Our Obsession with Self in the Kingdom of God
- Kelly Givens Editor, iBelieve.com
- 2016 22 Sep
As an editor for a Christian women’s website, I spend a lot of time thinking about the kinds of articles and books Christian women want to read. In general, certain topics never seem to lose popularity, and if anything, have become even more prevalent in recent years:
- Understanding who you are, your worth and your identity through examinations of personality, temperament, gifts, and passions in order lead a fulfilling life. (Emphasizing self-reflection)
- Learning how to best rest/decompress in order to fight overwhelm and have joy. (Emphasizing self-care)
- Ridding life of excess obligations/clutter/debt to focus on what matters most. (Emphasizing self-improvement)
To a degree, none of these topics are harmful. Understanding how God made us, with our passions and preferences, can benefit ourselves and the world. Understanding our limitations and the importance of rest helps us balance obligations well. Clearing our lives of excess helps us focus on more worthy pursuits. Yes, self-reflection, self-care, and self-improvement are all good things. But lately I’ve been wondering if we are putting too much focus on self and not enough on God.
As someone prone to introspection, the temptation to think about myself is great. I’m constantly thinking about how to sharpen my vocational skills, reflecting on how I’m doing as a new mom, analyzing how to run our house more efficiently. I like setting goals and I crave self-improvement. I like dreaming about getting away and making time for myself to do the things I love to do. In other words, I spend a lot of time thinking about… me.
And of course, some introspection isn’t bad. It’s how we come to know our need for a savior, for one thing. When we see clearly the depth of our sinful nature, we understand how much we need Jesus. In fact, the mark of a mature Christian is a growing understanding of how desperately sinful we are apart from Christ. We don’t understand that if we don’t reflect on ourselves at least some of the time.
But is all this self-reflection just another way of exposing how much we idolize ourselves? As women, self-reflection tends to leave us feeling all of our imperfections, and thus we seek articles and books written to remind us of our worth. We crave words of affirmation. We eagerly seek voices to encourage us: that we are enough, that we are beautiful, that we are important, that it’s okay to slow down and rest and pursue what makes us joyful. None of those things are bad. Actually, all of those things are asserted in Scripture. Indeed, it’s often those affirming words we go hunting for when we crack open our Bibles.
SEE ALSO: Self(ie) Obsessed
And that is the thing that troubles me most: our craving for affirmation has ruined our appetite for the greater thing—a hunger to know the God of the Universe and to position ourselves rightly in light of who He is. By reading our Bibles to find affirmation for ourselves, we are missing the whole point of Scripture: to affirm and teach us the truth about God.
The solution then, is not greater self-confidence. It’s self-forgetfulness. It is thinking about yourself less. It is laying aside self-obsessed thoughts in light of a greater, more consuming thought: to know God more closely and clearly. This takes so much work. This is not trendy. But it is worth it. The only one worthy of so much of our thoughts is the one never found wanting when we gaze upon Him.
Practically, what does this look like? We can start by reframing how we approach Scripture: spending time in the Word to discover God, not ourselves. We can read Scripture to affirm the majesty and beauty and worthiness of Christ, not to affirm our own identities. As Jen Wilkin says, Let us “abandon the thin gruel of self-reflection for a message that sticks to our ribs.” Don’t make you the primary study of your life. Make a habit of reflecting on God, make him the consuming, awe-inspiring thought of your life, and you will find all the care, help and affirmation you crave.
“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6, ESV
SEE ALSO: Why Self-Esteem Is A Lie
“Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.” Romans 8:6, The Message
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and son, and enjoys reading, writing, and spending time in the great outdoors.