Week 7, Day 2: Self
Speaking of turning in on ourselves, we should acknowledge that it is our natural inclination to look out for ourselves. It is our evolutionary instinct to survive and to prioritize self. It is also the narrative that our culture encourages: seeking the most comfort or the most money or the most power or the happiest experiences for ourselves.
The ironic thing, though, is that we were made for love, which always puts the other first; and that means that it is in being willing to give up our lives for the sake of God and others that we will actually find the purpose for which we were made. This is what Jesus meant when he said, in Luke 9:23-25 (NIV):
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
But there are two extremes we face when thinking about ourselves: thinking too much of ourselves and thinking too little of ourselves.
Some of us think too much of ourselves. It’s easy to get carried away, thinking that we’ve made it this far by the strength of our hard work, our education, or our smarts. We have enough gadgets and enough money to get by for a little while, keeping discomfort and pain and suffering at arm’s length, and so fooling ourselves into thinking we’re not that bad. Among the seven deadly sins that ancient Christians used to beware of, pride was considered the chief of them all.
Paul says, “Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you” (Romans 12:3). We are not so impressive that we cannot still hurt ourselves or others with our sin and selfishness. We are not so accomplished that we have not left a trail of debris in our wake. We are not so put-together that we don’t need God or other people because, as we said, we were made for relationship; so if we are ever without God or other people, we’re precisely the opposite of put-together!
On the other hand, some of us think too little of ourselves, and we find it hard to accept the grace and love of God because we wonder how God could know us completely, inside and out, and still love us. Perhaps this is because of experiences we had growing up having to earn affirmation and acceptance, which can then affect our ability to trust that God loves us unconditionally or that God cares about our lives or that God even desires to be in relationship with us.
And yet, in Psalm 139:14, the psalmist acknowledges that we are God’s treasured creation: “I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful — I know that very well.” In his words, we see echoes of God’s affirmation in Genesis that adding humanity to creation made it all “very good” (Genesis 1:31). As Henri Nouwen writes, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life, because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us beloved.” You are of so much value to God that he gave his life for you in Jesus, that God chooses to live in and with you by his Spirit.
The truth is that we are both created from dirt and made in the image of God. And the deeper truth is that in order to grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus, there will be parts of ourselves — old ways of being and behaving — that will need to be put to death — because, frankly, the old ways only lead to death. This is what it means to ‘die to yourself.’ In John 12:24-25 (The Message), Jesus says:
Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: What are some of the false stories in your mind about yourself that need to be changed?
Heart: Do you tend to think too much of yourself or too little? What contributes to that?
Hands: Do something to bless someone today without taking credit or seeking acknowledgment.
Spend time reflecting on John 3:30 (“He must increase and I must decrease”). Ask God to show you what it might look like for you to allow him to increase in your life — and for you to decrease.
Two extremes we face are
thinking too much of ourselves
and thinking too little of ourselves.