A few weeks ago I visited a friend. It was an enjoyable visit. A few hours after the visit I suddenly found myself inexplicably wondering if I had said anything offensive. I analyzed the conversation and quickly determined that nothing was out of the ordinary. However, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that perhaps my friend was upset with me. So I sent an affable text message to my friend (thinking to myself, “If they text back in kind, then everything is fine”). I waited, and waited, and… no reply. So obviously, I assumed that I had completely burned a bridge with this person, and I punished myself with notions of how they must now hate me. Eventually I reconnected with my friend and asked them directly if I had offended them. They very simply and sincerely assured me that I had not, and that was the end of the matter.
What is this? This is narcissism/excessive self-interest/self-obsession/pride.
Pride predominantly takes on one of two forms: self-admiration and self-loathing. Both are extremely unhealthy; and both are versions of self-inflicted trauma.
I chronically pummel myself with concerns regarding whether or not people are angry at me. I’m arrogant. My life orbits around the question, “What do people think of me?” The obvious and overwhelming answer being, “They’re not thinking about you at all. Your egomania doesn’t make you the center of their thoughts. You may be the main character in your story, but in their story – you’re an extra (at ‘best’).” Nevertheless, I incessantly pester myself with worries about how I’m perceived. I’m addicted to approval; I’m a validation junkie. I’m sick. I need help.
This is the condition in which Jesus finds me. And Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus saves me from myself! Jesus liberates me from my addiction to people’s approval. However, putting this emancipation into practice is a process, and learning to live like a free man involves the occasional relapse; but the bigger reality – the eclipsing and supplanting truth – is that Jesus is more relentless and robust than my regressive selfishness. If Jesus wants me, he will have me. If Jesus is committed to renovating my life, then the sanctification overhaul is unstoppable. A couple thousand years ago there was a guy who candidly expressed frustration with his selfish relapsing tendencies, saying, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. …Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” This guy articulates the ultimate answer to his dilemma by saying, “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
There is freedom in accepting the fact that I am a work in progress, and there is sweet satisfaction in simply being content amidst the present stage of God’s storied workmanship in me. Furthermore, there are foretastes of joy in confessing my crimes and concealing my good deeds. The full flavor profile of liberation is enjoyed when I cease striving to be seen by others, and carry out my good deeds so covertly that not even my left hand knows about the benevolent work of my right hand. The genuine gratification my souls craves, and the ultimate approval I long for, is found in secret service and the smile of my Heavenly Father who sees in secret.