I came of age in the 1960’s-someone in that era introduced me to the magazine “Psychology Today.” I don’t know what it looks like in 2010, but my guess is that they could recycle the content of most of the editions I read back then today without much change. Though I had never taken a psychology course, it was an easy read. It was appealing, because it mirrored me-and as any young person-I enjoyed the view.
That was fine when I was young, the magazine was new to me, and I was not a Christian.
But I am grown now. I would like to believe that there should be a time when Christians put away the self-absorption that goes on in non-Christian circles.
But it is troubling to find out that this is often not the case. When I sit in a group of Christians, I find them addressing their problems, not with God, in prayer, or in confidence but with the fellow Christians: as if we were to have the magic pill to swallow so they would no longer have fear, anxiety or worry. Most often the answers they are seeking are not from God—but from within.
Worse than that, I find that narcissism has so taken root in our Christian communities that “sharing” is done as a venue for expressing our own “concerns.” God doesn’t seem to be sufficient (wow!) Jesus Christ becomes is a platform and a springboard to discussing me, not the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and the End. With apologies to the lyricist, the song "It's All About You, Jesus" comes to mind. Notice the wandering of the lyrics:
"It's all about You, Jesus
And all this is for You
For Your glory and your fame
It's not about me
As if You should do things my way
You alone are God
And I surrender to your ways
Jesus lover of my soul
All consuming fire is in Your gaze
Jesus, I want you to know
I will follow you all my days"
The lyrics start off in the right direction, turn around to the first-person (me), then wander back to God, veering off again to speak of the "wants" of the first person. There is more to that song, but the content is clearly on the first person. Unfortunately, the lyrics to the song exemplify the thinking patterns of many Christians. Why is it that we couch our self-obsession with spiritual language? Is it because we are so lonely or because we know we will have an audience that way-or is it both? Is it because we have not lost our first love—since our first love is ourself, we’ve never fully relinquished self-love, and so cannot dream of relinquishing navel-gazing?
Richard Lovelace writes: “Many Evangelicals today lose interest rapidly in preaching [if] … it fails to home in immediately on ‘spiritual’ issues in their lives. [Or]…are so tied up in programs of spiritual self-improvement that they have no time to care about anything but the throbbing self-concern at the center of their consciousness.” “[In contrast]…a[n] appropriation of primary elements of spiritual dynamics settles personal problems and sets the individual Christian free from self-concern to care for others and for society. It clears the way for the Holy Spirit to fill the horizon of consciousness with the love for God and mankind and causes self-concern to dwindle to a small, steady awareness of self-affirmation grounded on the love of God.” (“Dynamics of Spiritual Life, p 383)
Long ago I settled the fact that my feelings have little to do with my Christian growth. Feelings are an unwieldy by nature. Feelings are apt to be so palpable one hour, and the next to be seem so distant, if the memory of those feelings are still there, they are as a mist seen from a parallel universe. As a result, to use feelings as a gauge of my “spirituality” or “growth” is pretty well an empty well. To plum the depths of my spirituality by taking my emotional pulse is using a broken standard, much like using a thermometer that is inaccurate or a clock that is too fast or too slow.
However, to be fair, I will admit that there can be a great deal of religious activity can and is done without an informed mind, an enlightened conscience, and a loving heart. That does not mean that is good, either. Yet I still have hope that one can become a balanced (though not 100 percent of the time), Christian.
I have this hope when I look at people I know who (despite their flaws) are balanced. I also realize that there are many, many believers who preceded me who were the same. One example are John and Charles Wesley. The Wesleys (were Anglican, so were orthodox) struck a strong chord with the truly Christian believers because they combined private practice, an informed Christianity and social action. Charles Wesley, who wrote so many hymns avoided making God into a psychological crutch because he had a solid biblical understanding of God. Wesley was able to put into lyrics the cry of human longings for the ineffable God. Here is one example:
I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.
From Thee that I no more may stray, no more Thy goodness grieve,
Grant me the filial awe, I pray, the tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye, O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh, and keep it still awake.
Almighty God of truth and love, to me Thy power impart;
The mountain from my soul remove, the hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain my reawakened soul,
And drive me to that blood again, which makes the wounded whole.
- By Charles Wesley
I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. – Jesus Christ, John 10:10b