Column: Keeping up with the Joneses

We have all heard the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses.”

I recently found myself considering two questions concerning this popular phrase: Who exactly were these legendary Joneses? And why did they become the standard to which we so often aspire?

In order to find some answers, I did what any reasonable person does in the 21st century: I hopped on Google and did some “research.” Theories concerning the development of this phrase and the use of the name Jones abound, but two seem to rise above the rest.

One theory revolves around an actual Jones family that lived in New York in the late 19th century. In 1853, Mrs. Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones built a 7,690-square-foot vacation home, known as Wyndclyffe Castle, built on 80 acres of land she owned on the Hudson River.

The home boasted nine bedrooms, five bathrooms and four fireplaces and was considered the grandest on the river. It is believed that Mrs. Jones’ mansion set off a building boom as neighbors scrambled to “keep up with the Joneses.”

A second more comical (pun intended) theory is that the phrase rose to prominence due to a comic strip by Arthur “Pop” Momand called Keeping Up with the Joneses. The comic strip was created in 1913 and ran until 1940 in The New York World. The strip features the McGinnis family making great efforts to keep up with their neighbors, the Joneses.

It is believed Momand drew his inspiration for his comic strip from the Joneses mentioned above when he moved to a suburb of New York.

Regardless of from whence the phrase came, it is undeniable that all of us struggle with the principle the phrase communicates from time to time. It’s easy to fix our gaze across the proverbial street and see what we believe to be the greener grass of our neighbor’s lawn. This stirs up within us feelings of inferiority, inadequacy and an overwhelming drive to do, accumulate or achieve more.

Keeping up with the Joneses is most often associated with socioeconomic aspects of life. To put it more plainly, it has to do with money and possessions. We need a newer car, a bigger house, the most current digital devices, our kids need to wear the right brand of clothing, etc.

But I think it creeps in at an institutional level, as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told we need to do something at First Baptist Church because that’s what church X down the street is doing.

In so many areas of life, it’s easy to compare our lives and experiences to those of others and then believe we are somehow missing out. We then dedicate our life’s resources to chasing people, things and programs that can’t fulfill us. At the core, I don’t believe keeping up with the Joneses is just a social issue but a spiritual one. The truth of the matter is who or what we focus on will determine who or what we will follow.

I wonder how many times we sacrifice the potential and purposes God has for us in order to chase after “the Joneses.” The hard truth is that following “the Joneses” more often than not results in a failure to properly follow Jesus.

In Hebrews 12:1-3, the author encourages us to fix our eyes on Jesus in order that we might avoid getting tangled or drawn off course and in order that we might be encouraged as we seek to be molded into his image.

Even if we happen to catch up with the Joneses, we’ll still find ourselves needing more. It’s only when we content ourselves with chasing Jesus that we find the full and lasting life he has promised.

Rather than looking at what we believe to be the good in the lives of others, we need to find satisfaction in what God has given us, where he is leading us and who he has created us to be.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].