getting toward a few years in; but here we are. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; and obviously, you live where our son lives: Parker, Colorado.
Jen: Yes; yes.
Dave: Tell us a little bit about your life. I know you’re a pastor’s wife and an author. You’ve got four kids.
Ann: You’ve been a missionary for years.
Jen: Yes; so I’m coming up on our 23rd wedding anniversary. We were married for about a year before we went overseas and served as missionaries in Japan and the Czech Republic and raised our children overseas. We came back to the US to care for my father about six years ago. God graciously allowed us to plant a church one year later; so we have a five-year-old church, celebrating our fifth birthday right about now.
Jen: In our five years, back here in the US, God has just allowed me to do some writing and some speaking. That has been a surprise and a joy. We also have four beautiful daughters, so life is full.
Dave: How old?
Jen: They range—so the youngest is 14, and then 16, 18, and 24—and 24, that daughter is also married and has 2 children; so we are grandparents.
Dave: Wow. What I started with—about selfishness—was it your first book?—Enough about Me?
Jen: That’s right; two years ago.
Dave: Yes; so you’ve written about that. Now, we’re going to talk about another book that has just released: Cultural Counterfeits: Confronting 5 Empty Promises of Our Age and How We Were Made for So Much More.
We are obviously going to get into some of these empty promises; but where does selfishness—or the Enough about Me, the “I am the center of the universe,”—how does that lay a foundation for the world we live in?
Jen: Yes, we really are living in the age of self. I mean, it’s all about self-help: “You do you,” “Imagine whatever you want to be, whoever you want to be,” “Reach for the stars,” “Dig deep; try hard, and you can be whoever you want to be.”
Ann: Some people just heard that and thought, “What is wrong with that?”
Dave: Actually, I just thought that. [Laughter]
Jen: Right; we are so—we are swimming in those waters—we are deep in those waters, so we don’t even recognize what they are. But honestly, when you live by that lie—I’ll just call it what it is, right off the bat—when you live by that lie, then you have to be self-made.
We cannot be self-made people; we were not meant to be. We have a God, who is our Creator, and who also died to save us; so who we are has everything to do with whose we are. It’s so important that we lay that foundation: that we acknowledge we have a God who made us: “How did He make us?” and “How did He make us to thrive?”—we’ve got to be asking [those questions].
Dave: Have you gone on that journey? Was there a time in your life, where you found the end of yourself?
Jen: Yes; absolutely. I mean, 12 times today, to be honest. [Laughter] This is something that I have to keep relearning: daily, hourly, minute by minute.
But the Lord was gracious to me in college, as a college freshman. I write about it in Enough about Me, where I really found myself on the floor of my dorm room, just broken and crying out to the Lord: “I can’t do it anymore. I can no longer perform for the acceptance and approval of others. I’m not enough.” Jesus said, “You’re right; you’re not, but I am. I am here, and I stand ready to heal you, and restore you, and resurrect you.” By His grace, He did; and I am so thankful for that.
But of course, it wasn’t one and done. I walk in my own pride, and selfishness, and strength every day; and He has to remind me: “I am here. You are not enough, but I am.”
Ann: I’m thinking about my own life. I’m guessing almost every listener has gotten to that point, where they have tried to attain: “You can be it all,” “You can make it,” “You can be the greatest.” Man, I was striving for that my whole life, and it gets weary. Even if it comes down to looks or your job—there is always somebody a little bit better—age happens; time happens; and our lives are shifting all the time and changing. It becomes this weary carousel. You just can’t be on it very long without feeling the effects of: “I can never make it.”
Jen: Yes; I think, not only are we experiencing a COVID pandemic, but we are experiencing a pandemic of women and men—but I mostly speak to women—coming to the end of themselves and realizing: “Well, to be self-made, then I have to be an endless resource: an endless source of energy, and approval, and empowerment for myself.” We just weren’t made to run on our own fuel.
Dave: Cultural Counterfeits is all about: “You are after this thing that you think, ‘This promise will deliver,’—and it doesn’t—‘And I don’t know what to do.’” Is that where you are talking?
Jen: Yes; that’s absolutely right. You really just summarized the book really well.
Dave: Okay; we’re done! [Laughter]
Jen: We’re done; that’s it. There are idols out there. We were made for more. [Laughter]
Dave: Well, talk about that: “What’s an idol?”
Jen: Sure. There are many definitions we could go after, but an idol is something that we put our identity in. It’s something that we say: “I’ve got to arrive at that destination. If I don’t have that, then I don’t have the significance that I long for.” Tim Keller does a great job teaching about this in so many of his writings and sermons; I really appreciate his wisdom. But it’s a thing you look at, and you say, “I’ve got to have that; and if I can’t have it, I cannot be satisfied.”
We do this with good things all the time:
- We do this with our careers, with our skills, our gifts, our bodies, our abilities.
- We do it with relationships, with our spouses, with our children.
- We do it with comfort, status, safety.
I could go on all day long. It’s/we put our hope in that, and we are defeated when we don’t receive it.
Dave: Okay, let’s have confession time.
Dave: Is there an idol you’ve chased and, maybe, even still rises up in your mind even today?
Jen: I would say, for me, I combat the idol of ability all the time. I align myself with what I can produce/with my productivity. I feel worthless if I haven’t taken care of my to-do list, if I haven’t delivered the product that I told myself or I told somebody else that I could deliver. Then I feel like my life doesn’t have value—that I have failed—because I, then, believe I am what I do. I make what I do my idol.
Dave: Alright, Ann; you are next.
Ann: I would say, now, in this stage of my life, that’s mine, Jen. I think, now, it’s like that surrender of failure. I remember one time speaking, and I remember praying, “God, I feel like I could make a fool of myself.” In my heart, I had this sense of God saying, “Would you be a fool for Me? Will you just do it?” I was like, “Okay! I don’t care what people think; I’m just going to share the things that the Word says that you’ve put on my heart,”—because I really do care about what people think.
Ann: That can determine how I feel about myself.
But in our early days, my marriage was my idol; and my kids were my idol for a long time. I can still battle with that.
Jen: Yes, me too.
Ann: Okay, Mr. Wilson!
Dave: If I’ve ever preached anything that probably became a theme of sermons over
30 years—it would be interesting to ask our congregation—but I think it’s: “Idols never deliver.”
Ann: You have preached that; yes.
Dave: I remember preaching that many times. Idols—you think they will; they never—it isn’t sometimes; they never really deliver.
The two you are talking about—they have never really come through—I mean, there are times, where “Oh, that felt good”; but you end up, because it’s an idol, they weren’t made to [deliver].
Ann: Wait; what’s yours?
Dave: I’m avoiding mine. [Laughter]
Ann: I know! [Laughter]
Dave: There are so many; but I think, you know, success.
Dave: Success is usually, in my mind, represented by money. I can remember—it just came to my mind—
Ann: —which is so funny, coming from the pastor, who has really never made any money.
Dave: I know. That’s why you’re always like, “Well, then, if I did have…”
You know, being in the NFL as a chaplain for all those years, I was around a lot of money. I should be able to literally get in my car every day and go, “Well, they would be the first to tell you: ‘That didn’t do it.’” I can remember looking in my driveway, the garage door was up, and we had one car. I remember thinking—literally had this thought—“When we have two cars, I will be successful and happy.”
We got a second car—her brother gave us a car, because we were like missionaries—and I remember thinking, “Maybe, we need three.” That’s the cultural counterfeit.
Ann: Jen, how do we know when it is an idol? We have these desires; is it wrong to have those desires or to work really hard toward something?
Jen: That is such a good question. It is not wrong to have these desires, but there is a subtle difference between stewarding that which God has given me and wanting to strive after it for my own glory and for myself.
I can look at my body and say: “Okay, it is able: I am healthy. God has given me an opportunity to write and to speak, and to delve into these truths with women.” If I put my identity into that, then, when I fail—maybe, I have a moral failing; or my body fails, and I can no longer write or speak—“Then, who am I?” I’ve lost everything, because that was my identity.
But if, for this season of life, God has given me these gifts, skills, and passions to steward for His glory, then it is about Him. Then I am a tool in His hand, and my only job is to be faithful to Him and to shine the light on Him. Then no matter what happens to my body—and even if I fail; if I make a fool of myself, as you said; even if I fail hard, and I lose the respect of my entire community and every reader I’ve ever had—I am still hidden in Christ. That’s where we find safety, and peace, and security; nowhere else.
Ann: And I have found—have you found this too?—if I am not with Him, if I am not in the Word, if I am not in fellowship with Him and other believers, I can lose sight of that—
Ann: —because there is like a river of culture that is sweeping me along. Do you think that is happening for all of us?
Jen: Oh, absolutely; especially with the omni-presence of social media.
Jen: I find myself getting really nervous, frequently thinking: “Oh, I haven’t thought deeply about certain issues enough,” or “I haven’t done the work enough,” or “I haven’t produced enough; I need to do more,” or “I need to try harder and strive harder to be better at who I am and what I do.” That’s just a very different perspective than saying, “Lord, I receive the calling that You have given me, and I am going to steward it for Your glory. This is a message about You, not about me.” Those are worlds apart.
Ann: —worlds apart.
Dave: Well, you’ve already mentioned, or you hinted at, one of the empty promises of this age; and I’m thinking of obsession with our bodies/ability—you call it “Bodies, Beauty, and Ability.”
Dave: Part of me hears that and goes, “Oh, that’s a woman’s thing. Men don’t struggle with that”; but we do!
Ann: Do you?!
Dave: Oh! Yes, it’s crazy.
Jen: I think so; tell us about that.
Dave: You know, when we were dating—and I was starting to lose my hair—now, I’m completely, for decades, bald; but it was a—
Ann: You’re a hottie too! [Laughter]
Dave: I’m a hottie—whatever—she’s trying to be nice to me. Because I—anyway, just that—I would/every mirror I would walk by, I would be checking how much I had lost; it’s a guy thing as much as a woman thing. How is that an empty promise of our age?
Shelby: We’ll hear Jen’s response in just a minute; but first, you know, talking about cultural counterfeits today, it reminds me that there are a lot of counterfeits in our culture when it comes to family. Well, FamilyLife is committed to bringing the clarity of God’s Word to a confused culture. We really do need your help. Would you consider partnering with us financially?
All this week, as our thanks for your partnership, we want to send you a copy of Carolyn Lacey’s book called Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People). You can take action at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Jen Oshman and the idol of vanity.
Jen: It’s the human condition—as you’ve just said—we want to be beautiful. We want people to look at us and to admire us. We want to be known. We want to be able to look at each other and say, “Do I look okay? Do I look pretty?” We want to be appreciated for how we appear. Same with ability: “Can I do the things…” “Can I earn my place in society?” We want the approval; we want to be known, and appreciated, and applauded by others.
The unfortunate thing is these bodies are finite—we are wasting away, Paul says—thankfully, inwardly, by the Spirit, we are being renewed day by day; he also says. But if we put our hope in these physical bodies, we will be disappointed; because they will fail; they will falter. So we can’t put our hope in that.
I think we see this idol play out in a really dark and sinister, and pervasive way in just the culture of death that we have in our—sorry, I took it really deep, really quick, there for us—but we see it in abortion, in assisted suicide, and just sort of the throw-away culture that we live in, where we feel like people and bodies are useless if they cannot be supremely healthy in this moment; and we do away with them. That’s where this idol ends up if you keep living for it; that’s where it ends up.
Dave: You’ve got four daughters. I’m guessing, as a mom, you’ve had to deal with this obsession with beauty and body.
Jen: —100 percent.
Dave: Not that it isn’t true for sons—
Dave: —but definitely for daughters.
Dave: How do you help them navigate through that?
Jen: Yes, I mean, this is a daily thing. It is for myself, too—I am as vain as the next man or woman—I seek after this idol myself. So it is a daily conversation in our household.
I think what is important for Christians to remember is that beauty is not wrong. God is the Creator of beauty, and God Himself is beautiful. He created gorgeous sunsets, and awe-inspiring mountains and oceans on purpose; so that we might look to Him. So to pursue beauty—and even to be wearing makeup or doing your hair—whatever—beautiful clothes—those things are not wrong.
But Peter and Paul, in their writings, remind us that what matters is the inner beauty—the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit that does not fade—so let’s not trust in our outward adornment. We see women in Scripture, who do have outward adornment—it’s not wrong to have that—but let’s not trust in that; let’s not put our hope in that. Our hope should be in the inner beauty that God gives by the renewal of His Spirit.
Ann: I remember my friend, with three daughters—she would tell her daughters that—“It’s about your inward beauty that matters.” I remember one of her daughters saying, “But Mom, the world and my friends in high school, they don’t care about my inner beauty. [Laughter] They care about my outward beauty. So that matters to me too.” What do you do when your daughters are in that spot?
Jen: It’s hard—I know; right?—I have to say [to] myself too; I have to talk to them and say, “Yes, I get it. I am in my mid-40’s now. I don’t look the way I looked ten years ago; and if I liked that better, then it’s too late; it’s gone.” [Laughter] So this is not something that I am just teaching to them; it’s something that I am teaching to myself as well.
I think a big part of the battle that we are having right now is social media.
Ann: Me too.
Jen: Again, I know I already said it; but I’m going to probably say it again during this conversation, because it is so pervasive. Everybody is posting their best photos; right? They are posting their best moments—their most beautiful, filtered, edited images—so we scroll those. They are in our hands—we get out our phones when we are in the grocery store line or pumping gas, every time we have five seconds of boredom—we are looking at these pictures, and we are ingesting them. Social media really is discipling us.
Ann: It is.
Jen: It is shaping how we think about ourselves and how we think about each other. We’ve got to break free from that, and put it down, and go, “You know what? Reels are not real. This is not real. This is not true life.” Again, take our eyes off ourselves/off of the cultural landscape, and lift them up to Jesus and ask Him, “Who are we in You? Who have You made me to be?”
Ann: I remember—I think I was, maybe, in my 40s—and I was sitting down to be with Jesus. My schedule was that I would always work out, first thing in the morning—always—before I would spend time with Him. So if there was anything that I missed, it was my time with God.
I remember this one time, sitting down, and I had this feeling of: “Why do I always get my workout in; but I will miss my time with God of just reading, and reflecting a little bit, and journaling?” I had this feeling like, “Why aren’t I developing my soul and strengthening that first?” I realized it was because I cared so much what other people are thinking about the outward.
I went on this journey of, even realizing, “If people could see my inward soul, what would they think?” I think that is interesting. If we could actually see each other—of what is going on in our hearts—we would care a lot more about our time with Jesus in some ways. That was a really good reminder to me: “What is more important? Where is my time?”
Dave: Yes; it is interesting to think, as we are parents, we are leading—we had three sons; you have four daughters—we are leading them, and we are probably saying that to them: “Hey, it’s not about beauty,” “It’s not about ability. That is important, but not the most important. It’s about who you are in Christ.” Yet, if we are not living it,—
Ann: Yes. [Laughter]
Dave: —I mean, I’ve done it as a preacher—I mean, I would get in the car on Sunday, after three or four sermons; and I would evaluate how I did, based on: “What did the people say?”
Dave: I really did! I’m like—Ann would say, “How did it go today?”—I’m like, “Oh, I don’t think very good,” “Why?” “I felt great, but nobody said anything.” So you’re like—it’s like you were walking around the lobby, like, “Somebody, please say, ‘You were good.’” It’s such an idol,—
Dave: —because you think you were good or not, based on what people think. It’s not true at all. So how do we break that?
Jen: I mean, I think what Ann said is absolutely right. We have to prioritize time in the Word; because we are swimming in these cultural waters that are going to tell us, what you just said, is what matters—what other people have to say is what matters—but that is so fickle and frail and always changing.
So we have to be rooted in what is true, and we forget what is true so quickly—I mean, five minutes later—right? You have to be in the Word, remembering the character, and the goodness, and the kindness, and mercy of our Lord, and how He invited us to abide in Him. That has to root us; we will be lost without it.
Ann: I think this could be a great homework question for tonight. If you are single, do this with a friend. If you are married or you are blended—if you have kids—this would be a good conversation at some point this week. Talk about what your idols are: the things you are tempted toward more. You could name some of these five in the book that Jen has written; but maybe, each person just kind of share: “What do you struggle with, of culturally, that you are pulled toward more than anything else?”
Dave: Yes, you want to really have courage: ask a good friend.
Dave: I mean, we joked about earlier: I could tell you what yours are; you could tell me.
Ann: Oh, yes!
Dave: Ask your spouse. Boy oh boy, if you want to have guts, and you’ve got teenage kids in your home, I bet you they have seen your idols.
Jen: They are very honest.
Dave: So Mom or Dad, ask them.
Ann: Ask your kids what they think your idol is.
Dave: You are always telling them what theirs are. What would happen if you said, “Hey, do you see anything that you think I am trying to find my happiness from?” And then, don’t get defensive.
Ann: That’s the key. [Laughter]
Dave: Because they are probably going to be used by God to say, “Hey, I’m going to point something out.” Then get back on your knees, and keep your eyes on the real Creator of who you are, and find life in Him.
Jen: You know, a conversation I recently had with my 16-year-old really points this out. I pray with my girls on the way to school every morning; it’s just a five-minute drive, so it’s a very brief prayer. Also, it tends to sort of be rote—you know, not on purpose—but I’m often praying the same thing every day.
Ann: Sure; me too. I did that every time we drove to school.
Jen: So yes—maybe, not verbatim—but the same things are coming up. I asked the Lord every day to protect them from this idol: that they would not put their hope in their ability, that they would not identify with their grades, with whether or not they made the play or they made the team, or they have the right friend group. I asked the Father to protect them from these sorts of things.
Ann: So good.
Jen: You never know if it is sinking in; right?
I went ahead and went back to seminary to finish my degree last semester. When I was getting ready to take my very first midterm—you know, I haven’t been in school for like 20 years—[Laughter]—so I’m getting ready to take my first midterm. My brain is not what it used to be—the memory is not—and it’s church history, so it is a lot of numbers. I was so stressed; and I’m like pacing in the kitchen, just avoiding this test. My 16-year-old says to me, “Mom, you’re not defined by your grades.” [Laughter]
Dave: Good for her.
Jen: I was like, “You are so right! Praise the Lord you heard those prayers.
Ann: It sunk in.
Jen: “It is sinking in, and you just rehearsed the truth back to me.
Jen: “Thank you.”
Shelby: You have been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jen Oshman on FamilyLife Today. Her book is called Cultural Counterfeits: Confronting 5 Empty Promises of Our Age and How We Were Made for So Much More. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call at 800-358-6329; that is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Have you looked at a yearbook lately from when you were about 15? Do you remember what life was like then? It’s a time when you can really struggle with figuring out just who you are. As a parent, it can be pretty tricky, knowing how to help. Let me just say: getting a copy of FamilyLife’s Passport2Identity® is a good place to start. It’s a chance to get some quality time away together, one on one, with your teenager. You’ll listen together to biblical teaching on what it means to be a young man or a young woman. It’s quality time that is just absolutely priceless.
Now, you can get Passport2Identity—young men’s edition or young women’s edition—for 25 percent off with the code, “PASSPORT.” Just go to FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will continue their conversation with Jen Oshman as she unpacks the fact that there is always more going on behind your actions. Tune in to see why you do the things you do. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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