On Sunday our pastor talked about Narcissus. Remember him? He was that hunter guy from Greek mythology who was known for his ‘beauty’. He loved himself so much he couldn’t love anyone else. One day he was lured to a pool of water where he saw his own reflection and was so enamored by his own looks that he somehow died. Over the years I’ve heard a few versions of the story about how Narcissus died, but every story ends in death by self-absorption.
I couldn’t help wondering about where the line is drawn between narcissism, which is excessive love of self, and the balanced love of self we learn from scripture. The line is blurred and there is no distinctive white on one side and black on the other. In his message our pastor used 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 to help us understand the truth of how God says we are to think about ourselves. He said there are small things and there are big things. Small things are the opinions that others have of us while the big thing is what God thinks of us. Well, not the collective us, but the individual us – as in me.
Those thoughts spiraled through my mind all night because I wondered, “What does God think of me?” Because of the work I do, I’m constantly exposed to social media. I’m on Facebook. LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and when I write a book review, they are published on Amazon, Goodreads, and at Bizcatalyst360. I’m sure you could find my name showing up in other places, like this blog. Is that OK with God? Daily, I’m urged to put myself out there, take risks, be more. I’m told, “You have to promote yourself.” But is that what God says he expects of me? Please don’t get me wrong. There are over 7 billion people in the world, people from every angle converging on every platform clamoring, to be noticed. Millions were created to be noticed, we can’t all be participants of civilization content to blend into the background. Some are called to stand up and stand out while others are called to stand down and stand in.
I’ve been criticized and told that I’m a complete failure at selling myself. But I’ve had a lot of practice getting to know me and I can say with some assurance I’m in the stand in category. I was born to stand in for others. God calls it helping and I can show you in 1 Peter 4:11 that standing down and standing in is a gift. “If you have the gift of speaking, preach God’s message. If you have the gift of helping others, do it with the strength that God supplies. Everything should be done in a way that will bring honor to God because of Jesus Christ.” People with the gift of speaking are of the stand up and stand out variety, I on the other hand am the stand down and stand in helper.
Taking our pastor’s sincere message to heart though I found my Bible the next morning and started doing some self-examination. I realized in this blog I often use the words me, my, and I. Could that suggest narcissism? When I use my own experiences to encourage others, it’s not to impress upon anyone that I have it all figured out, it’s not to imply that I’ve reached some lofty level of achievement or that I’ve arrived. My motives are to help others understand that despite how complicated their circumstances, God can work them out; to share a glimmer of hope when life feels hopeless. Through scripture my intent is like the story Paul told in Acts 2:25-26” What David said are really the words of Jesus, “I always see the Lord near me, and I will not be afraid with him at my right side. Because of this, my heart will be glad, my words will be joyful, and I will live in hope.”
Having joy and living in hope will never come from a prideful heart – a heart described as soul-empty. This contrast is made clear in the Message translation of Habakkuk 2:4 “Look at that man, bloated by self-importance— full of himself but soul-empty. But the person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing is fully alive, really alive.” Soul-empty. Even the sound of it is demoralizing. Think about it. Self-importance is the same as self-defeating. Which would you rather be, full of hope or soul-empty?
God urges us to be humble; not self-deprecating, not humiliated, but humble. C.S. Lewis said “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Ephesians 4:2 says “Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other.” When God looks at me and when he sees my heart, I want his seal of approval on my motives. What motivates me? Hebrews 10:24 describes what my heart desires “We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things.” Am I always successful? Not always. I have this human factor that breeds imperfection. I could be a complete washout by human standards, but God knows my heart and it’s his opinion that matters.
Millions of people want to be superior, need to feel superior and that means they have to care what the other 7 billion people think of them. My concern is what one God says about me. What does the Lord require of me? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8. If that’s your goal too, Galatians 6:9 promises “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”