Something has been boiling inside me for over three years now, and it’s got to come out. It has to do with living an avatar life.
From my experience as a Church leader and from personal acquaintance, I have known many people whose life focused on living through other people or things. We all do it, to a degree. We attend a football game featuring our team, and we leave the stadium as if we had won or lost the game personally. We also live through books, which is a personal favorite of mine. But the kind of synthetic life I’m concerned with is when we allow our fantasy self to overshadow our real self.
I know a Church member who was happily married to a beautiful and devoted woman, having made sacred covenants with God and each other. They had children together, and life moved nicely for a few years after their marriage. But, because of his previous addiction to pornography, he allowed his former self to creep back in. He permitted his lust for pixels on a screen or dots on a page to replace his lovely, breathing, touchable wife. His avatar self traded her in for imaginary lovers who could neither touch nor satisfy.
A family friend was hooked on gaming. When his children came for a visit, they would spend hours playing computer games to achieve the next level. Rather than play in the yard, or go on a hike, or bake cookies, they would slay dragons, kill aliens, or knock birds from a wire. And what did he get? Another level, and a divorce.
How closely does our Facebook self match our real self? Do we post only those photos or stories that make us into something we aren’t? Even worse, do we copy and paste stuff to share that we neither created nor experienced? So, even social media can become an alter-ego lifestyle that can rob us of our time and living breath.
Being here in Uganda as missionaries has given RaNae and me time to think this through. We do stuff every day that make for good stories. These are the kind of things people might play in a game or dream of, like driving through the jungle or talking with Africans inside a mud hut. But this is real life. We actually experience the sights, smells, tastes and people up close and very personal.
My great desire is to avoid a kind of vicarious living that trades the real for the unreal. There is One who performed a vicarious sacrifice for us, which, if we take advantage of it, will save and even exalt our souls. His name is Jesus Christ. But we must truly live and repent and breathe and love in order to receive it. Only then can we achieve the highest level of all, for real.